Business Left behind: How Singapore, Others Overtook Nigeria in Development



It has been fifty-seven years after Nigeria gained independence from her colonial master, yet she's still struggling to find her feet in the world. However, other nations who attained independence in the 1960s are making great slides on the global scale.

This piece, written by Tobi Aworinde, compares and contrasts between Nigeria and these nations, and how they've developed over the years.

If population was the determining factor, Nigeria would be the undisputed “Giant of Africa.” Easily the most populous country in Africa and the seventh most populous country in the world, Nigeria has an estimated 181,563,000 nationals, dwarfing the second largest African nation, Ethiopia’s 99,391,000.

However, the consensus is that since attaining independence from British colonial rule in 1960, Nigeria has remained on the edge of greatness without being able to fully realise its much-debated potential. This is perhaps owed to political instability arising from years of authoritarian rule interspersed with brief moments of democratic rule, beginning with the 1966 overthrow of civilian government and culminating in the tyrannical regime of Gen. Sani Abacha, who died in 1998.

Still, to many, the discovery of petroleum — first in the Niger Delta Nembe Creek Oil field in 1973 — was more of a curse than a blessing for Nigeria. In 2012, the nation was estimated to have lost over $400bn in oil revenue to corruption since independence. And the downward spiral has not seemed to end.

In 2011, the World Bank classified Nigeria as a mixed economy emerging market, reaching lower-middle-income status. In 2013, the bank still considered Nigeria to be an emerging market. And in 2014, with over $500bn in terms of nominal gross domestic product and $1tn in purchasing power parity, Nigeria rebased its economy to become the world’s 20th largest economy and overtook South Africa as Africa’s largest.

But these seemingly laudable feats did not deter Nigeria from ranking 152nd among 188 nations in the global Human Development Index of the United Nations Development Programme. Also, in terms of gross domestic product per capita at nominal values, Nigeria is globally ranked 131st (International Monetary Fund), 128th (World Bank) and 133rd (UN).

An annual study by the US News and World Report of the Best Countries for 2017 stated, “Gross national income has seen incremental growth for at least 15 years, but the Nigerian people do not see much of that revenue. A majority of the country’s population lives in poverty. One-third of the nation’s children are never enrolled in school. Nigeria also has the highest rate of HIV/AIDS-related deaths in the world.”

The US News report placed Nigeria 77th out of 80 countries listed, with an overall score of 0.2/10, after considering its standing in the categories of citizenship (75th), entrepreneurship (69th), heritage (75th), political power (43rd), and quality of life (75th), among others. Nigeria also came last in the study’s ranking of the 80 Most Transparent Countries.

Similarly, Nigeria has come under international scrutiny over its unenviable security conditions. In a 2016 analysis, the UN estimated that over 80 million Nigerians live in poverty in a “deeply divided society” considering the plurality of ethnic, religious and regional identities.

The UN said, “Available reports indicate that there are over 3.3 million internally displaced persons, which is Africa’s largest, ranking behind Syria and Colombia on a global scale. The major challenges Nigeria is currently facing that constrain her economic growth and social development are lack of good governance, general increased insecurity across geopolitical zones in the North-East, Niger Delta and Lake Chad region in particular.

“The situation is exacerbated by the existence of systematic accountability challenges, limited capacities of independent institutions/ commissions and limited accountability at the federal, states and local government levels. For decades, different segments of Nigeria’s population had, at different times, expressed feelings of marginalisation, of being short-changed, dominated, oppressed, threatened, or even targeted for elimination.”

According to the UN, since independence in 1960, Nigeria has struggled to build and sustain national integration.

Below are some countries that attained sovereignty within the same decade as Nigeria but whose leaders have been able to change the fortunes of their citizens against all the odds.

Botswana (1966)

In June 1964, the United Kingdom accepted proposals for a democratic self-government in Botswana. The following year, the seat of government was moved from Mafikeng in South Africa to the newly established Gaborone, which is located near Botswana’s border with South Africa. Based on the 1965 constitution, the country held its first general elections under the universal suffrage and gained independence on September 30, 1966.

Since independence, the Republic of Botswana has had one of the fastest growth rates in per capita income in the world. Botswana has transformed itself from one of the poorest countries in the world — with a GDP per capita of about US$70 per year in the late 1960s — to an upper-middle-income country. According to the IMF, economic growth averaged over nine per cent annually from 1966 to 1999.

Botswana also has a high level of economic freedom compared to other African countries. The government has maintained a sound fiscal policy, despite consecutive budget deficits in 2002 and 2003, and a negligible level of foreign debt. Botswana earned the highest sovereign credit rating in Africa, according to Moody’s and Standard & Poor’s, and has stockpiled foreign exchange reserves (over $7bn in 2005/2006) amounting to almost two and a half years of current imports. Botswana’s competitive banking system is one of Africa’s most advanced.

