Some of the world’s biggest countries have managed to reduce extreme poverty—except Nigeria

Image: AP Photo/Lekan Oyekanmi
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Despite its vast oil riches and impressive economic growth, Nigeria has struggled to lift its people out of poverty over the past three decades.

That fact stands out in the World Bank’s 2017 Atlas of Sustainable Development Goals, which shows that 35 million more Nigerians were living in extreme poverty in 2013 than in 1990. The Atlas tracks the progress countries are making to meet 17 development goals set out by the United Nations, such as reducing economic inequality, the use of clean energy, and literacy rates. Among the 10 most populous countries for which data is available, only Nigeria recorded an increase in the number of citizens who live in extreme poverty over the period of the study. The Atlas defines “extreme poverty” as living on less than $1.90 a day.

While the ballooning number can be linked to a population surge in Nigeria (the country grew from 96 to 174 million people between 1990 and 2013), this doesn’t fully account for the persistence of extreme poverty in the country. All 10 of the biggest countries in the World Bank’s report also registered population increases over that period, barring Russia. Nigeria’s 81% population increase was dwarfed by Ethiopia, which saw a 96% increase over the same period.

Nigeria’s progress has been significantly impeded by its inability to distribute the country’s immense oil wealth to citizens. This is corroborated by a recent report from the Legatum Institute, a London-based think tank, which measured “prosperity delivery” to citizens in comparison to a country’s actual wealth. Of the 38 countries covered by the research, Nigeria ranked 26th, with the report saying it was “under-delivering” prosperity to its citizens.

Corruption and incompetence are to blame, and last week served up another reminder of how much malfeasance costs the country. Emails leaked by anti-corruption charities Global Witness and Finance Uncovered suggested that a $1.3 billion payment by oil giants Shell and Eni in 2011 for a lucrative but undeveloped Nigerian oilfield never went to the public trust for which it was intended. Instead, almost all of the money (nearly half of that year’s national education budget) was divvied up as kickbacks between high-ranking government officials.