Is Nigeria Truly a Developing Country?

de.vel.op verb (used without object) to grow into a mature or advanced state; advance; expand


The world has indeed changed dramatically since 1960. This was the premise of the narrative by Hans Rosling, a world-renowned medical doctor and professor of global health, in a recent article, where he argued  that the age-old concept of dividing countries of the world into two distinct groups – developed and developing countries – was outdated and meaningless.

“Developing” in the context that we have always known, describes a country or area of the world that is poorer and has a less advanced economy. Professor Rosling called for a new classification system, one that would take into account the realities of today’s world and the strides that have been made by several countries over the past few decades.

In his view, middle-income countries like Brazil, Mexico, China, Turkey and Indonesia should no longer be referred to as “developing countries”, but rather deserve to be in the middle of the newly proposed socioeconomic continuum. I completely agree.

One problem with the use of the word ‘developing’ as an adjective, is that it presumes that the country being referred to, is actually making progress and moving in the right direction. In that context, it would make great sense to reclassify countries like Brazil and Mexico, by pushing them somewhere to the right on the development spectrum.

On the flip side, how does one reclassify countries that have not lived up to expectations since 1960? For such countries, the continued use of ‘developing’ as a descriptive term, does nothing but create a false sense of comfort, thereby masking the urgency with which their social and economic woes  should be appropriately addressed.

Should we therefore create further categories on the negative side of the development spectrum – retrogressing countries, perhaps? 

If that is the case, what should be Nigeria’s rightful place on the new scale? Should Nigeria be reclassified like Brazil, Turkey and Mexico or should it retain it’s current description as a developing country? Would you even reclassify Nigeria as retrogressing country?

According to the Professor Rosling,

“Western (developed) countries were rich and people had long education, long lives and small families. Developing countries were poor and the people had meager or no education, short lives and large families. The population in the West was stable whereas the population in the developing world was growing fast. Almost the whole world economy was in the West. The poor developing countries were expected to gradually get out of misery with the help of development aid and family planning.”

If these were the indices on which the original classification was based, one can easily compare Nigeria, Brazil, Mexico and Turkey on the basis of education, longevity, family size and population growth rate, showing how the trends have changed over the years. I have also included Ghana, whose comparison with Nigeria should quasi-correct for any geographic or cultural dissimilarities between Nigeria and the other countries.

Please note that some of the data points in the graphs below do not extrapolate as far back as 1960. The overall trends are however very clear and compelling.

1. Education; as measured by tertiary education enrollment rate & expected years of schooling.

For good measure and to magnify the shock factor, I have added children out of school.

2.Longevity; as measured by life expectancy and survival to age 65.

3. Population growth rate.

4. Family size. Data for fertility rate (the average number of births per woman) is shown.

5. Economy Size – Gross Domestic Product and Gross National Income per capita


Nigeria is expected to revise its methods for GDP estimation, and is on track to become Africa’s largest economy. The International Monetary Fund forecasts 7.4 percent growth in gross domestic product (GDP) in 2014, up from an estimated 6.2 percent this year, according to the AFP, which also expressed concern that the  growth has not translated into a better quality of life for the vast majority of the people who remain poor, with high unemployment rates, live on less than two dollars a day, while the country lags behind in key development indicators such as health.

Static? Developing? Retrogressing? The data speaks for itself. What do you think?