The economy of Botswana is dominated by mining, cattle, and tourism, boasting a GDP per capita of about $18,825 per year as of 2015, which is one of the highest in Africa. Its high gross national income (by some estimates the fourth-largest in Africa) gives the country a modest standard of living and the highest HDI of continental Sub-Saharan Africa.

Mauritius (1968)

Following a general election on August 7, 1967, the Republic of Mauritius adopted a new constitution while its independence was proclaimed on March 12, 1968. Since independence from Britain, Mauritius has developed from a low-income, agriculture-based economy to a middle-income, diversified economy, based on tourism, textiles, sugar, and financial services.

Despite having no exploitable natural resources, the economic history of Mauritius since independence has been called “the Mauritian Miracle” and the “success of Africa.” In recent years, information and communication technology, seafood, hospitality and property development, health care, renewable energy, and education and training have emerged as important sectors, attracting substantial investment from both local and foreign investors.

The nation depends on imported petroleum products to meet most of its energy requirements with biomass, hydro, solar and wind energy making up its local and renewable energy sources.

The IMF ranks Mauritius high in terms of economic competitiveness, a friendly investment climate, good governance and a free economy. The GDP was estimated at $22bn in 2014, and GDP per capita was over $16,820, one of the highest in Africa. According to the World Bank in 2011, Mauritius has an upper-middle-income economy. The World Bank’s 2016 Ease of Doing Business Index ranks Mauritius 49th worldwide out of 189 economies.

Mauritius has built its success on a free market economy. According to the 2013 Index of Economic Freedom, Mauritius is ranked as having the 8th most free economy in the world, and the highest score in investment freedom. The report’s ranking of 183 countries is based on measures of economic openness, regulatory efficiency, rule of law, and competitiveness.

Singapore (1965)

Founded as a British trading colony in the 19th century, the Republic of Singapore gained self-governance in 1959, and in 1963 joined the Federation of Malaysia. In 1965, it left the federation and became independent as the Republic of Singapore. After gaining independence abruptly, Singapore sensed the need for immediate international recognition of its sovereignty.

The country faced the danger of being attacked by Indonesian military or forcibly reabsorbed into Malaysia on disadvantageous terms. With the support of the Malaysian, Republic of China, and Indian governments, Singapore became a member of the United Nations on September 21, 1965, and the Commonwealth in the following month.

As a tiny island, Singapore was seen as a nonviable nation state, while much of the international community was sceptical about prospects for the country’s survival. Besides the issue of sovereignty, the pressing problems were unemployment, housing, education, lack of natural resources and lack of land.

The unemployment rate ranged between 10 and 12 per cent, and it threatened to create civil unrest. The loss of access to the Malaysian hinterland market and the lack of natural resources meant that Singapore had no solid traditional sources of income. A large portion of the population lacked formal education. Entrepôt trade, the main use of Singapore’s port and the original reason for Singapore’s success in the 19th century, was no longer sufficient to support the large population.

With Lee Kuan Yew’s emergence as prime minister in 1967, the nation was propelled from Third World economy to First World affluence in a single generation. Lee’s emphasis on rapid economic growth, support for business entrepreneurship, and limitations on internal democracy shaped Singapore’s policies for the next half-century with further economic success continuing through the 1980s.

Today, Singapore is a global commerce, finance and transportation hub, ranking fifth on the UN with the third highest GDP per capita in the world. It is ranked highly in education, health care, life expectancy, quality of life, personal safety and housing. Although income inequality is high, 90 per cent of homes are owner-occupied and 38 per cent of Singapore’s 5.6 million residents are permanent residents and other foreign nationals.

Trinidad and Tobago (1962)

The Republic of Trinidad and Tobago gained independence from the UK on August 31, 1962. Since then, the country has become one of the wealthiest and most developed nations in the Caribbean. In 2010, the World Bank listed it among the top 40 High Income countries in the world. Its GNI per capita of $20,070, as of 2014, is one of the highest in the Caribbean. In November 2011, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development removed Trinidad and Tobago from its list of developing countries.

Trinidad’s economy is strongly influenced by the petroleum industry, although tourism and manufacturing are also important to the local economy.

Recent growth has been fuelled by investments in liquefied natural gas, petrochemicals and steel. The nation is the leading Caribbean producer of oil and gas, and though its economy is heavily dependent upon these resources, it supplies manufactured goods, notably food, beverages, and cement to the Caribbean region.



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