Nigeria’s Economic Growth


The World Economic Forum identifies Nigeria as one of the big five economies in Africa. The country has a gross domestic product (GDP) of $448.10 billion in 2019 (African Development Bank, 2020, p. 6). Nigeria’s growth has materialized into an economic powerhouse despite its challenging political environment. It is critical to study Nigeria’s economy because it is close to impossible to tackle Africa’s social challenges without harnessing the power of its largest economies (Hall, 2017). Together with Algeria, Egypt, Morocco, and South Africa, Nigeria collectively accounted for about 55% of the continent’s economic growth in 2019 (African Development Bank, 2020, p. 6). Arguably, the success of other African countries depends on these economic powerhouses’ success.

Unfortunately, none of these countries is on a high-growth lane, especially with the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic. Nigeria’s leaders need to consider inclusive and sustainable economic growth principles to assume an influential leadership and mentoring role for other African countries. This study focuses on the relationship between Nigeria’s economic growth and political stability. It is divided into two parts: the first part argues in support of the thesis statement that strengthening Nigeria’s economy will result in political stability. The second part discusses how Nigeria can capitalize on economic and political stability to become a role model for other African countries. Nigeria must achieve political stability through strengthening its economy to assume a mentoring role in Africa.

Economic Growth and Political Stability

While the role of political stability is well-established in sociopolitical literature, few studies have analyzed the role economic growth plays on a country’s political stability. A study conducted by Suberu et al. (2015) demonstrated that governments should not jeopardize economic freedom or political stability in their quest to revitalize and strengthen their economy. Simply put, countries must ensure economic freedom and political stability in their pursuit of economic growth. The relationship between political stability and economic growth is well established in social and political science. Political stability has been identified as an essential determinant of a country’s economic growth (Uddim et al., 2017). It mainly affects human capital accumulation and investment channels in developing countries, hence deterring economic growth (Uddim et al., 2017). Stability means a predictable and confident business and political environment, which can encourage investments and entrepreneurial activities.

Most importantly, researchers have identified political instability as a critical growth deterrent in oil-dependent countries with weak economic and political institutions (Uddim et al., 2017). This finding is particularly important in Nigeria, given that the country’s economy heavily depends on oil. Additionally, Nigeria has weak economic and political institutions, which has profound implications. Economic and political institutions play a crucial role in a country’s stability, financial development, and economic growth. Uzonwanne (2013) investigated institutions in Nigeria and concluded that these institution’s characteristics make Nigeria a weak state. The three main institutional weaknesses in Nigeria include ethnic conflicts, social unrest, and the persistence of an authoritative military that threaten civilian democracies (Uzonwanne, 2013). Evident from this study, the factors that threaten Nigeria’s strength are all political related. These weaknesses are caused by the prevalence of property and life insecurity due to growing poverty.

These weak institutions do not just affect a country’s political stability but also its economic growth. According to Alhassan and Kilishi (2019), weak institutions can slow a nation’s economic growth, per capita income, productivity, and economic development. Moreover, Alhassan and Kilishi (2019) imply that countries with weak institutions are set to fail or become underdeveloped. Nigeria has managed to rise and overcome these barriers to attain a leading position in Africa’s economy.

However, a country can’t become a role model for other countries unless it achieves success in dimensions that weaken its counterparts. According to Uzonwanne (2013), unless Nigeria restructures its social and political institutions, it is highly likely that it will become a failed state. This recommendation is critical considering that these institutional weaknesses have threatened the very existence of some African countries. It underscores the importance of stabilizing Nigeria’s politics to establish it as a powerful country in Africa. A study conducted by Alhassan and Kilishi (2019) showed that weak institutions in Africa are created; thus, they can also be reversed. Therefore, Nigeria needs to stabilize its political structure to become an influential role model in Africa. From this perspective, it is evident that the country can reverse its weak institutions and re-establish itself as an influential country in Africa’s governance and politics.

