Nigeria: Some Defining Issues for the Future

Published on 16th March 2021

I will be sharing my thoughts on some issues that in my view, will shape the future of our country for good or ill. The difference between failure and success is usually planning and preparation. It is our duty as policy makers and that of the academic community to think, innovate, and find answers to the difficult questions along the development journey. It is that sort of inquiry that I hope this lecture will inspire. There are four issues which I think we must find appropriate responses to as a nation and as a people. They are: Population Growth; Climate Change; Security; and Unity of the Nation.
Population Growth

According to the latest estimates by the United Nations Population Division,[1] Nigeria is currently the 7th most populous nation in the world, with an estimated population of over 200 million. In the next thirty years, Nigeria is projected to become the world’s third most populous country, after China and India, with some forecasts predicting that we will have a population of almost 800 million by the end of the century.[2]

What this means is that there will be almost 4 times as many people in the country; meaning 4 times as many mouths to feed, as many who would have to go to school, as many who would have to find jobs and livelihoods.

Nigeria is also a young country; our population consists of about 90 million Nigerians under the age of 30, with about 43% below the age of 14.  These figures could mean enormous opportunities or they portend grave problems, depending on how we plan and what we do in the next few years:

A critical game-changer in whether this population yields a demographic dividend or becomes a lethal social and economic bomb, is education. Education for all with an emphasis on the education of girls.

The UNESCO Global Education Monitoring Report provides important evidence on the impact of education on an individual’s earnings and economic growth. Education reduces poverty; education increases individual earnings; education increases earnings by roughly 10% per additional year of schooling. For each $1 invested in an additional year of schooling, earnings increase by $5 in low-income countries; education reduces economic inequalities. If workers from both poor and rich backgrounds received the same education, the disparity between the two could decrease by 39%. In other words, education reduces the gap between the rich and the poor. Also, we know that education promotes economic growth.

The benefits of educating girls are even more profound; a child of a mother who can read is 50% more likely to live past the age of 5. Each additional school year increases a woman’s earnings by 20%.  If mothers finish primary school, there will be 2/3 fewer maternal deaths.
Besides, more schooling means that girls will not marry too early, this by itself will control population growth. Not educating girls is almost equivalent to a man cutting off one of his arms. If indeed half our population is female, we need not argue about how disastrous it is to leave half the population uneducated.
To prepare for the future, there is a need also for creativity and the re-design of our educational system in the way we teach and what we teach. We must recognize the need for speed, scale, and a different type of quality in our educational system, especially with what we offer to our young people.

Ours is a nation accustomed to innovation. Here in the Caliphate, we have such examples as Nana Asma’u, the daughter of Sheikh Usman Dan Fodiyo, who, in the 18th century, at an early age, recognized the importance of scale and the use of the train-the-trainer model in achieving that. She established the unbroken chain of scholarship through her “Yan Taru Educational Movement. Nana Asma’u created a cadre of women teachers “the Jajis,” who, after their training, travelled to different parts of West Africa for the purpose of educating and empowering women.[3] To date, the influence of their work is being felt and celebrated across the continent.

In recent times, we have had the Jakande schools in Lagos. Having recognized the adverse effect of running morning, afternoon, and evening shifts on teachers and students, the late former Governor of Lagos State, Lateef Jakande set out to eradicate shifts in the system, he institutionalized free education and embarked on the construction of modest, but functional structures to house the teeming children. At one point, Jakande was launching up to about 10 schools a day. The impact was immediate and significant.[4]
Today, we live in a world where multiple outlets exist for the delivery of education – from the regular classroom setting to Google Classrooms, to Zoom instructions, to radio instructions in multiple languages, and mobile applications on mobile phones that we can. I was recently introduced to the Virtual Reality Goggles, which are configured to deliver content in practical training of science courses. They replicate the experience of being in a laboratory performing experiments just by wearing a goggle.

While it is still absolutely important to invest in the physical structures in schools, it is even more important to invest in the training of teachers who will shape the young minds of the children, and equip them with modern skills in the application of these innovative technologies that ensure quality control, reach and sustainability. In doing so, we could enhance the capacity of teachers who will do the very best that they can and infuse the best quality of education.

