If you do not live in a cave, there are chances you have heard Nigeria being called the “giant of Africa.” By this title, it means Nigeria is popularly recognised as being more powerful and significant in comparison to the other 53 countries on the African continent. You may have wondered why?
You will agree reasons it is dubbed Africa’s behemoth are not difficult to make out. First, the country is home to the largest population on the continent. Also, it is the world’s most populous black nation and one of the fastest-growing populations in the world.
Well, this status may be beyond the population metrics. The country boasts of a robust natural resource endowment and also Africa’s largest economy.
These reasons and more cement the country’s status as the continent’s behemoth, but this title has been a bit controversial, especially lately. The economic realities of an average Nigerian are irreconcilable with this revered nomenclature. As great as the country is, so are the ironies that lie in it. Some of these ironies are what I will discuss ahead.
Let me begin with the present reality – fuel scarcity. Since, last November, Nigerians have had to struggle in queues to get fuel. Initially, it was not surprising as it is habitual for scarcity to happen especially since it was towards the end of the year. While it is not definite why this has sadly become a ritual, one can attribute it to oil marketers’ excessive hunger for a quick profit. Of course, it is a festive period, and many would pay whatever it takes to be with their loved ones.
It is over two months of experiencing fuel scarcity, and sadly, there seems to be no end in sight. From the importation of adulterated fuel early last year to the unavailability of vessels to transport fuel, Nigerians have been through a rollercoaster of frustrating fuel scarcity experience to date.
The Nigerian government subsidizes the cost of petrol for its citizens at a budget-unfriendly cost. Last year, Nigeria’s projected spending on fuel subsidy was $15.7 billion. The unsustainability has become obvious, and it is evident the government, regardless of whoever emerges as the president in the coming election, would stop fuel subsidy. So provisions have been made by the current administration to subsidise the product with N3 trillion in the first half of 2023.
Now to an interesting part. Upon removal, consumers would pay around N462 for every litre. However, what is baffling is that as I write this article, Nigerians are buying petrol between N250 and N400 per litre in many parts of the country. But according to the federal government, this is not yet a price increase.
It could be understandable this is experienced in countries with little or no oil reserves like Rwanda or Swaziland. But Nigeria is the second country with the largest reserves of 36.9 billion barrels of crude oil after Libya, and the struggle for fuel is not even supposed to be a reality for its over 200 million citizens.
Another ironic reality in the country is food insufficiency. It is impossible to talk about agriculture in Africa without mentioning Nigeria, which has been one of its footstools. For a long time, agriculture has been a significant contributor to the country’s economy after oil. Nigeria has the second largest agricultural land area in Africa, estimated to be about 70 million hectares, after South Africa’s 96 million hectares. This significant expanse of arable land used judiciously should translate to food sufficiency for Nigerians, but that is presently not the case.
In the 2022 Global Hunger Index (GHI), Nigeria was ranked 103 out of 121 countries, a position signifying the nation has a critical hunger level. Since the country is not self-sufficient in food production, it imports to meet its food demands. It is estimated that Nigeria spends $5 billion to import foods annually. And because of the devaluation of the Naira, food importation keeps prices on the rise. Last December, food inflation was already at 23.75%.
In a similar ironic trend, the energy-rich country is energy deficient. Last year, the national grid, which Nigeria is most dependent on for electricity, collapsed at least seven times, causing blackouts across states. For decades, Nigerians have had to face problems of epileptic electricity supply, which has consequently crippled the growth of businesses and even the country’s economic growth.
Despite gulping N1.6 Trillion in 5 years and undergoing privatisation, the country’s energy deficit persists, with about 85 million Nigerians not having access to grid electricity. You may find it surprising to know that Nigeria is one of the countries of the world endowed with renewable energy sources such as solar, hydropower, biomass and wind, yet, people sometimes have to pray for power.
Additionally, the country has abundant natural resources like lithium, silicon and some other rare materials, pivotal to the future of global power systems. It is ironic how these energy sources and resources have not been utilized to solve the country’s energy problem.