How Economic Growth Affects Political Stability

Good Growth Theory

This paper argues that Nigeria can stabilize its political systems by strengthening its economy. It hypothesizes that a strong economy will have a reciprocal effect on Nigeria’s politics and government stability. Economic growth causes political stability by improving citizens’ living standards and consumption of goods and services. This argument is supported by the good growth hypothesis, which holds that economic growth can create political stability because it is good for the people (Khan & Salam, 2017). According to Martin Paldam, the hypothesis’ author, economic growth generates high incomes for the government’s citizens, increasing their support or approval of the government (Khan & Salam, 2017). Other scholarly articles have also shown that people enjoy prosperity in countries with economic liberties. Ortmans et al. (2017). High incomes are examples of the human development benefits or economic benefits generated by economic growth.

Although contested, it is postulated that economic growth can improve citizen’s wellbeing. Mikucka et al.’s (2017) multilevel analysis showed that economic growth improves citizens’ wellbeing, provided that social trust and income equality do not decline in developing countries and rich countries, respectively. This finding is consistent with another econometric analysis study conducted by Proto and Rustichini (2014), which affirmed that a rise in personal income rates significantly contributes to a country’s happiness, especially in developing countries. Evident from the above studies, economic growth, measured by the happiness index, promote citizens’ wellbeing. With an increase in per capita GDP, citizens can satisfy their basic needs, increasing their life satisfaction. Mikucka et al. (2017) noted that their findings were consistent with scholarly recommendations of promoting social trust and reducing income inequalities to achieve citizens’ wellbeing. Mikucka et al.’s (2017) identification of income inequality as a critical determinant of a nation’s happiness underscores its importance in enhancing a country’s economic wellbeing.

Economic growth refers to the increase in a country’s GDP, which translates into an increase in total expenditure, gross national product (GNP), and national income. A nation’s government is responsible for creating development strategies that will harness its economic growth. Economic growth empowers citizens and their overall financial performance. When citizens are economically empowered, their support of the government is strengthened, leading to political stability. These sustainable human development benefits (education, healthcare, social services) generated by economic growth can lead to political stability.

In contrast, a lack of economic growth will lead to political instability. According to Khan and Salam (2017), economic growth without social development can encourage inequality, giving rise to sociopolitical unrest and instability. This finding implies that economic growth is necessary but insufficient for human development measures, including promoting health, education, and citizens’ per capita incomes. High economic growth can increase tax revenues, allowing the government to spend more on human development measures. Consequently, it improves living standards, increases life expectancy, and promotes citizens’ understanding of politics and issues.

Human development refers to the collective indices of education, good living standards, health, etc. (Khan & Salam, 2017). When these indices are missing from citizens’ lives, their life satisfaction decreases, reducing the government’s popularity. This statement is in line with Khan and Salam’s (2017) finding that economic growth is “necessary-but-not-sufficient.” It also suggests a relationship between economic growth and political stability. In line with this finding, it is logical to argue that economic growth enhances political stability provided it results in citizens’ social development.

VP Function Theory

The notion that economic growth increases political stability is also supported by the “vote and popularity function.” The VP function attempts to explain the relationship between social welfare on government support. Similar to Martin Paldam’s theory, VP function theory asserts that political support is a function of the outcomes of economic and political factors. This theory is based on the “power of the economic vote,” which asserts that economic and political factors influence voting practices in predictable ways. According to this theory, voters in states where only one individual holds the top office can easily identify the person responsible for the country’s state of affairs. In such political systems, the economic vote will strongly influence the election of that leader.

The economic vote is a theory that postulates that economic conditions strongly influence voter behaviors during the election period. The fundamental assumption underlying this theory is that voters always evaluate an incumbent’s accomplishments and failures and reward or punish him/her accordingly. Voters typically react to the economic conditions of the county and their personal circumstances and determine whether to support or resist the government.

The economic vote theory has received consistent support from empirical research. In 1970, Kramer, a political scientist, developed a vote function to test the theory’s credibility in U.S. elections (Stegmaier et al., 2017). When Kramer applied the vote function to congressional elections in the country, he discovered that per capita changes in personal incomes strongly affected the congressional vote. Kramer’s findings showed that a 10% decrease in personal revenues reduced the incumbent votes by four to five percent (Stegmaier et al., 2017). In a similar vein, two other researchers, Goodhart and Bhansali, also conducted a study to understand factors that influenced party popularity. The authors discovered that price inflation and unemployment rates affected party popularity (Stegmaier et al., 2017). Kramer and Goodhart, and Bhansali’s studies emphasize how economic evaluations and conditions influence a country’s political system.

