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How the North Draws Nigeria Backward

The US Agency for International Development (USAID) posts several disturbing statistics for Nigeria:

• Half of the country is comprised of youths under the age of 15.

• A large population and high fertility have led to over five million births a year.

• Underweight and under-age-five mortality rates are worse than the average in both developing countries and sub-Saharan Africa.

• Infant and maternal mortality rates are 90 percent higher than in developing countries.

The preponderance of these infant and maternal deaths occurs in Nigeria’s predominantly Muslim northern states.

This persistent rift between north and south is a potential driver for future conflict between Nigeria’s “haves” and “have-nots.” 

This disproportionate population growth combined with social and economic disparity is a potential danger to stability in Nigeria and the surrounding region.

Nigeria’s President, Muhammadu Buhari

Nigeria combines a high birth-rate of 5.6 children with the second-order effect of the HIV pandemic, namely increased adult mortality, which in turn creates a youth population that is increasing as a percentage of the overall population. This looming “youth bulge” brings with it many unique challenges. German anthropologist Gunnar Heinsohn describes them this way:

“A result of rapid population growth, a youth bulge happens when 30 to 40 percent of a nation’s males are between the ages of 15 and 29. Even if these young men are well nourished and have good housing and education, their numbers grow much faster than the economy can provide them with career opportunities. Many don’t have jobs, and don’t have places in society. When so many young men compete for the few places available, they become frustrated, angry, and violent. They [enlist] quite easily into radical groups and terror organizations.”

Unemployed and underemployed young adults can rapidly destabilize a society with their restive energy. They are quick to join nationalistic movements or are quite often easy targets for radical religious movements. 

In Heinsohn’s view, this human dynamic equals “demographic armament,” an arsenal of people standing against weak governments and even other nations who are facing the “demographic capitulation” of negative population growth rates. The youth bulge emerging in Nigeria may swap roles from productive labourers to disaffected rebels in the next two decades, which then may place enormous stresses on the fissures and cracks dividing Nigerian society.

Exacerbating the prospects for the employment of these young people is the problem of the “brain drain” that persists in Nigeria.

Intellectuals and many health care professionals continue to emigrate to the United States and Europe.

Complicating economic development in the north is the suffocating cloak of Shar’ia law, which prevents women from gaining an education or achieving equality in the workplace, effectively eliminating half the potential of Nigeria’s northern states. This latter dynamic is taking place in the region where birth-rates are the highest in the country. Over time, this will further widen the economic disparity that defines the rift between north and south.

As a result of the influences of culture, climate change, and governmental corruption, an economic schism is developing across Nigeria, and this divide is likely to worsen. As noted earlier, Nigeria’s south is receiving a disproportionately large fraction of the infrastructure development for the purpose of bringing goods and services to the major seaports.

These advances are not likely in the north where its leaders and social structure tend to stifle education, restrict global and national engagement, and restrain economic opportunity. As the Muslim population in the north grows, the combination of traditional values will keep the restive youth in the conservative north primed for conflict against the more liberal south. These northern “have-nots,” possibly radicalized and angry, will likely foment the rise of civil conflict in years ahead

A Widening North-South Gap

As Nigeria’s economy grows, there will be several factors that widen the previously discussed poverty gap. The first is education. The USAID reports the northern states are providing little in the way of formal schooling for their children. The agency’s statistics show the percentage of the population in the three northern regions having no education at all ranges from 40 to 70 percent, with only 10 to 15 percent having completed primary school. Conversely, the southern states are educating about 80 percent of the population, with over 20 percent completing primary school and half of those going on to complete secondary education. 

While the south’s education is poor compared to Western standards, it far exceeds the north. Combined with disproportionate population growth in northern states and a worsening national youth bulge, a growing segment of the north’s population will be young unskilled workers. As the World Bank points out:

“Even though wages of unskilled workers in virtually all countries have risen as productivity has increased with globalization, the unskilled have received wage increases that are lower than those for skilled workers and they have experienced greater difficulty in sustaining their employment.”

Thus, the economic disparities between Nigeria’s north and south, particularly in employment opportunities, are likely to worsen in the future.

Excerpts from:

Failed State 2030, Nigeria – A Case Study. Occasional Paper No.67, Center for Strategy and Technology, Air War College, Alabama, USA – February 2011

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