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Why Nigeria is stuck in underdevelopment

By Luke Onyekakeyah
22 November 2022   |   3:25 am
If you ask anyone on the street what is Nigeria’s number one problem, he would most likely say corruption. The refrain on corruption is so profound that no one has taken time to ask why there is such abrasive corruption.

Photo by PIUS UTOMI EKPEI / AFP

If you ask anyone on the street what is Nigeria’s number one problem, he would most likely say corruption. The refrain on corruption is so profound that no one has taken time to ask why there is such abrasive corruption. The reasons behind corruption are known but not addressed. They are totally downplayed. Truth is that corruption is merely an effect. The cause is ignored. Chasing the effect and leaving the cause, as in this case, is senseless. It is like pruning a tree, which would blossom once again after a short while. The only way to effectively kill a tree is to uproot it.

Even if you cut it down, shoots could sprout from the stump showing that the tree is still alive though in a smaller dimension.

To deal with corruption would require a blunt attack on the roots. Nigeria’s corruption is systemic meaning that it is entrenched. A faulty system is responsible. The system is where the problem lies. There are deliberate gaps left in the system that have blended with the body and soul of Nigeria that can’t easily be rooted out. Vested interest would rather shed blood to ensure that the gaps remain untouched. But not until those gaps are closed, Nigeria’s underdevelopment quagmire would persist.

What are the issues at stake? Three factors are responsible for the resounding failure of Nigeria in virtually every aspects of human and economic development. In what follows I will highlight the factors and proffer the way out.

The most fundamental and critical problem that has held Nigeria down since independence in 1960 is fraudulent population data. The 42 million registered by the British colonial masters as Nigeria’s population in 1960 was fraudulent. That British-sponsored population figure gave the North 32 million people while the entire South was left with 10 million! What a blatant fraud!

Whereas, the only millionaire city in Nigeria in 1960 was Ibadan and not any city in the North, how come that the arid undeveloped North was deemed to have more people than the humid more developed South? How come that all the neighbouring countries on the West coast of Africa on the same latitude with Nigeria had scanty population in 1960?

For example, the population of Egypt in 1960 was 26 million. South Africa in 1960 was 17 million. These are the most populous countries in Africa. Coming to the West coast, Ghana’s population in 1960 was merely six million despite the fact that its economy was booming and attracted large migrant population because of its gold and cocoa. Cameroun’s population in 1960 was five million. The entire Niger Republic had a population of three million in 1960 while Chad had three million.

If all these African countries had scanty population in 1960, what made Nigeria’s population jumped to 42 million almost equivalent to the populations of Egypt and South Africa put together? Yet, the two countries have ever been more developed than Nigeria.

Unfortunately, it is the population template left by the British that has guided how resources are allocated to different sections of Nigeria and not necessarily through a realistic head count. Not until the North, in particular, is ready for national development that is truly based on accurate population data; not until the politicians stop seeing population as an instrument for sharing oil money, there would be no headway for Nigeria.

Consequently, what Nigeria has and operating with is politically manipulated population figures. The four censuses conducted in Nigeria in 1963 (48.13 million); 1973 (60.29 million); 1991 (98.09 million) and 2006 (143.3 million) were all doctored. All the figures being paraded as Nigeria’s projected population today ranging from 160 to 170 and even 200 million are guess work. All the projections made, including those by multilateral agencies like the World Bank, OPEC, UNDP and others are faulty because they are based on wrong population database.

This problem is historical. It was created by the British colonial masters on the eve of their exit from Nigeria. A lot has been said about the unavailability of credible and reliable population data for economic development and planning. The lamentation and disgust arising from this problem is monumental.

I have not delved into the population issue just for the sake of it. This comment was triggered by the lamentation by the former Minister of Power, Works and Housing, Babatunde Raji Fashola, who, sometime in 2017, paid a courtesy call to The Guardian newspapers house in Lagos. Fashola was sincere and didn’t mince words in hitting the problem on the head.
According to him, poor census figures is what is stalling progress in Nigeria. How, one may ask? Fashola hinted that the administration (Buhari) has been planning since it assumed office. Planning for what? Why waste time planning on what to do or how to govern the country? Why every new administration always engaged in planning is worrisome? Does it mean that there are no roadmaps in place to continue governance in different sectors of the economy? Why do we act as if Nigeria started today?

At that, Fashola threw the bombshell that the roadmaps are there but without details of how to achieve their stated objectives. For instance, he said nobody knows how many people consume electricity in the country. The available database, he said, shows that only nine million households consume electricity. Nine million households in a population being paraded as 200 million!

Using an average of eight persons per household to divide 200 million, you get 25 million households, which is generous. In actual fact, the number should be more than that. Yet, all the noise over reforms and the billions being spent on electricity are made for nine million households. One needs no soothsayer to see one reason why the power sector is not working? Government is planning without data.

Similarly, nobody knows how many people need housing. In the absence of a reliable database for effective planning, what is being done, according to Fashola, is simply to keep increasing power output for unknown number of consumers.