Below Average Measures: Nigeria’s Low Human Development Index

low development index

While Nigeria has experienced some growth in her GDP in the current year, the concrete parameters for measuring human development in the country remain puzzling and disheartening.


The alluring yearning and possibility for a better life easily draws even economic pundits into the mire of an illusion that the real measure of a country’s development should be solely predicated on economic growth. To redirect general focus from such reasoning, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) pioneered the concept of Human Development Index (HDI) thirty-one years ago. It is more than a theoretical fact that the touchstone of human advancement cannot be limited to Gross Domestic Product (GDP) but other germane and humane variables such as: people’s healthy lifespan, access to quality education and income. There is no gainsaying the fact that these criteria have a major impact on human existence anywhere in the globe.

People and their abilities need to be valued more. Cash flow is triggered in an economy with the critical force of priceless human agent. People make money first before money in turn makes people who in turn make the backbone of the economy. The money-making process cannot be severed from people’s learning, skills, and healthy living. Enric Fernandez and Paulo Mauro make a case for the value of human capital in economic growth in the book The Role of Human Capital in Economic growth as they focus on Spanish example over two decades, tracing the trajectory of how learning and skills of the Spanish population brought about an upsurge in income per capita.

With a sound knowledge of Human Development Index, we can begin to reason out how two countries that have the same Gross National Income (GNI) do not end up having the same human development prospect. This knowledge can also help us drag our government officials to the discussion table concerning their economic policies.

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According to 2020 UNDP report, Nigeria’s HDI dropped to 161 in 2019. It was a three-point backward movement from 158 in 2018 in a group of 189 countries. Nigeria’s HDI value for 2019 was 0.539. In simple term, Nigeria’s Human Development Index is low to the point of gruesome state of worry. What this portends is that an average Nigerian life is regressive in terms of sound health, access to quality education, and enviable standard of living. There has been no value for human life whatsoever. The many needless deaths, kidnappings, and low income are the telltale projections of insecurity and huge threats to human existence.

However, Nigeria’s HDI has not always been at that migraine-triggering ebb, given the fact that between 2005 and 2019 the report observes an increase of 15.9 per cent (0.465 to 0.539). The report specifically states that “Between 1990 and 2019, Nigeria’s life expectancy at birth increased by 8.8 years, meaning years of schooling increased by 1.4 years and expected years of schooling increased by 3.3 years. Nigeria’s GNI per capita increased by about 58.0 per cent between 1990 and 2019.”

The report goes ahead to compare Nigeria’s HDI to that of Congo DR (175) and Ethiopia (173). We have no business making such comparisons because by all standards we are expected to be far better than most of the countries in the sub-Saharan Africa where HDI is concerned. Nigeria is the largest economy in the whole of Africa with nothing less than $514.05 GDP in 2021. It beats economic imaginations why this figure does not translate to long and healthy life, quality education, and fantastic income for an average Nigerian.

Life expectancy is measured through healthy living which starts from access to good food, water, and shelter. Knowledge is weighed through schooling years amongst adults – this is the average number of years spent schooling from age 25 upward together with children’s school years. To rationalize the standard of living, Gross Domestic Income (the total market or fiscal value of all the services and finished goods produced in a country over a period of time) is calculated through earnings per capita converted in US dollars, considering the Purchasing Power Parity (PPP) conversion scales.

Though a population’s average lifespan, education, and income are now easily measurable through Human Development Report Office (HDRO) formula, agitations for an all-inclusive and far-reaching means of bringing to the fore other proportions and even better ways of capturing and analysing human advancement have been on the constant rise. In response to the agitations, HDRO responded with other components to enhance HDI. The components include: the Inequality-adjusted Human Development Index (IHDI), the Gender Development Index (GDI), the Gender Inequality Index (GII), and the Multidimensional Poverty Index (MPI).

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PWC Nigeria also released its report on Nigeria’s HDI entitled The Future of Nigeria: Three critical levers for improving HDI. It corroborates the three important aspects already mentioned in UNDP’s report. Dr. Andrew S. Nevin (Ph.D), Advisory Partner and Chief Economist at PwC Nigeria, explains the heartbeat of the report thus: “This research draws on a more direct and measurable approach to tracking improvement in human development. Using qualitative analysis, academic reviews and country case studies, we identified three critical levers that need to be improved for the average Nigerian to feel the impact of any growth in the economy.” The levers the report beams its spotlight on include a reduction in corruption perception index, unproblematic business functionality, and work force efficiency. Advancement along these three key aspects, the report speculates, would result in the kind of economic boom that would shoot Nigeria high in the HDI ranking by the year 2030.  Dr. Nevin admits that bringing the economic growth figures to have equal reflection on the lives of the citizen, has been a tall order for Nigeria’s policy makers, though the prospect of a better life is positive if the three levers are taken into cognizance: “Translating economic growth into real improvements in the lives of the average citizen poses a real challenge for policy makers. Tracking progress across these three levers has the potential to boost the attention on HDI as priority in the public agenda. An analysis of these levers can identify areas requiring policy attention and specific strategies targeted at improving overall well-being can be formulated.”

Now that Nigeria’s HDI is forming the focus of economic experts, perhaps policy strategists would make conscious effort to walk the talk as the citizens demand a better life beyond audio promises during election campaigns. We have no need waiting for international bodies to publish reports on HDI before we set up a dedicated body for such studies. The Federal Government of Nigeria should see to it that we consciously measure and determine the value of an average Nigerian life through a critical examination of our personal report and coming up with recommendations that will engender seismic shift in our perception of human life. The work is much more beyond just the report; understanding the implications of such studies would be the rights place to start.

Categories: Economy, Features, Nation