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At $2,792, Nigeria made the highest average per capita income under Goodluck Jonathan.

The value of Nigeria’s Gross Domestic Product is the reason it is often referred to as the largest economy in Africa, and this is often the selling point for successive administrations in the country.

So this explains why every Nigerian government is quick to flaunt a rise in GDP, as did President Muhammadu Buhari in the televised 61st independence broadcast on Friday.

“We recovered from economic recession in quarter four of 2020 with a GDP growth rate of 0.11%, and grew by 0.51% and 5.01% in real terms in the first and second quarters of 2021,” the Nigerian leader said.

An earlier analysis of data from the World Bank by this newspaper showed that Mr. Buhari, in his first coming as a military leader, owns the record of the administration with the highest GDP growth since independence. His democratic tenure, however, lags behind some military juntas and civilian administrations.

However, because GDP growth does not mean improved standard of living and quality of life of a population, GDP per capita becomes an alternative measure to estimate the average amount in the pocket of each person in a country.


It is measured by dividing the country’s GDP by its population.

How does each administration since independence rank in terms of GDP performance?

Former Nigerian president, Goodluck Ebele Jonathan
Former Nigerian president, Goodluck Ebele Jonathan

Per capita income since independence

At $2,792, Nigeria made the highest average per capita income under Goodluck Jonathan. Under his predecessor, Musa Yar’Adua, it was $2,138 per head, according to data from the World Bank.

President Buhari’s tenure as of 2020 had averaged $2,097. This is followed by Mr Shagari whose administration averaged $1,530, followed by Mr Obasanjo’s eight-year democratic rule with $1,064. Flourish data visualization


The lowest regime averages were recorded under Mr. Abacha with $455; Mr. Shonekan, $321; Mr. Gowon, $223; Mr. Aguiyi-Ironsi, $124; and Tafawa Balewa, $105 in the First Republic.

The years between 2002 and 2020 returned the highest per capita income, with 2012 to 2014 having the highest respective returns. 1980 to 1985, under Messrs Shagari and Buhari, were the only years outside of the 21st century ranked in the top 25.

Unsurprisingly, the immediate years after independence had the lowest per capita record.

Nigeria lags behind

Some countries that were economic peers of Nigeria have been able to ramp up their per capita income over the years, but Nigeria has not.


For instance, in 1990 Nigeria’s per capita income was around $568, about two times China’s $348. By 2020, Nigeria’s figure grew to $2,097, only about four times what it was three decades ago. Within the same period, China’s per capita income had topped $10,484 (thirty times more).

It means the Chinese, who once had in their pockets only about half of what Nigerians had 30 years ago, now have about five times more money than their Nigerian counterparts. Flourish chart


But economists discourage comparing a country’s per capita income with another’s because many variables determine the figure.

Per capita income is not without its own limitations. Like GDP growth, it does not always reflect the accurate standard of living of the people

Lennox Mall

One of its limitations is that its calculation does not factor in inflation rate, a key determinant of consumer purchasing power.

Another is that, because the entire population is considered, a country with a huge population of children, old, sick, and other age groups not actively engaged in economic activities, would have a skewed figure.


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