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Underdevelopment: A case study of Nigeria

Nigeria, or Federal Republic of Nigeria, is a country in West Africa. Its population is ranked first in Africa (182.2 million), and Nigerians constitute about 1/8 of the inhabitants of the whole continent (The World Bank, n.d. b). The country belongs to underdeveloped countries even despite it has oil resources. It has many social phenomena mostly caused by extreme ethnic varieties. During the last centuries, Nigeria experienced numerous waves of invasions or migrations mainly from the northeast. Therefore, ethnic and linguistic situation in the country is very diversified. The economy still has dualism: current commodity sector which is directed mainly to export coexists with the traditional agriculture. The purpose of the paper is to analyze the current socio-economic situation, the relationship of Nigeria with international organization, and current problems in the country.

Socio-Economic Snapshot

The problems of Nigeria arise from its history and the type of governing that was established by military rulers. The environment in country is characterized as tense with the risks of clashes. For now, there is ongoing religious conflict based on economic aspect (oil). Therefore, it is important to analyze both social and economic factors present in modern Nigeria.

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Social Sphere

Nigeria has many specialities in social and economic spheres. First, the ethnic composition is extremely complex as Nigeria is home to more than 250 ethnic groups. More than half of the total population consists of three nations called Hausa, Yoruba, and Igbo. The common languages are Hausa, Yoruba, Igbo, Ibibio, Kanuri, and others. The people of Nigeria are different from each other in language, culture, and level of development. The main occupation of the inhabitants is agriculture that defines economic development. Second factor is the level of urbanization. In Nigeria, there are about 30 cities with populations over 100 thousand people (Joseph, 2014). Approximately 35% of the total number of Nigerians live in cities (Joseph, 2014).

Nigeria has two predominant religions. Islam predominates in the north and west of the country (among the peoples of Hausa, Fulani, Kanuri, Songhai); it is also common in the southwestern part of it among the Yoruba people (Joseph, 2014). The most common confession is Islam of Sunni religious branch (Joseph, 2014). Christianity spreads to the south and east of the country (Joseph, 2014).

Nigeria has complex political environment. During the years of independence, there were more than 100 coups and twice as many attempts to overthrow the ruling regimes in Nigeria (Joseph, 2014). Among the African countries, Nigeria is a champion in this aspect as there were years of the military regimes that followed one another by applying force. Only the last years in power were marked by a democratically elected civilian government. There were attempts to change the situation. During his stay in power, O. Obasandjo’s reforms touched all spheres of economic, political, and social life of the Nigerian society. However, Nigeria has continued to face a number of challenges. The main problem that hindered economic development is corruption that ensured Nigeria’s negative image in the international financial circles.

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Economic Development

Nigeria is an agrarian country with a developed oil industry. Despite the significant natural and human resources, the lack of political stability, corruption, and extremely low level of macroeconomic management led to a long period of the economy stagnation. The dynamics of economic development in the years of independence was defined by extensive commercial development of hydrocarbon resources and the decline in agricultural production. Within the framework of the international division of labor, Nigeria lost its role of leading supplier of certain types of agricultural raw materials on the world market while maintaining monocultural character and raw material orientation. The economy has acquired a stable fuel and mineral specialization, and the country became one of the world’s major oil net exporters.

According to WTO, in 2015, the GDP of Nigeria was 481 066 million US dollars (WTO, n.d.). GDP per capita was 2938 US dollars (The World Bank, n.d. b). According to World Bank, the inflation now is 9.0% (The World Bank, n.d. b). The GNI per capita was 2.280 in 2015 (The World Bank, n.d. a). The life expectancy is rising and now is 52.8 years, but it is quite low comparing to the more developed countries (The World Bank, n.d. b). According to UNICEF, the total percentage of literate people among adult population reaches 52%, the HIV prevalence was 3.1% in 2012 (UNICEF, n.d.). The total fertility rate is high and constitutes 6 (UNICEF, n.d.). Therefore, the statistical data confirm that Nigeria belongs to underdeveloped states. It has low GDP per capita, low GNI per capita, high percentage of HIV infected population, low literacy, the fertility rates are high that exacerbates poverty, etc.