The studies confirm that a country’s economic welfare impacts politics and influences voters’ or citizens’ acceptance and government approval. When an incumbent wins the election despite the country’s economy is terrible, or without citizens’ acceptance, postelection violence and conflicts may emerge, affecting the country’s political stability. Electoral violence, ethnic rivalry, and resource wars are the primary sources of political instability in Africa. Most African states show that incumbents sponsor violence and political conflicts to protect their positions in the government.

For example, in countries with a single executive system or where only one person can hold the highest office, voters can quickly identify who is responsible for the state of the country’s affairs. In these systems, economic voting will be stronger than in countries with coalition governments comprised of multiple parties. Political scandals can affect voting, and electoral myopia can increase a government’s popularity. In the event of an economic boom, a government’s popularity increases.

Gold-Stone Turchin Theory

Goldstone-Turchin’s theory of mass mobilization can also be used to explain how economic growth affects political stability. Goldstone and Turchin’s theory predicted political instability based on three indicators: state fiscal distress, mass mobilization potential, and elite mobilization potential. The mass mobilization potential refers to pressures that emanate from citizen’s distress, such as relative low wages, urbanization rates, and age structure. A study conducted by Ortmans et al. (2017) showed that masses tend to get politically reactive when relative wages or incomes are low. The authors demonstrated that a country with a large number of youths increases a country’s susceptibility to political instability. Ortmans et al. (2017) hypothesized that when youths enter the labor market in large numbers, welfare levels and average wages reduce. Furthermore, young people are predisposed to radicalization and political violence due to their natural tendency to question the existing authority.

Ortmans et al. (2017) assertion that people can be mobilized for political violence due to low wages and incomes confirms Paldam’s theory. As mentioned earlier, Paldam argued that economic growth increases people’s incomes which, in turn, fosters their support of the government (Khan & Salam, 2017). Therefore, when income inequality declines in a country, it can cause unrest. Resistance or protests can cause an unstable political environment, increasing uncertainty that may cause a reduction in investment, labor production, and economic development.

There is also a link between economic crises and political instability. A spike in political mistrust characterized the last global economic recession in 2008. The aftermath of the downturn suggests that an economic decline can create democratic illegitimacy. Public opinion tends to be strongly reactive to an economic recession than economic growth. Another study by Hooghe and Okolikj (2020) conducted a systematic review and showed that an economic crisis or recession has a destabilizing effect on a country’s politics. For example, the Brexit campaign was ignited after the 2007-2009 economic crisis. Brexit refers to the United Kingdom’s withdrawal from the European Union, resulting in decades-long economic consequences in the region (Hooghe & Okolikj, 2020). Hooghe and Okolikj (2020) attributed the political destabilization to public mistrust of the government and economic anxiety after the crises’ aftermath.

Another source of political instability in a country is economic transitions. An upward economic growth expedites the economic and political transition. Political stability is typical during a transition period because democracy takes time before it is achieved. Nigeria is currently experiencing a transition from a developing country into an emerging market. According to Nguyen (2018), economic transitions bring their problems in their wake, including inflation, unemployment, corruption, inequality, etc.

Martin Paldam argues that the relationship between inflation and political instability works both ways. This hypothesis is also based on the “good growth theory” that people hold governments accountable for economic outcomes. When inflation increases, it becomes hard for the government to resist the pressure from the public to account for the risen inflation. Any event that threatens to overthrow or bring down the current regime can result in political instability.

In summary, these above theories show the mechanism through which economic growth causes political stabilities. All the above studies demonstrate that economic growth can create political stability provided that citizens profit from its benefit. Several theories support this hypothesis, including the mass mobilization theory, the good growth hypothesis, and the VP function Theory. The theories postulate that economic growth improves citizens’ life satisfaction and wellbeing, enhancing their approval and support of the government. In contrast, without economic growth, the government’s popularity reduces, and citizens become resistant towards it, causing political instability. However, when this condition is satisfied, the citizens will approve and support the government; hence, generating political stability. In contrast, lack of economic growth or economic growth in the absence of social developments can give rise to socio-political instability.

