Arising from the global economic crisis of the 1980s, Nigeria had its worst economic growth rate since its independence just before Muhammadu Buhari, at the time an army major general, overthrew late President Shehu Shagari in the coup d’état of December 31, 1983.

Mr Buhari, who was himself toppled after only 20 months in power, proceeded to oversee the highest growth rate ever in the country’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP), analysis of data from the World Bank shows.

GDP growth rate was negative at -10.92 per cent when he seized power. But as of the time he was removed, it was 5.91 per cent. That was 16.83 percentage point increase.

Only under the regime of Murtala Muhammed, the army general assassinated in an abortive coup in his seventh month in office on February 13, 1976, has Nigeria ever approached that magnitude of growth.

Mr Muhammed’s predecessor, Yakubu Gowon, the nation’s longest-serving military leader (August 1, 1966 – July 29, 1975), left office after a period of oil glut with economic growth at -5.23 per cent. By the time Mr Muhammed was assassinated, growth was 9.04 per cent, a 14.27 percentage point increase.

Mr Muhammed’s deputy and successor, Olusegun Obasanjo, could not maintain that level of growth as the rate slowed to 6.59 per cent when he left office in 1979. He would later atone for that when he returned as a democratically elected president in 1999, almost 20 years later.

In his eight years as civilian president, growth moved from 0.58 to 6.59 per cent, a 6.01 percentage point rise and the third-best since independence.

The First Republic led by Prime Minister Tafawa Balewa also saw growth jump from 1.89 per cent in 1960 to 4.89 per cent in 1965.

Sani Abacha, under whose brutal rule Nigeria became an international pariah, recorded the fourth highest GDP growth, taking it from -1.81 per cent in 1993 when he toppled Ernest Shonekan, to 2.58 per cent when he died in office. This amounts to 4.39 percentage point rise in five years.

The Nigerian government cited this record as well as the fall in inflation rate from 54 per cent to 8.5 per cent between 1993 and 1998 for naming Mr Abacha, whose regime earned $64 billion from oil, according to OPEC, as a posthumous recipient of Nigeria’s centenary awards in 2014.

The citation said the Abacha regime “oversaw an increase in the country’s foreign exchange reserves from $494 million in 1993 to $9.6 billion by the middle of 1997; and reduced the external debt of Nigeria from $36 billion in 1993 to $27 billion in 1997.”

As president for three years (2007-2010), Mr Obasanjo’s democratic successor, Umaru Yar’Adua, grew the economy from 6.59 to 8.01 per cent (a 1.42 percentage point rise).

Messrs Obasanjo and Yar’Adua’s economic successes have been linked to high oil revenues, with Nigeria earning $261.8 billion and $139.6 billion respectively under both administrations, according to OPEC.

Only Goodluck Jonathan’s administration earned more revenue from oil with $381.9 billion. However, Mr Jonathan could not sustain the 8.01 per cent growth rate he met when he became president in 2010. He left office in 2015 with a growth rate of 2.65 per cent.

Mr Shonekan, who headed an interim government after the Ibrahim Babangida junta resigned, was the country’s leader in a year that saw negative growth drop from -2.04 per cent in 1993 to -1.81 per cent in the year that followed. By the time Mr Abacha overthrew him, percentage point growth was 0.23.

Overall, since independence, Nigeria recorded its highest GDP growth year-on-year in the late 70s under Mr Gowon, shortly after the civil war that quelled the Biafra secession bid and left millions dead.

Growth peaked at 25 per cent in 1970, rising from the 24.2 per cent growth in the previous year. In 1971, the rate fell sharply to 14.2 per cent and not until 2002, under Mr Obasanjo, did Nigeria record an annual GDP growth of 15.3 per cent again.

In 1990, with Mr Babangida at the helm, growth was 11.8 per cent. In 1974, it was 11.2 per cent. Only in 2004 was expansion up to 9.3 per cent.

The boom of the 1970s was helped by an oil price bubble that brought tremendous earnings to the country.

President Buhari’s current tenure has seen 0.41 percentage point drop in growth rate (from 2.65 per cent to 2.21 per cent), having taken the country in and out of two recessions, no thanks to slumps in oil prices and the Covid-19 pandemic.

Like him, Mr Gowon (from -4.25 per cent to -5.23 per cent), Abdulsalami Abubakar (from 2.58 per cent to 0.58 per cent), Mr Obasanjo (during his first coming from 9.04 per cent to 6.76 per cent), Mr Jonathan (from 8.01 per cent to 2.65 per cent), Mr Babangida (from 5.91 to -2.04), Johnson Aguiyi-Ironsi (from 4.89 per cent to -4.25 per cent) and Shehu Shagari (from 6.76 per cent to -10.92 per cent) all oversaw decelerations in economic growth.

In terms of average GDP growth, Murtala Muhammed (9 per cent), Olusegun Obasanjo (7.7 per cent as democratic president), Musa Yar’Adua (7.6 per cent), Yakubu Gowon (6.8 per cent), and Goodluck Jonathan (5 per cent) ranked highest.

The tenures of Messrs Shonekan (-1.8 per cent), Aguiyi-Ironsi (-4.3 per cent), and Shagari (-6.7 per cent) averaged negative growth.

Judging by their percentage increase rates, Messrs Obasanjo (as civilian president with 1036.2 per cent), Muhammed (272.8 per cent), Abacha (242.5 per cent), Buhari (as head of state with 154.1 per cent), Yar’Adua (21.5 per cent) and Shonekan (11.3 per cent) respectively had the highest improvements.

Others recorded percentage decreases, with Messrs Abubakar, Babangida and Obasanjo (as military ruler) having the worst records.

GDP growth often does not reflect the real standard of living, quality of life and consumer purchasing power of a population. As an alternative, per capita income (income per head), measured by dividing the GDP by a population, is used to estimate the average amount in the pocket of each person in a country.

We will publish an analysis on the country’s per capital income levels since Indepence  later today.


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