The oil industry is the basis of the Nigerian economy. Oil production in Nigeria is 2 million barrels per day and its reserves are approximately 22 billion barrels. According to its quality, the Nigerian oil has the highest rate. Oil production is carried out on the continental shelf, but, in general, the oil reserves in Nigeria are mined in the swampy delta of the Niger River. Former Nigerian military rulers failed to diversify the economy in order to free the country from its total dependence on the oil sector, which provides 95% of foreign exchange earnings and provides 80% of the state budget (Joseph, 2014). In the past few years, the government has been implementing reforms, namely those aimed at the privatization of the biggest oil companies in the country and the deregulation of petroleum products pricing authorities. The government also encourages the development of infrastructure in the country and the private sector with special attention paid to the agro-industrial sector.

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Agriculture in recent decades is in deep decline, it has lost the ability to adequately provide the population with food and other products as well as to produce marketable products, the export of which would give the country significant foreign exchange earnings. Droughts and crop failures of the 1960s, increased migration from rural to urban areas as well as growth of profits from the exploitation of petroleum resources allowed reorienting public tastes for imported food, thus leading to the stagnation of the sector (Joseph, 2014). The rise of agricultural production system is hindered by inappropriate land use: there are very few large modern agricultural enterprises, and the main production is concentrated on small farms while maintaining communal land ownership, which is complicated by the presence of feudal survivals in the north of Nigeria. Apart from low soil fertility, not readily accessible irrigation, and fertilizer use, one more reason for stagnation is poor marketing practice leading to the formation of low procurement prices for agricultural products.

Oil-rich Nigeria has long suffered from all corruption, social problems, and internal conflicts (Cornelissen, Cheru, & Shaw, 2016). In sum, Nigerian economy is dependent on oil industry. However, it is poorly managed, and the internal conditions of the country make it belong to underdeveloped states despite of the perspectives it has.

Relationship with Organizations

One of the most important spheres in the foreign affairs of Nigeria is the diversification of trade relations and finding new partners as well as foreign investors. Additionally, Nigeria seeks for international recognition via participation in global organizations. Nigeria is a member of approximately 60 international organizations (Baylis, Smith, & Owens, 2014). These include UN since 1960, the Organization of African Unity (OAU) since 1963 and its successor – the African Union (AU) since 2002, the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM), the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) since 1975, the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) since 1971, the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), and the Commonwealth (association of the countries that were part of the British empire) (Baylis, Smith, & Owens, 2014). However, Nigeria has high foreign debt that constitutes 11,261.89 million US dollars (Trading Economics, n.d.). 

Due to its oil resources, Nigeria claims to have a leading role in the West African region and even leadership across the continent. Nigerian foreign policy strategy aims to fix Nigeria’s image on the world stage and to expand international trade relations. Additionally, it strives to achieve leading role for economic diplomacy, which should result in foreign aid, foreign investment, debt relief, and the return of funds looted by former military rulers. 

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In recent years, Nigeria has appeared in the number of countries that have undertaken the difficult task to end the underdevelopment of Africa. It initiated the program of the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD) and the establishment of the African Union (AU) (Baylis, Smith, & Owens, 2014). Undoubtedly, Nigeria has played an important role in the resolution of African conflicts and peacekeeping missions. Nigeria focuses on relations with the countries of the West African region and, first of all, with its immediate neighbors that constitutes a priority for the Nigerian foreign policy. West African countries are populated by ethnic groups that have a common culture and tradition, which creates the need for them to have good neighborly relations and to work together in shaping the relationship with the outside world. Complicated relations between countries in the region were caused due to the unresolved border issues, ethnic and religious contradictions. At the same time, Nigeria has sought to resolve disputed issues by peaceful means.

Social Problems

Nigeria has many internal problems. Mostly, they are connected with poverty, fight for resources, and national conflicts. Nigeria is geographically divided by Niger River and its tributary, the Benue, into three parts: West, North and East. All three main ethnic groups of the country live separated by those rivers.

From the time of independence to the present day, the political life of Nigeria has been determined by the competition of three major ethnic groups. In many aspects, the country’s troubles stem from the inherent in almost every African country phenomenon called “tribalism”, which is the system of relations where each of the leading political parties represent their ethnic group and geographical area respectively. For not going into details, it is possible to generalize the political history of independent Nigeria as (except for the first six and the last fifteen years) alternating with military dictatorships, most of which were performed by Muslims from the north.

The second issue is fight for oil resources. The bulk of Nigerian oil is concentrated in the southeastern part of the country. As a result, none of the country’s three major ethnic groups divided geographically cannot separate themselves away and have economic autonomy as it inevitably will deprive this group or other ethnic groups of access to oil resources. 