Back home, apart from the various interventions that we already have, there is a growing need for us to accommodate sharper ideas and programmes for the education of our young people. We find ourselves caught between trying to decide the best options and methods we can use to deliver the best results with a large population such as ours.

Recently, His Excellency, President Muhammadu Buhari approved the extension of the homegrown school feeding programme in the country to cover Almajiri schools and other children in non-conventional educational settings.

Earlier this week, a national project, At-Risk Children’s Project (ARC-P), was introduced to the Sokoto State Government. ARC-P aims at addressing the challenges that our disadvantaged youth and children face, providing them with the wherewithal to engage in conventional schools, or otherwise take ownership of their lives, thereby giving them hope and a life of dignity.

Working with the Federal Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs), the private sector and development partners, the Federal Government, through the office of the Special Adviser on Social Investments, aims at providing basic education, entrepreneurship skills, vocational training, sports, agricultural, digital and life skills, while also addressing health concerns related to nutrition, substance abuse, vision, hearing and special needs.

In all these, technology is key. Mobile learning, mediated by mobile devices, and mobility of learners (regardless of their devices), and mobility of content in the sense that it can be accessed from anywhere, should form part of the approaches of our new educational system. We have seen these technologies successfully deployed in rural schools in Karnataka and Gujarat, India, with strong gender equality component.

In view of the nature of our Federal system, we must take into account that the success of all these programmes and ideas is dependent on the buy-in and support of the State Governments. This is inevitable since the majority of the schools are run by State governments.

Beyond ensuring basic education, we must harness the opportunities and benefits that come with large populations in the design of an exceptional educational system.  There’s a need for us also to ensure that our educational system is globally competitive so that we can have a globally competitive workforce and surpass the achievements recorded by countries like China and India in that regard.

With a large population, we sometimes assume that this just means cheaper labour costs but that may be insufficient in attracting investments or improving productivity A well-skilled workforce is important.

The CEO of Apple Corporation, Tim Cook, several years ago, pointed out that the reason his company makes iPhones in China is not because of the cheap labor, but rather because of the concentration of high-level skills in that country. At the time he made the statement, there were over two million app developers in China.

India has become attractive also and has retained some of the largest global corporations for various outsourced business processes. For example, call centers for consumers of products and services of these large companies are based in India.   The workforce in that industry is mainly young university graduates. One of the factors that make India an attractive destination for call centers is its large English-speaking population.

Nigeria also has a large English-speaking population, and our own spoken English is even considered better than most of the Commonwealth because of the accentless-English that we speak, which is a great advantage in an industry that relies mainly on speaking.

The work-based skills required today are changing dramatically. With a population such as ours, we must remember that the world is changing and the skills required to find work are also changing. Digital skills are and will define employment in the future.

Years ago, we could say that our large workforce could be engaged in factories. Today with Industrial Robotics, many of such jobs will disappear because it might be cheaper to use robots on the manufacturing lines than human beings. Besides robots do not go on strike or get tired. But with the loss of factory jobs, there is and will be a growing demand for people who can design, manufacture, and program machines.  A lot of retail trade is now conducted online; it means jobs as shop assistants will be fewer. But there will be openings for those who can use Instagram or other platforms for sale or marketing purposes. Skills in digital animation, graphics, and motion for advertising and marketing will be sought after.
Preparing for the future with a quadrupled population, therefore, requires critical thinking around issues of relevance and competitiveness. We need to consider the impact of this potential growth on the provision of education, healthcare, job opportunities, social infrastructure, and poverty alleviation.

Climate Change

Climate change and the responses to it, especially the response of developed countries is a phenomenon that we must watch carefully.  First, the devastating impact of climate change is already well known.  Flooding is worsening in many of our communities. It is worsening in frequency and intensity; desertification in the Sahel region is decimating pasture and farmlands and our harvesting periods and seasons are being affected by changing weather patterns.

We have seen some of the most graphic manifestations of this challenge in the form of persistent conflicts between farmers and herders nationwide. We know that these conflicts have been exacerbated by the loss of land due to drought and desertification. The loss of land poses an existential peril to both farmers and herders who have to contend with the shrinkage of the resource they utilize for cultivation and pasture. In this case, the loss of viable land is intensifying the competition between these two groups, and when in combination with febrile inter-communal relations, it has created a surge in crime and conflict.

