Nigeria has been legitimately economically boastful of late. With the recent figures showing an 89 percent economic growth since the 1990s and a GDP of £307.6 billion, leading media outlets such as the Guardian, have rightfully named it “Africa’s biggest economy”. Increasingly we hear of the hope that Nigeria’s economy will finally reach the expectations that colonial Britain held at the beginning of its independence, and that it would become a potential economic global player. In all honesty when I say that Nigeria has been very boastful I mean that rather, I have. The economic potential of the country continues to rise with the increasing size of the middle-class, the backbone of most successful economies, together with the exponential growth of start-ups in the West African nation.
However, the recent Ebola outbreak in West Africa has served to highlight that, although advances in development have certainly been made, much of this has only been experienced by an elite minority. Many key factors in economic development, such as education and infrastructure, remain worryingly low for Nigeria on the whole. In comparison to Western and developed countries Nigeria’s development appears shallow and hollow.
Nigeria’s educational weaknesses were highlighted by the panic and misguided practices that surrounded the outbreak. There were two unnecessary deaths caused by people believing spam messages that were sent around as texts directing Nigerians to drink and bathe in salt in order to be protected from the disease. Two deaths not caused by the disease itself but the poor skepticism and easy misguidance of some in the nation. Furthermore, despite an abundance of reassurance by medical authorities that the disease was not airborne I still personally received a text warning me not to go outside because “Ebola was in the air”. These two incidences are microcosms revealing the extent of illiteracy that still runs deep within the nation and thus the weakness of Nigeria’s education and how this hinders the nation’s full development. Rather than greeting these spam messages with skepticism that we learn at school, many in the population took fiction as fact and some unfortunately paid the ultimate price for this.
According to UNESCO in 2010 there were currently 11.3 million children out of primary school in the populous African nation, I suspect that there were even more. Furthermore, its figures suggest that for every 1000 students there are just 3.59 teachers. Both of these statistics are worrying and highlight that there is still much room for improvement for Nigeria on the whole, and that the sum figure of GDP is not representative of this reality.
Furthermore, the weakness of the country’s infrastructure was highlighted by its inability to successfully deal with one, albeit belligerent and difficult, infected man. Mr Patrick Sawyer was brought to a respectable middle-class private hospital in the wealthy Ikoyi area of Lagos, yet despite this, according to Sahara Reporters, having been told he was infected with Ebola he still almost left the hospital for a conference and in doing so spread the disease much further than was necessary. This happened in one of the best hospitals in the megacity, yet one cannot even begin to fathom such a situation occurring in the Western world. Although there is need to give deserved praise to the doctors who risked and even gave their lives in fighting the disease, the fact remains that if enough development had been directed towards the health system in the first instance many of the subsequent deaths would have been prevented, as well as the spread of the virus itself.
The isolation centre outside of Lagos was vital in providing distance between the pervasive disease and the densely populated area, however its conditions varied from basic to poor. Sahara Reporters exposed the centre to have facilities which were rudimental at best to the extent that some families removed their infected relations from the grounds, further spreading the disease. Ebola is mainly treated by nursing the infected back to health, yet for many of the stricken who were not blessed with a robust bank account these basic expectations were not met.
Perhaps the most distressing contrast is the fact that whilst the West has a cure for its victims, Nigerians must continue to die. The World Health Organisation has predicted that the outbreak will get worse before it gets better and may reach 20,000 victims. However, only one person has died from Ebola in the West. This is symbolic of the vast disparity that remains between Nigeria and the developed nations, and something which the GDP figures do not show. Bismarck Rewane, a Nigerian financial analyst, draws a poignant conclusion on this matter by arguing that despite these recent figures of success: “The Nigerian population is not better off tomorrow because of that announcement. It doesn’t put more money in the bank, more food in their stomach. It changes nothing.”
The sad truth is that whilst Nigeria’s GDP may have achieved this laudable feat the World Bank still lists it as a “lower middle income” country with 46 percent of the nation in poverty, and these are most certainly not the characteristics of an economically developed, let alone fully developed, nation.