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Lastly, the ethnic problems are vast. To date, Nigeria has about 250 ethnic groups speaking more than 500 languages (Oguzor, 2013). In truth, the country’s situation is quite complicated in terms of ethnicity. It manifests a constant tension in the society, which sometimes leads to armed clashes and the emergence of extremist organizations. The terrorist group Boko Haram has used 38 children as suicide bombers to carry out terrorist attacks since the beginning of 2013  (Oyewole, 2013). However, the greatest problem appears to be that the Nigerians treat their fellow citizens, the representatives of other ethnic groups, with some distrust. There are widespread ethnic stereotypes and myths regarding relationships between ordinary civilian that destroy the very foundation of the Nigerian society.

The ethnic problem is also one of the reasons of bizarre presidential rotation. There is an evidence of a certain system when presidents came to power in turn and were the representatives of one out of three political regions – southeast, southwest, and north. It is not a coincidence since geographically, these areas matches the places of residence of the country’s three main ethnic groups – Igbo, Yoruba, and Hausa. This kind of rotation system was established in the era of colonial settlements, when the country was divided into the Northern, Eastern and Western administrative districts in 1954. However, after electing the representative of one of the areas, the president rarely stimulated its economic and political development, not even to mention the entire country. However, the system persists to the present day because there is a possibility of mass uprisings of ethnic groups, whose representatives will not rule the whole country. Thus the phenomenon of ethnicity can be a serious threat to the political stability of Nigeria.

Next, Nigeria faces the problem of religious clashes. These insurgencies are taking place between Muslims and Christians. The Nigerian government is involved in this conflict sending regularly the troops and police to stop the massacres. According to the census in Nigeria, Muslims make up the majority having 50.5%, and Christians are the second largest denomination constituting 48.2% of the population) (Udegbunam, 2013). The northern part of Nigeria (where the majority are Muslims) lived under Sharia law in 1999. In 2015, there were massacres in Baga in the northeast of the country, in the state of Borno. This was a series of kills that took place over five days, from 3 to 7 January and were committed by an Islamist terrorist organization “Boko haram” (Cornelissen, Cheru, & Shaw, 2016).

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According to expert opinions, the problem of Nigeria today is that its territory is home for too many ethnic groups (Akpan, Riman, Ii & Mboto, 2012). The society in the country is so non-uniform culturally that it just cannot be united, and the concept of culture itself in each of these ethnic groups is very different. Yet, most of the world community has always been and continues to be composed of many ethnic groups. However, in those countries where government attempts to weaken the political and economic importance of ethnic attachment were successful, there was set up a special national identity mechanism through education and dissemination of standardized public goods (Akpan, Riman, Ii & Mboto, 2012). This process is called “internal colonization.” Nigerians often say that they have no government. This means that the government literally does not cover most of the country’s population. After all, strong state must be able to monitor all areas of its geographic domain by formal assessment, provision of public services, physical and legal protection of citizens. Nigeria is quite difficult to manage effectively. Despite the laudable desire of its new government to improve the system of taxation, it has yet to develop effective mechanisms for the official collection of taxes outside the capital (Bienen, 2013). For now, ordinary people pay the exorbitant unofficial taxes, for which there is not even an effective distribution schemes. Educational institutions across the country do not practically receive budget funding, the state of public health facilities is poor, and citizens’ legal rights are often subjected to infringement (Udegbunam, 2013). Unfortunately, where the Nigerian government is trying to influence the lives of individuals, the benefits rarely appear in the form of public goods accessible to all citizens without regard to welfare, gender, or ethnicity. Instead, the economic benefits are given to those who have personal connections to the government. There are some other serious obstacles in accelerating the development. They include three main factors: the lack of infrastructure, the presence of a significant number of unprofitable enterprises in public sector, and the negative attitude of sponsors to invest in the Nigerian economy (with the exception of hydrocarbons).

Nigeria is a unique African country that both possesses immense oil resources and is underdeveloped. Nigeria has a number of specialities in social and economic spheres such as focus on agriculture and oil industry, many nations living in the countries, low living standards, difficult co-existence of religions, etc. The socio-economic importance of ethnic relations still persists, which leads to distrust. It is not just the shortcomings of economic and social policy; it is the inability to create a single nation, to draw the bulk of the population under the protection of the state to which it could be trusted regardless of nationality or ethnic affiliation of the president. Due to ongoing conflicts and corruption in the government that does not conduct any reforms, Nigeria becomes the most likely candidate for the collapse and division in Africa. It can be divided into the Islamic North and the Christian South; however, none of them would concede oil resources to another one.

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