How Countries Become a Role Model

China and India play a critical role in influencing capital markets and international trade due to the economic strengths. These countries’ growth trajectory placed them in a strategic position to influence global governance. Interestingly, both countries have enormous population sizes and have the largest economies with their respective regions (Fosu, 2013). Like India and China, Nigeria shares some of these salient characteristics, including having a huge population, a considerable territory, and one of the largest economies in Africa. Accordingly, it is logical to argue that Nigeria’s current economic development path can influence governance and political reforms in Africa.

Many African countries have severely dysfunctional institutions and are commonly referred to as banana republics. Extensive literature widely supports this view, yet the efforts directed at institutional reforms are disappointing. Trebilock (2019) argues that developed countries are scarcely good role models for institutional reform and good governance for African countries. China, for example, has significant, influential power in Africa. Yet, its communist party is notorious for suppressing political criticism and is also highly intrusive and restrictive of media freedom and communication.

For a country to be a good role model, it needs to be successful in every dimension: economic growth, poverty reduction, corruption-free, democratization, etc. Although it does not need to be bereft of periodical failures and crises, a good role model should have the ability to overcome such adversity and successfully move towards success. According to Trebilock (2019), developing countries can only find helpful guidance on successful institutional reforms in other developing countries with similar characteristics.

This recommendation provides a pathway for Nigeria to serve as a role model for other African states. Like India and China, Nigeria shares some salient characteristics, including having a huge population, a large geographic territory, and one of the largest economies in the region. Accordingly, it is logical to argue that Nigeria’s current economic development path provides it with the opportunity and power to influence governance and political reforms in Africa. In addition to its financial capability and huge population, Nigeria shares common characteristics and backgrounds with many African states, making it the perfect candidate for role modeling.

Unfortunately, as mentioned earlier, Nigeria still lacks some essential characteristics of a good role model; this includes institutional reform and good governance. For a country to become successful, it needs to have capabilities: human, institutional, and physical capabilities (“Policy Brief,” 2013). Nigeria has adequate human power for two reasons: it has the largest population in Africa, and youths comprise the largest share of that population. Although not a success guarantee, Nigeria can capitalize on its outstanding demographic potential to generate labor productivity to influence its economic development. However, for this to happen, a large proportion of this population needs to be literate, healthy, and employed (“Policy Brief,” 2013). Satisfying these needs will generate various advantages, including a productive workforce and better incentives for investing in human capital, which can play a crucial role in the country’s success.

On the other hand, without these conditions, Nigeria’s remarkable population can quickly turn into an economic disaster. A study conducted by Misra (2015) revealed that demographic dividend has a positive impact on economic growth. Demographic dividend refers to a country’s economic growth potential due to shifts in its population ages – when the working-age population exceeds the non-working population. As mentioned, youths are Nigeria’s most significant population segment, generating a robust demographic dividend for the country. Such a young population can yield a demographic dividend and low dependency as it creates a working labor force for the coming years.

A solid human dividend generates abundant human capital and incentives for high saving rates by attracting foreign investment and preventing capital flight. The study conducted by Misra (2015) demonstrated a positive relationship between a country’s GDP and demographic dividend. According to Misra (2015), a solid human resource capability and demographic dividend significantly contribute to accelerated economic growth provided that the human capital is productive. Nigeria can capitalize on its strong human resource base to strengthen its economy provided that the labor force is productively used.

In line with this recommendation, Nigeria needs to create employment opportunities for its large youth population. The unemployment rate in Nigeria was 20.42% and 23.13% in 2017 and 2018, respectively (Anyanwu & Duru, 2020, p. 68). According to Anyanwu and Duru (2020, p. 68), the unemployment rate among youths increased from 26.58% in 2017 to 29.72% in 2018. There were 20927648 million unemployed people in Nigeria, and the youths accounted for 13145708 million of that population (Anyanwu & Duru, 2020, p. 68). The national bureau of statistics reports that 26.4% of youths are currently underemployed (Anyanwu & Duru, 2020, p. 69). Misra (2015) demonstrated that unless human capital is productive, economic growth is impractical. Therefore, Nigeria needs to implement effective strategies to improve employment rates among youths to strengthen its economic growth. Young people’s energy, aspirations, and skills are invaluable for any country seeking economic growth.