Beyond the immediate security challenges, the farmer-herder crisis also underscores the need to adopt more viable means of livestock management as part of our drive to boost productivity. When these issues are appropriately and accurately deconstructed, it becomes clear that they are fundamentally developmental hurdles that other nations have had to vault over in decades past. It is also clear that we must evolve sustainable agronomic and pastoral models that restore harmony between farmers and herders in the realization that we are all stakeholders in a common ecosystem and economy.

Finding sustainable solutions to these issues is one of the tasks of the present that will take us into a peaceful future. The Federal Government, in collaboration with State Governments, under the auspices of the National Economic Council (NEC), have already developed the National Livestock Transformation Plan (NLTP), a comprehensive strategy for addressing the farmer-herder conflicts and it is now set to be fully implemented.

Already 22 States, including Sokoto, have indicated interest and pilots, with the support of the Netherlands Government; pilots are ongoing in 4 states – Adamawa, Nasarawa, Plateau, and Gombe. The implementation of the NLPT will bring an end to some of the farmer-herder conflicts, as the goal is to make livestock breeders more sedentary, ranching rather than random grazing is central to the new plans.  This approach will lead to high yield in dairy and meat, and ultimately greater financial benefits.

However, one of the things that we must take into account is that in this business, there must be ‘give and take’. Nobody can have things absolutely the way they want. The future depends on how much we are able to accommodate one another’s points of view.

The second point I would like to note concerning climate change is the problem we are already having with developed economies; what are the implications of this climate change to our economy? The European Union, Japan, and the Republic of Korea, together with more than 110 other countries, have pledged carbon neutrality by 2050. China says it will join before 2060.

Countries representing around 65% of global CO2 emissions, and around 70% of the world’s economy, will have committed to reaching net-zero emissions of carbon neutrality by early next year. The UK, France, and Sweden have set out plans to end international financial support for fossil fuels.

The EU will stop funding fossil fuel projects by the end of this year. Many developed economies are also now saying that all their cars will be electric in less than a decade or two.  The effect of these developments is that in a few short years the world will require far less oil and gas. It will be difficult to find funding for oil and gas projects; it will be difficult for us, to continue with the pace of investments that are going on in oil and gas projects today. Why is that the case?

Already, there are active developments and some commitments about International Development Finance Institutions defunding gas projects. Gas, which is cleaner fuel, remains the only viable transition fuel for us as we work towards zero-emission targets.

To emphasize this point; developed nations of the world say they don’t want fossil fuels anymore, in other words, oil and gas must be de-emphasized, cleaner fuel and renewable energy is what they are talking about now. We are a gas-rich country and most of our fossil fuel is gas; if fossil fuel is defunded and World Bank, other financial institutions, international commercial banks refuse to fund oil and gas projects, then we are going to have a problem. Not only would we not be able to produce oil and gas at the pace we are, but our revenues would also drop very sharply.

Our conversations with our international partners now must focus on how we can have a just transition from where we are today, to the zero-emissions they are talking about in 2050. We cannot have a situation where our international partners defund gas projects and we are in a situation wherein the next few years, we say no more gas. This would damage our own economy, and in any event, cooking gas remains one clean fuel option that we have. This is going to remain so until something else is discovered.

It is important for us to pay attention to what is going on internationally so that even as we debate climate change and make commitments to the Paris Agreement and other arrangements to Climate Change, we must bear in mind that our interests must be front and center, and this interest is in ensuring that nobody ignores all our needs and says zero emissions by 2050.


The whole notion of national security, which is just the absence of internal or external conflict, is no longer relevant. Today when we talk about national security we are actually talking about human security. Human security implies that the State’s sovereign responsibility goes beyond the guarantee, safety, and well-being of the citizenry.  It covers the obligation to provide meaningful livelihood as well. Indeed, our constitution, Section 14(2)(b) says that “the security and welfare of the people shall be the primary purpose of government.”

So the challenge now and in the coming years is how to provide adequate security in a large country and for the welfare of a huge population. I want to emphasize that; how do we provide adequate security in a very large country and for huge population? 

