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Nigeria’s new statistical strength makes a difference at home, in Africa, and on the world stage, writes David Himbara.
Nigeria has always been a “large” country in many ways. With 173 million people, it is by far Africa’s largest and the world’s seventh-largest population. Nigeria is Africa’s largest and the world’s 13th biggest oil producer.
The recalculation of its gross domestic product (GDP) to $510 billion, up from $262bn, makes Nigeria Africa’s biggest and the world’s 24th largest economy, a jump from 37th position. This change represents an astonishing 89 percent increase.
But does Nigeria’s new statistical strength make a difference at home, in its region, in Africa, and on the world stage? The answer is a categorical YES.
On the domestic front, the surge in Nigeria’s GDP does not by any means make its daunting challenges disappear. First, poverty with associated inequality and regional disparities is deeply-entrenched with a significant part of Nigeria’s population earning less than a $2 a day. Even with the new GDP data, the per capita income in Nigeria becomes $3 000.
This is less than half of South Africa’s per capita income of $6 620. The recalculated GDP in other words does not change Nigeria’s overall status of a lower middle-income country even if its global per capita ranking has just jumped 15 positions from 135 to 122.
The second difficulty facing Nigeria is that it is essentially geographically divided with its northern and southern regions reflecting deep-seated conflicts that seriously threaten the country’s stability.
The north is affected by the rise of Boko Haram, an Islamic jihadist organisation that seeks to establish a “pure” Islamic state.
In the south’s Niger Delta, the decades-long conflict over tensions between foreign oil corporations and the Delta’s marginalised ethnic groups continues.
The third challenge is corruption. An example is the ongoing suspension of the country’s Central Bank Governor Lamido Sanusi for “financial recklessness”.
The ousting of Sanusi came after he alleged that a shocking amount of $20 billion in oil revenue vanished.
These domestic challenges notwithstanding, Nigeria’s newly earned economic significance should not be underestimated.
Crucially, the overnight increase in Nigeria’s GDP is not a result of money scams the country is widely known for.
New and fast-growing sectors including telecoms and creative industries are now adequately incorporated in the GDP data – a task neglected since 1990.
Manufacturing and services which have been growing in leaps and bounds are now included in economic statistics.
Today’s Nigeria, in other words, is a robust economy with considerable capacity to address its development challenges, not least poverty and inequality; this endeavour begins with economic cluster transformation of the kind being observed in Nigeria.
With regards to Nigeria’s role in West Africa, even before the sharp rise in its GDP, its size and significant natural resources endowments assigned it a leadership responsibility in the region.
Take for example the Economic Community of West African States (Ecowas), the regional group of 15 West African countries founded in 1975 to foster regional integration and serve as a peacekeeping force as well as promoter of good governance.
Nigeria’s role in establishing and sustaining Ecowas is illustrated by the fact that it is head-quartered in Nigeria’s capital city, Abuja, and is largely financed by the host. Further, Nigeria’s military has historically been the backbone of peacekeeping in the region and across Africa. The rise in Nigeria’s economic power consolidates its decades-long leadership in Ecowas.
Meanwhile, Nigeria’s continental leadership is equally and widely recognised.
For example, Nigeria was the champion of The Lagos Plan of Action for the Economic Development of Africa, 1980-2000, which sought to increase Africa’s self- sufficiency.
Nigeria, together with South Africa, was a key mobilising force for the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (Nepad) in the early 2000s.
More significantly, Nigeria is a founding member and the largest contributor to Africa’s premier development institution, namely, the African Development Bank (AfDB).
Still on the subject of African leadership, it is crucial to highlight the fact that Nigeria’s recent rise comes at a time when there is a vacuum in this vital aspect of the continent’s advancement.
This void was recently demonstrated at the EU-Africa Summit of 2-3 April this year, when leader of the then largest African economy, President Jacob Zuma of South Africa, boycotted the meeting.
The European equivalent of this perplexing sanction would be a boycott of an EU inter-continental discussion on trade and investment by German Chancellor Angela Merkel who leads the continental economic giant.
As Africa’s economic powerhouse Nigeria is likely to fill the African leadership vacuum with greater legitimacy that comes with its population and economic might.
What about Nigeria’s role in global organisations?
These aspects of Nigeria’s role will be closely and keenly watched in the coming weeks and months.
Begin with Brics, the association of five countries, namely Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa, which are distinguished by fast-growing economies as well as considerable influence on regional and global affairs.
The five Brics members are also G-20 members. Will Brics now become Brincs, with “N” for Nigeria added, or will the “S” for South Africa be dropped?
Will G-20 become G-21, thereby accommodating Nigeria but also retaining South Africa, which is now Africa’s second largest economy? Or will South Africa be dis-invited? I would bet on G-21.
We can also foresee Nigeria rightly demanding a seat in a reformed United Nations, as Africa’s largest population and biggest economy.
Perhaps the most remarkable part of the Nigerian GDP drama is the story of Nollywood. The re-based Nigerian statistics indicate that this creative industry, with its vast following across Africa, generates more than $5bn, equivalent to 1.4 percent of the GDP.
Nollywood is much more important than the money it creates, however.
Through determined and resilient creativity and innovation, Nigerian writers, directors and actors are telling Africa’s own stories to African audiences.
Nollywood is in fact confirming the connection between individual self-esteem and national self-confidence.
And the inclusion of Nollywood into Nigeria’s re-based economic data, however belated, is a not only a crucial recognition of the sector’s growing economic importance but also a sign of national confidence.
By extension, the spectacular rise in Nigeria’s GDP, Nollywood included, ought to boost Nigeria’s and African self-confidence – something that should be celebrated by all Africans.
*Himbara is a regular contributor to The Sunday Independent. A development strategist, he is based in Johannesburg, and also in Toronto, Canada.
** The views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of Independent Newspapers.