Ever wondered why news about the positive growth of the Nigerian economy doesn’t positively affect you personally? Ever wondered why the common man finds it difficult to grasp the fact that although Nigeria has the largest economy by Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in Africa, it still doesn’t translate to improved quality of life for them?
The answer lies in the fact that GDP - which is the totality of goods and services produced in a country over time - is largely misunderstood; as discussed in our article: ‘The Reality of Nigeria’s Recession Exit: Between GDP Growth and Sustainable Development’.
For GDP, some critical questions such as: what class of the population does the GDP affect the most?; are increased earnings equitably distributed or siphoned?; how are social and environmental cost evaluated?; does increased output result in higher living standards?, remain unanswered.
Many economies have measured their successes and growths using the very popular GDP, but development economists know very well that the GDP as an economic indicator on its own is insufficient for the measurement of actual development. It is to this end that I agree with Robert F. Kennedy Jr., who said that: "GDP measures everything, except that which makes life worthwhile."
So the question is, what then makes life worthwhile? Are the lives of Nigerians worthwhile?
Although, Nigeria’s GDP has increased over the years, and the country is referred to as one of the fastest-growing economies in the world, more than half of the country’s population still grapples with abject poverty, while majority of the increasing wealth of Nigeria is controlled by a few elites. According to Oxfam’s Even It Up 2017 Report, between 2004 and 2012, the share of Nigerians living below the poverty line increased from 69 million to 112 million, which is the equivalent of 69% of the population. Within this period (2003 – 2009), the Gini index, which is commonly used for measuring inequality, has increased from 40% - 43%.
From the northern part of Nigeria to the south, poverty is an equally and widely distributed feature.
According to the United Nations Global Multidimensional Poverty Index, about 88 million Nigerians suffer from multidimensional poverty. Also, 53% of Nigeria’s population are below the country’s national poverty line which is at 46%. 18.4% are near multidimensional poverty, while 30% are in severe multidimensional poverty. From the states in the north such as Zamfara, Yobe, Jigawa, Bauchi, Kebbi, Sokoto and Katsina, to states in the south such as Cross River, Oyo, Bayelsa, Enugu, Ondo and beyond, poverty is very visible.
The Even It Up Report also indicated that in 2016, between 12.1% and 21.5% of Nigeria’s youth were without a job. Even when there are jobs, the tax system in Nigeria is largely regressive, those at the bottom of the pyramid (individuals and companies) bear the higher burden of taxation, while multinationals enjoy outrageous rebates and tax waivers. This further impoverishes the already poor masses.
The state of infrastructure such as power, roads and water supply, have remained shambolic, with the health and educational sectors partially paralysed due to some striking sections within both sectors. Millions of Nigerians lack access to safe water and adequate sanitation. The country is without a large scale and far-reaching housing plan, and life expectancy is very low. Nigerians pay for everything they get and when they don’t pay, the process for obtaining the free services is cumbersome.
What all these mean is that Nigerians are poor on many fronts - multidimensional poverty. Nigerians at the bottom of the economic pyramid either suffer from deprivations of low living standards, poor health care and education or from all at once.
True economic development is, therefore, best reflected in the human development of the citizens of a country, particularly those at the bottom of the pyramid. When majority of Nigerians begin to benefit from the wealth of Nigeria, then we can beat our collective chests to say that we are indeed rich. But for now, our struggles continue.