I was speaking to a European diplomat and explaining that in securing the Northeast of Nigeria, some of the challenges include just the sheer size of the place. I said to him that the Northeast is like the whole of the United Kingdom plus Sweden or Denmark. Niger State alone can take all of the Southeast States and still have space left, just to get a sense of the territory that we are talking about. So, in thinking about security, we must recognize that the opportunistic attacks that we are getting today in far-flung villages, in schools, in the hinterland, in places that hitherto very peaceful, in places that we’re safe, all of these are on account of the fact that we must do something and think well in terms of how to manage wide ungoverned spaces.

How do we manage wide ungoverned spaces?  Recently many of the schools in the hinterland where abduction has been taken place are seen as soft targets by terrorists and sundry criminals.  In the past, far-flung villages in remote areas across the country did not experience petty stealing or robbery but are now raided by terrorists, villagers are kidnapped, maimed or killed.

Even a peaceful State like Sokoto has not been spared. There is clearly a need to significantly expand the States capacity to reach all of these ungoverned spaces, to interdict and bring to justice, highly mobile itinerant terrorists hiding in the many large forests.

The appointment of new service chiefs by Mr. President and his express orders to do them to do all things necessary to ensure the security of all Nigerians everywhere has given us an opportunity for fresh thinking and fresh approaches. First, it is clear that technology will be crucial for both smart surveillance and the interdiction of criminals and terrorists Technology offers the most effective ways of policing our large and extensive terrains. Secondly, we need more boots on the ground in all our law enforcement agencies. It is also clear, that our centralized model of policing, which was entrenched when the country was less populous and less complex, is not capable of addressing the challenges of the 21st century in the throes of fast-paced changes.
The time has come to evolve a decentralized policing model that will operate along with State and local policing. I believe that there is an emerging consensus on this issue. There are a number of proposals for the establishment of State Police entities before the National Assembly. The Nigeria Police Force has also commenced the implementation of the community policing programme. Taken together, these initiatives indicate a growing realization that policing and security management should be more localized and entirely centered around the public safety needs of our communities.

Political leadership obviously has a role to play in the all-important task of securing our people. On the 18th of February this year, the National Economic Council (NEC), which I have the privilege of chairing, which comprises State Governors, agreed to a set of principles to guide the approach of State Governments to peace and security issues.
Among other things, the Governors committed to ensuring the arrest and prosecution of the perpetrators of crime; collaborating with federal authorities, in many cases, to reconstruct destroyed homes and pay compensations that were appropriate for damage to properties and livelihoods during targeted attacks on communities, as well as, the unequivocal condemnation of manifestations of hatred, hate crimes and related violence against communities.

NEC also agreed to ensure that security initiatives including state security initiatives, infuse into them some minorities within their communities so that when we are setting up State security, we take into account that there are minorities within our communities and that they also must a say in the establishment of those security outfits. They reaffirmed the statutory jurisdiction of State Governments over forest reserves and they agreed that in collaboration with the Federal Government undertake initiatives to eradicate forest-based crime.  On the part of Federal Government, we are committing to training and deploy more forest rangers to all of the forests in order to support the efforts.

The Council also condemned ethnic profiling and committed to ensuring that innocent citizens and entire communities are not slandered or victimized for crimes perpetrated by criminal elements within those communities on the basis of ethnic or religious affiliation. These resolutions by the National Economic Council (NEC), represent one of the efforts by the political leadership at all levels in the realization of the Constitution’s assertion that the security and wellbeing of the Nigerians is the duty of government.


When a multi-ethnic and multi-religious nation such as ours is buffeted by economic adversity, it is natural for fault lines and cleavages to come to the fore. There will be those who argue that the survival and security of our nation can only be found in the narrow circles of our tribe or creed or our faith. Indeed, it is inevitable that at such difficult times such as we are going through, that we hear the merchants of discord seeking to divide us in order to promote their selfish political or other interests.

This is not a phenomenon unique to Nigeria. The rise of xenophobia, nationalism, and other forms of chauvinism on the global scene, indicates that the challenge of managing diversity is not a Nigerian or African problem alone. Racial, ethnic, and sectarian tensions are common to diverse societies. They are intensified during extreme economic conditions such as a recession or a depression.

Divisive rhetoric is especially potent during times of economic difficulty because of pervasive apprehensions about survival and security. When large numbers of people worry over where the next meal will come or their prospects of upward mobility, or for finding means of livelihood, it is easier to tempt them to believe that their neighbours and compatriots of different ethnicities/faiths are the reasons for their problems and their mortal enemies.

