Antonia Opiah Headshot

Why Nigeria's Economic Potential Matters

Posted: Updated:

Nigeria was in the news last week for two big reasons. About 100 girls were allegedly abducted by the Islamist group Boko Haram, which is also believed to be behind a recent attack on the country's capital, Abuja, that left 71 people dead. Meanwhile, other reports about Nigeria last week covered the recent revision of its gross domestic product (GDP), making it Africa's biggest economy, with a GDP of $510 billion, surpassing South Africa, now Africa's second-largest economy, with a GDP of $310 billion. These two news-making events highlight the two states that the country precariously teeters between: crippling unrest and everybody-wins prosperity.

Nigeria's challenges are well and widely acknowledged. Many of its citizens live in poverty, unemployment rates are high, there's a lack of infrastructure, electricity is sporadic at best, politicians are corrupt, ethnic division continues to disrupt the country -- the list can go on. But Nigeria also has a lot going for it. It's home to Africa's biggest population; the country is resource-rich; its population is eager to work and is highly entrepreneurial; and there's an emerging middle class. All these are a few of the key reasons that Nigeria is one of Goldman Sachs' "Next 11" -- the 11 countries with the most potential to be among the largest economies in the 21st century. It's no wonder that several large companies have made moves into Nigeria -- Porsche and Intercontinental Hotels were early movers, and most recently, on the beauty side, MAC Cosmetics has moved into Nigeria, and L'Oréal will soon.

With all its strengths and weaknesses, Nigeria feels like it's in one of those so-close-yet-so-far situations. It has all the "fixins" to be great. All the pieces are just lying there, waiting to come together. And those pieces seem obvious to those on the outside looking in, but not so obvious to those on the inside. Plenty of money is being made in Nigeria. According to Bloomberg, "Nigerian millionaires will increase in number by almost 47 percent over the next four years." But much more money can potentially be made. Narrow-sightedness at very high levels is choke-holding the country's financial possibility. The powers that be in Nigeria don't seem to be thinking big enough or long-term enough. Nigeria having a large GDP and a population that's predicted to surpass that of the United States is wonderful; it makes it an eye-catching investment opportunity. But if that huge population doesn't become a population with purchasing power, a population that consumes, investors will be few and far between. Precious foreign direct investment will be limited, while Nigeria's growing population becomes more of a liability than an asset.

But if the stars were to align and all the pieces of the "Naija" (as it's colloquially called) puzzle came together, imagine what Nigeria as a leading nation would look like. Imagine what that would mean.

With 62 percent of its almost 170 million citizens living below the poverty line, according to the United Nations, a prosperous Nigeria would obviously be a huge win in the battle against poverty. Also, if Nigeria pushes past its hurdles and gets to where it could be, a blueprint will be lain for other African Nations to follow. But in addition to the trickle-down monetary effects of industry and job creation, there's also an intangible trick-down effect that can benefit people in and outside of Nigeria. If Nigeria becomes the international power player that it could be, it would change the face of prosperity and power. Who might that inspire? How much more of the world's population might that empower?

It's one thing to exist and not know what you're made of, but it's another to know. Knowing what you can be and where you can go is, in and of itself, a mandate to get going. The headlines that tout Nigeria as "Africa's New Number One," juxtaposed against those of bombings and abductions, shouldn't be read only as acknowledgements of the nation's current state and its possibility but as urgent calls to action for those leading the country to start seizing opportunities that are being overlooked due to shortsightedness and to start viewing an enabled Nigerian population as an imminent requirement and not some distant theory.

This post is written as part of Un'ruly's exploration of The Many Shades of Black. This month we look at black possibility.