So far, most of the five countries representing Africa at the FIFA World Cup have endured a bruising experience. At the time of writing Tunisia, Egypt and Morocco have all been eliminated from the tournament with one group game still to be played.
The sub-Saharan nations of Nigeria and Senegal have faired a little better and still have a chance to progress. Senegal faces Columbia in their final group match while Nigeria must avoid defeat against two-time World Cup winners Argentina and the world’s best player, Lionel Messi. It will not be easy, but Africa is still in with a fighting chance and most commentators will be looking to Nigeria, the economic powerhouse of Africa, to leave a positive impression in Russia.
Nigeria’s Super Eagles were expected to fly high at the world’s biggest football tournament, but their efforts to be the standard bearer for African football in Russia is proving difficult. They were hoping to break a World Cup record that hasn’t seen them win an opening match since they defeated Spain in 1998, but their 2-0 loss to Croatia means the Super Eagles are off to the worst start possible. They did bounce back with an impressive 2-0 win over Iceland and now a nation expects, hopes, and especially prays for another winning performance against Argentina.
With so many talented players it’s no surprise that Nigeria is viewed by many as the flag-bearer for Africa at this World Cup and this intense pressure on Nigeria’s footballer team mirrors the wider expectations on Nigeria as a country and its role as a leader in Africa.
Nigeria is not only Africa’s most populous nation with a population of ~ 190 million people, but since 2014, Nigeria has been the largest economy on the continent following the rebasing of its GDP. The country’s GDP was estimated at US $394 billion in 2017, largely driven by household consumption which represents more than two-thirds of the country’s GDP. Crude oil also plays an important role in the country’s economy, as it accounts for the huge chunk of Nigeria’s exports and government revenue.
Its creative contribution to the fashion, music, and art industries are renowned all over the world, while Nigeria’s “Nollywood” film industry produces more movies (with the exception of Bollywood in India) than any other country.
English is the country’s official language, but there are close to 250 ethnic groups that live there making Nigeria one of the most diverse nations on Earth. With so many gifts, it’s not hard to see why Nigeria is projected to become the world’s 3rd largest economy by 2050. However, much like their football team during this current World Cup, the West African giant faces some serious obstacles that are preventing it from realising its full potential.
The majority of Nigeria’s citizens do not experience the benefits of its huge oil and gas wealth. Nigeria has the second largest population of people living in poverty worldwide, (second only to India), estimated to be about 85 million people in 2015.
Nigeria also lags well behind nearly all countries in the region on core health indicators. In 2015, life expectancy at birth was 54 years – nearly the worst in the world, with only 6 countries ranking lower. Young Nigerians experience acute difficulties when it comes to getting jobs and education, with huge attendance-rate disparities depending on where you live. For example, 51% of children living in the Northeast region are not attending primary school, compared to just 2% in the South region. Government spending for education is inadequate. Nigeria allocated roughly 6% of its federal budget to the Ministry of Education in 2017, well below the target of 20%.
Predictably, women and girls in the country face increased health risks, as well as lagging behind in educational attainment, workforce participation, and political leadership. In addition, restrictive social norms and the presence of religious extremism in northern Nigeria make gender gaps particularly high in that part of the country.
Nigeria’s influence on Africa and the rest of the world remains as strong as ever, but while the world waits to see just what Nigeria can achieve over the coming decades, the main beneficiaries of any future successes must, first and foremost, be its population.
In the short-term, many Nigerians may focus on sporting events in Russia, but success on the football field will not solve any of the major challenges faced by Nigeria. However, imagine how the country might celebrate if the Super Eagles did win the World Cup in Russia? Perhaps building on the recent announcement of 1% CRF for healthcare in the 2018 budget by increasing investment in health would be a great start.