Helping youths access employment is undoubtedly a precondition for reducing political stability and increasing economic growth. Youth unemployment is a breeding ground for social problems, including increased crime rates. Anyanwu and Duru (2020, p. 72) argue that “unemployment is the great tsunami of the economy that goes lurching on and people are caught up in the tidal wave.” Many unemployed youths are attracted to crime to survive harsh economic conditions, threatening national security and development. This youth susceptibility to crime confirms the mass mobilization theory that asserts that a country with a large youth population is likely to experience political instability. The theory postulated that youths, especially in low-wage economies, can be easily mobilized to resist the government or incite political violence.

It is noteworthy to mention that Nigeria’s young receive low wages and incomes. Anyanwu and Duru (2020, p. 82) reveal that 19 out of 20 youths in developing countries work in the informal sector. In Nigeria, 16.7% of youths live on wages below the acute poverty line, with an average of $1.90 a day (Anyanwu & Duru, 2020, p. 82). Additionally, many youths, including the educated, are absorbed into the informal sector due to high unemployment rates. If the mass mobilization theory is true, then the current youth situation in Nigeria is a breeding ground for political instability.

As indicated earlier, productive human capital can attract investment and preventing capital flight. Savings are dependent on disposable incomes, which accrue from worker tax deductions. However, because an unemployed youth does not earn an income, savings are significantly reduced, limiting investments. The low investments would then reduce the country’s income through the multiplier processes (Anyanwu & Duru, 2020). This view underscores the need to provide youth employment to generate political stability and strengthen Nigeria’s economy.

Strategies to Improve Youth Employment: (Anyanwu & Duru, 2020)

Nigeria can effectively capitalize on youth’s skills and energies by:

  • Ensure that the country investment plans can create youth employment; these plans should be integrated with the country’s macroeconomic policies.
  • Create job centers that link youths to employers.
  • The government should make the “four Es” mainstream in the national strategy of reducing unemployment. The four Es include employability, entrepreneurship, and equal opportunity. The education system should be redesigned to ensure that it equips youths with the right skills that make them employable.
  • The government should encourage public-private partnerships to create more employment opportunities.
  • The main economic sectors, including sports, housing, construction, manufacturing, agriculture, and building and construction, should be considered the main employment sources that can generate substantial employment opportunities.

Diversification of the Economy

Nigeria’s economy heavily depends on oil, and it needs to consider diversification to strengthen its economy. The need to diversify is based on the “resource curse” – a concept used to describe how resource-rich countries rarely succeed economically. Both political scientists and economists have investigated the resource curse paradox, and many have suggested that natural resource wealth is a disadvantage to a country and can harm its economic growth (Ross, 2015). For example, Trinidad and Venezuela have experienced low economic growth despite being oil-rich countries. In contrast, some of the wealthiest countries in the world are resource-poor.

Inarguably, a country’s natural resource affects its economic development. Several theories have been proposed to explain why resource-rich countries are economically disadvantaged. For example, some economists have suggested that oil-rich countries use the resource rent created from oil to create subsidies for essential human commodities. However, these countries fail to remove these subsidies when the resource rent reduces, creating the socioeconomic and political effects associated with the resource curse.

Another theory is that oil-rich countries’ income does not depend on citizen taxation because the natural resources generate significant revenues for the government. Therefore, the government depends less on citizens and more on natural resources, making them less invested in democracy and citizens’ needs and welfare. Theorists supporting this view postulate that the failure to rely on citizens reinforces the authoritative leadership approach in many oil-rich nations. Also, because oil prices tend to fluctuate due to unpredictable changes in production, oil-rich governments are prone to inefficient spending and borrowing.

They can overspend on fuel subsidies and salaries when the resource revenues are high and subsequently cut down spending on healthcare, education, social services, etc. Recall that this paper indicated that economic growth could only lead to political stability provided that it results in human development benefits such as healthcare and education. Therefore, inefficient spending in resource-rich countries can precipitate political instability. This tendency is what led Nigeria into a debt crisis in the 1980s. Nigeria has also faced other issues such as increased crime rates, political instability, high inflation, foreign exchange market fluctuations, and long periods of debt servicing. According to Suberu et al. (2015), Nigeria’s mono-economy has significantly contributed to unemployment and poverty levels. This paper has already discussed the implications of these adverse outcomes on a country’s political stability. Therefore, the government needs to eliminate the perception that oil is an endless revenue source.