This dynamic underscores the necessity of economic growth as a means of enhancing social cohesion. However, the paradox is that it is impossible to promote economic growth where there is no social cohesion. Thus, the relationship between both concepts is mutually reinforcing. We need social cohesion which breeds peace and stability in order to engender growth and in order for there to be peace. In turn, growth fortifies social cohesion because it guarantees inclusive prosperity.

It is a matter of interest that the most prosperous economies in the world are typically diverse countries because the true wealth of nations in the 21st century is human capital. Societies that set out to attract and retain the most diverse pool of skilled human resources are ordained to prevail in the race for prosperity.

With diversity comes a broad range of cultural, philosophical, and intellectual approaches for solving problems. Innovation can only flourish in this kind of setting. This is why we must understand that even though managing diversity can be politically and administratively difficult, diversity itself, is economic strength, and harnessing it properly is hugely rewarding.

I think it is also important to bear in mind that unity requires the hard work of ensuring justice, equity, and fairness for all segments of society, for all ethnicities, and for all faith. We must ensure justice and fairness and it is hard work.  We must not overlook any fears or allegations of marginalization or discrimination on account of religion or ethnicity. We must confront them; we must not sweep them under the carpet. And this is especially the responsibility of political, religious, ethnic leaders. We the ones who have to do the difficult work of mediating between the classes and segments of our society.
Any leader who cannot tell his community the hard truth, any leader who cannot speak about compromise and about coming together with other tribes and other faith to his community, is undeserving of the position of leadership. It is our role as leaders to speak to our people, to speak to our communities, and to let them know that this nation is stronger together than apart.

Unity is not just a slogan or even merely a good idea, it has manifest expressions in our communities where Nigerians from diverse backgrounds are commingling, trading, partnering, inter-marrying, and blending in various ways. We live in a complex web of multi-layered social, cultural, economic, and political synergies, playing out in every sector of our individual and national lives. Despite the scale of the challenges facing us, unveiling this web of commonality as proposed by enthusiasts of disintegration is a cure that is worse than the disease.

The champions of division are trying to mobilize followership along ethnic and religious lines in order to secure their own pieces of the so-called national cake.  However, the choice before our society is clear, either we fracture our communities in order to seize what remains of a rapidly diminishing national cake, or we commit ourselves to the task of baking more cake in ever-increasing quantities, as we unleash our boundless capacity for enterprise and innovation.
I think it is entirely possible we have the potential; we have everything it takes to provide enough for all of our people. We have everything that is required for this country to give succor and to give place to every single individual and to generations yet unborn, despite our increasing population.  But it is a task for those of us who are leaders to ensure that we bring is country to the point of a full realization of its potentials.

I, therefore, urge all of us to consider the importance of national unity. Nigeria is more than a sum of its many parts and its diversity – ethnic diversity, cultural diversity, religious diversity – these are value-added for our nation. Difference should not mean division.

In the context of national unity, it is essential for us to establish a culture of tolerance, open-mindedness, and acceptance of people of all cultures and creeds. There is unity to be found even in the face of such differences. There is a “Nigerianness” that binds us all, there is a shared commitment – no matter how suppressed – to build a better Nigeria for ourselves and future generations. It is who we are, it is in our very beings, that love of country, that aspiration to do better.

I am consistently inspired by the zeal of the young Nigerians I meet across the country. The energy, enthusiasm, intellect on display, gives me comfort that the future of our Nation is certainly bright. Every one of us has a critical role to play in defining that direction, in defining the future of our nation. I believe that the academic community in particular has an important role to play in supplying the answers to the various needs of our country.

By Professor Yemi Osinbajo, 
Vice President of Nigeria. 
1.Worldometer “Countries in the World by Population (2021)” available at

2.The Lancet “Fertility, mortality, migration, and population scenarios for 195 countries and territories from 2017 to 2100” available at

3.Tehran Times “Nana Asma’u bint Usman bin Fodio and her ‘Yan Taru’ socio-cultural group” available at

4.Espact “How Lateef Jakande’s legacy eradicate shift educational system in Lagos”
available at

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