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Country profile - Nigeria


Nigeria is a country of great but largely frustrated potential. It is Africa's most populous nation, with about 137 million people, but tension between its many ethnic groups has prevented it from making the most of its human resources. The opportunities that large oil and gas deposits might have brought have, over the years, mostly been squandered, as corruption, bad governance and over-dependence on oil have undermined the growth of other sectors, including agriculture. Today, perhaps as much as 65 per cent of the population live below the poverty level of US$1/day, and more than 50 million Nigerians - more than one in three - suffer from diseases of malnutrition.

Ten degrees north of the Equator, and just over 1,000 kilometres from north to south, this West African state has diverse farming potential in several distinct agro-ecozones. Moving north from the humid rainforest of the Atlantic coast, the climate becomes progressively drier, reaching semi-arid savannah at the northern border with Niger. Traditional food crops are sorghum, millet and maize in the north, and cassava, yam, plantain, maize and sorghum in the central and southern regions. Agriculture - mostly small-scale, low-input subsistence farming - occupies about 60 per cent of the population. Lack of sufficient investment in new technologies as well as in research and extension is reflected in continuing low yields. In recent years, food production has failed to keep up with population growth, making food imports necessary.

Oil boom and bust

Cash crops, which earned significant revenue for Nigeria before the oil boom of the 1970s, have also suffered from low investment. Nigerian cocoa, palm oil, rubber and groundnuts (peanuts) have all seen their share of the world markets plummet. But favouring the get-rich-quick oil sector at the expense of agriculture and other sectors has proved to be a short-sighted policy, leaving Nigeria highly vulnerable to fluctuating oil prices on the world market. This became evident in the 1980s when the economy collapsed, and with it social services and infrastructure. Today, half-built hospitals, universities and other public buildings remain to tell the tale of over-reliance on one commodity.

Nigeria's oil has caused other problems for its people, particularly in the Niger Delta region in the southeast, the centre for oil extraction. Both the government and the foreign oil companies ignored severe environmental impacts in their haste to develop the oil industry. The objections of the local people largely fell on deaf ears - or worse, as in the case of playwright Ken Saro-Wiwa and eight other activists who were hanged in 1995 for openly criticising the government. As well as the damage from oil spills and air pollution from gas flaring, the region frequently suffers huge and tragic losses of life in fires that result from sabotaged pipelines. In an area of such extreme poverty, it is perhaps not surprising that the above ground pipelines are targeted by oil thieves, despite the terrifying risk.

Obasanjo's challenges

Pearl millet, one of northern Nigeria's staple crops
Pearl millet, one of northern Nigeria's staple crops

Charles de Gaulle once famously asked of France, "How can one govern a country that has 246 different kinds of cheese?" Nigeria, with more than 250 ethnic groups, poses even more of a challenge. In 1999, in a handover of power from the military, Olusegun Obasanjo was elected to that task. Now in his second and final term, he has made only slow progress against the most pressing challenges - corruption, ethnic and religious violence, and poverty - and voters are disappointed.

Obasanjo is himself a farmer, as well as a politician, and has firmly committed his government to improving agricultural performance. He recently announced a target of 10 per cent of the national budget to go to funding the agricultural sector, saying, "There is no doubt that a viable and sustainable agricultural sector is the backbone of our national economic rebirth." The government also recently announced a new initiative to boost the ailing cocoa industry. The use of biotechnology for agriculture also has the government's support, with the launch of the USAID-funded Nigeria Agriculture and Biotechnology Project in 2004.

Need to boost agriculture

But if agriculture is to play a significant role in the future economic and social development of Nigeria, it must be made more attractive to young people seeking careers. They must be persuaded that agriculture offers more than "employment of last resort": a stifling life of drudgery in a remote village devoid of health and education services, and the unlikelihood of making a viable income commensurate with the effort and risk. Can the state and federal governments help rebuild the rural infrastructure, including transport and markets, to make productivity pay?

There have been previous efforts to boost Nigeria's agricultural sector, but these have mostly failed. Will Obasanjo's initiatives be more successful? This will depend as much on success in dealing with Nigeria's other problems, as corruption, regional unrest and failing infrastructure, for example, all constrain agricultural development. Obasanjo has begun the uphill struggle with some of these tasks, but his presidency ends in 2007. His successor will inherit the challenge of releasing Nigeria's untapped potential. Nigerians are renowned for their energy and entrepreneurial flair; the challenge for governments is to direct these from dissipation in conflict and commercial scams, which have brought notoriety to this potentially great country, into something more productive.

Statistical information
  • Country: Federal Republic of Nigeria
  • Capital: Abuja
  • Area: 923,768 sq km
  • Population: 137.3 million
  • Languages: English (official), Hausa, Yoruba, Igbo (Ibo), Fulani
  • Life expectancy: 50.35 for men, 50.63 for women
  • GDP: purchasing power parity $114.8 billion (2003 est.)
  • GDP per capita: purchasing power parity $900 (2003 est.)
  • GDP composition by sector: agriculture 30.8%, industry 43.8%, services 25.4% (2003 est.)
  • Land use: arable land 31.29%, permanent crops 2.96%, other 65.75% (2001)
  • Major industries: crude oil, coal, tin, columbite, palm oil, peanuts, cotton, rubber, wood, hides and skins, textiles, cement and other construction materials, food products, footwear, chemicals, fertilizer, printing, ceramics, steel
  • Agricultural products: cocoa, peanuts, palm oil, corn, rice, sorghum, millet, cassava (tapioca), yams, rubber; cattle, sheep, goats, pigs; timber; fish
  • Natural resources: natural gas, petroleum, tin, columbite, iron ore, coal, limestone, lead, zinc, arable land
  • Export commodities: petroleum and petroleum products 95%, cocoa, rubber
  • Major export partners: US 38.3%, India 9.9%, Brazil 6.8%, Spain 6.2%, France 5.6%, Japan 4% (2003)

Written by: Anne Moorhead

Date published: May 2005


Have your say

Looking at the Nigerian situation I have the feeling that if... (posted by: Rabiu Auwalu Yakasai)

That was a very good essay and it gave me a new insight abou... (posted by: olufemi faith esther)

The statistics on the profile of Nigeria have changed slight... (posted by: Nwachukwu Ifeanyi)

Thanks for the information gives good outlook about the coun... (posted by: Mathias wafula)


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