Economic diversification provides an avenue for Nigeria to escape these sociopolitical issues. Suberu et al. (2015) assert that diversification should be considered a key strategy towards sustainable development and growth. Two strategies can be used to implement diversification: attracting foreign direct investment and using domestic savings to boost financing. To attract FDI, the government should create a stable macroeconomic environment characterized by economic freedom. The economic freedom index refers to a country’s property rights, tax burden, business freedom, and government spending (Khan & Salam, 2017). The economic freedom measures relevant to our case study include:

  • Business Freedom –An individual can freely conduct businesses in the country without interference from the local government.
  • Monetary Freedom – The stability of the local currency and market-determined pricing
  • Property Freedom – It is the right of citizens to own and accumulate private property in a country. This freedom gives citizens and foreigners the confidence and trust to invest in entrepreneurial activities in a country.
  • Labor Freedom – This measure reflects workers’ freedom to interact freely without any governmental restrictions. In an economically free country, the government cannot impose price or wage controls on workers.
  • Investment Freedom – This index reflects the freedom of capital flow, especially foreign capital without any restrictions. The legalities associated with capital flow and abandoning these economic freedoms will diminish economic growth and lead to an economic slowdown.
  • Freedom from corruption entails the economic market’s freedom from embezzlement, nepotism, extortion, and illegitimate benefit from public finances. This index is used to measure a government’s likelihood of being destabilized by violence or terrorism.

Currently, Nigeria pursues the resource-rich strategy to power its economy. This strategy involves exporting oil to generate revenues to building the country’s economy. As demonstrated above, the resource-rich strategy disadvantages a country and inhibits its economic growth. Many developed countries, including France and Germany, pursue the “import–substitution–industrialization” strategy instead of the resource-rich strategy and become hugely successful. They created employment by intensifying exports, which, in turn, increased agricultural products’ demands. These countries’ strategy was to increase the number of jobs instead of wages and rent-seeking behaviors typical of underdeveloped countries. As the World Bank reported, these employment-creating behaviors led to equitable development and subsequent economic growth. the old article

While countries such as France and Germany pursued the ISI strategy and experienced a successful economic transition, many African states failed. Ogujiuba et al. (2011) argue that these countries failed because of over-regulation of the economic institutions even when the nominal economy increased, undermining political stability in the process. These countries pursued the ISI model policies to protect the political industry with funds taken from agricultural and import consumption. With ISI policies, African governments created political coalitions that maintained state control. Ogujiuba et al. (2011) posit that profits made by rent-seeking behaviors when a country is not operating under a free economy can breed animosity and political stability. Eventually, these policies led to inflations and subsequent low economic growth. Inevitably, these countries’ economies become constrained, leading to a negative-sum game. The negative-sum game refers to a situation whereby the country destroys value instead of creating it.

In a similar vein, Nigeria should adopt the ISI model and create employment and increase agricultural businesses. A study conducted by Suberu et al. (2015) showed that Nigeria could diversify its economy through innovation, mineral development, and agricultural business. If the Nigerian government diversifies the economy and ensures that these freedom measures are implemented in the local Nigerian market, it will achieve greater economic efficiency and higher economic growth. A country’s GDP per capita can be improved if the government puts more effort into enhancing human and economic development.


A country cannot become a role model unless it achieves success in core socioeconomic and political domains, including economic growth, poverty reduction, corruption-free, democratization. While Nigeria has grown to become an economic powerhouse in Africa, it still lacks some of these essential features. This paper has argued that Nigeria will become a role model to other African countries by attaining political stability through economic growth. This way, the country will possess the suitable characteristics of a proper role model. With economic growth, citizens’ support and approval of the government will increase provided that the economic growth results in human development benefits, the country will achieve political stability. Promoting youth employment and diversifying the economy are some strategies Nigeria can use to strengthen its economy.


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