Nigeria’s perilous low life expectancy index – Punch

A new report by the United Nations Population Fund has reiterated the obvious: Life has become so short in Nigeria. In its 2019 State of the World report, the United Nations agency says Nigeria’s life expectancy is 55 years. This ranks the country at number 178 globally. It is thus marginally better than only Sierra Leone (53 years), Chad and Central Africa Republic (both 54 years) in the index. This ranking is just too low, but it re-establishes the extremely dire reality that Nigeria is a failing state in many respects.

With a retarded mono-product economy, decrepit social infrastructure and scary security breaches, all the indices are stacked against decent living in Nigeria. Those 65 years and above, about 6 million people in all, are just three per cent of the population, which is dominated by those aged between 15 and 64 (54 per cent). Even war-torn Afghanistan is doing far better, having a life expectancy of 65 years. In Africa, Ghana out-performs Nigeria with 62.74 years life expectancy, South Africa 62.77 years and Ethiopia 65.48 years.

Although it is officially out of recession, the national economy is disarticulated, unable to compete with its peers. The World Bank predicts the Nigerian economy will grow at a measly 2.1 per cent in 2019. For a population estimated by UNFPA at 201 million, the misery is palpable. With its 91 million wretchedly poor, Nigeria has overtaken India as the extreme poverty capital of the world, the African Development Bank said.

Regrettably, in the Misery Index 2018, Nigeria ranked sixth worst out of 95 countries with a score of 43.0. The index, compiled by the Johns Hopkins University in the United States, bases its computation mainly on the unemployment rate, inflation and lending rates, minus the percentage in real Gross Domestic Product per capita. Of course, Nigeria fares woefully in all these areas. Conversely, Thailand, Hungary, Japan, China and Switzerland, scored top marks in the aforementioned areas.

Undoubtedly, the unemployment rate is wretched. The National Bureau of Statistics puts the jobless rate at 23.1 per cent, underemployment at 20.21 per cent and youth unemployment at a daunting 55.4 per cent. In addition, inflation stands at 11.25 per cent, which constricts businesses from expanding and creating sorely needed jobs. At just about 5,000 megawatts, electricity – a fundamental requirement for economic growth – is inadequate and unreliable. Prevailing double digit interest rate pushes businesses into the red. Eventually, many fold up.

Not surprisingly, there is a yawning infrastructure deficit in every area of national life. In December, the Securities and Exchange Commission stated that the deficit would hit $878 billion by the year 2040. By that time, Nigeria’s population is projected to be about 327 million or the fourth most populated country in the world. For now, the country, with a GDP of $375.8 billion, according to the World Bank, has the highest number of out-of-school children in the world – at 13.2 million. The quality of life is very low: only 29 per cent of the population has access to sanitation; 31.5 per cent lacks access to potable water, says the UNFPA. The prognosis is gloomy.

Apart from the Boko Haram Islamist insurgency that has claimed about 100,000 lives and displaced two million others in the North-East, deaths are being recorded daily in Fulani herdsmen attacks, banditry in the North-West, kidnapping and armed robbery. The Acting Inspector-General of Police, Mohammed Adamu, said 1,071 Nigerians were slaughtered in the first quarter of 2019. Zamfara and Kaduna states suffered the most.

The health sector in the country is atrocious. Poorly funded and under-equipped, Nigerians are dying from a plethora of ailments. The country is just one of the three in the world where polio is still endemic. Its annual 40,000 maternal deaths account for roughly 14 per cent of the global total, says the Kenya-based African Population and Health Research Centre. “One Nigerian woman dies every 13 minutes – that is 109 women dying each day – from preventable causes related to pregnancy and child birth,” the APHRC lamented.

In this chaos, every Nigerian is a potential victim. It is not surprising that many are rushing out of the country. Years of misrule by self-centred political elite have come home to roost. Therefore, what is most needed now is a clear head. Nigerians must stand up and demand good governance. They should challenge public officials, who live a life of luxury at their expense.

First, governance in Nigeria is just too top heavy, servicing a few office holders. Out of the 2018 budget of N9.1 trillion, the Federal Government allocated N3.51 trillion to recurrent non-debt spending as against N2.87 trillion for capital renewal. This does not make sense. In contrast, US President, Donald Trump, is working on a bipartisan deal that will channel $2 trillion to renew the country’s “broken” infrastructure. Common sense dictates that governments in Nigeria must prioritise capital spending to improve living conditions.

Two, the subsisting quasi-federal political structure is the antithesis of development. The 36 federating units are glorified cost centres. They do not deliver development simply because there is no serious production going on at the state level. Monthly, they head for Abuja to share the dwindling income from oil. Many of them could not even pay workers’ salaries. In addition, there are 774 Local Government Areas, which are mainly parasites. Elsewhere, every layer of government is primed for production. Without a review of this encumbrance, life expectancy is unlikely to improve.

Nigerians – led by professionals and the middle class – should, therefore, campaign for the enthronement of decentralisation. In this, the federating units will become economic centres. The transparent privatisation of economic assets like the refineries, the Ajaokuta Steel Company, the power assets, and the liberalisation of the rail, aviation and mining sectors, will instigate tremendous growth and transform into safe security architecture. Nigeria’s systemic corruption, which increases costs and reduces access to services, especially health, education and justice, should be fought to a standstill.

 

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