The Shortcomings of a Giant: What Prevents Nigeria from Becoming Africa’s Premier Regional Power?

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Max Kerr

The central narrative attached to many African nations is one of a post-colonial struggle to overcome political turmoil, violence, poverty and exploitation. The focus on this narrative seems to have facilitated an assumption of victimhood towards the continent. But what if we stopped to consider the potential of a country, such as Nigeria, to overcome these struggles and emerge as a formidable international force in its own right?

At a glance, the Federal Republic of Nigeria, with its massive population and growing economy, would seem to be the prime candidate to become such a force. However, with its apparent strength compromised by a government riddled with corruption, does the country have the tools to overcome its various challenges and emerge as a burgeoning regional, and perhaps even global, power?

The Giant of Africa

Perhaps the most obvious indicator of Nigeria’s potential is its people. The country boasts by far the largest population in Africa, with over 200 million as of 2021, and is projected to be the third most populous country in the world by 2050. The West African state is also the largest oil exporter in Africa, producing about 101.4 million metric tons of oil in 2019. Furthermore, there are roughly 34 million hectares of arable land in the country, as well as potentially vast amounts of untapped mineral wealth. This vast population and abundance of natural resources have translated into significant economic advantages for the country, making the Republic the largest economy in Africa. However, Nigeria still has room for further rapid economic growth.

Another sign of Nigeria’s prosperity is its ability, and willingness, to take on leadership positions among its West African neighbours. This can be most clearly seen through Abuja’s historically active role in various peacekeeping missions, not only under the UN mandate, but a