By Azuka Onwuka
Last week, the Nigerian Population Commission announced that the Nigerian population estimate had moved up to 206 million. Nigeria’s population growth rate is put at about 2.6 percent. In the last four years, Nigeria has experienced recession twice. Nigeria is still the country with the highest number of poor people, with 40 percent of Nigerians living below the poverty line. Productivity has continued to dwindle. Insecurity has continued to rise.
At independence in 1960, Nigeria had about 45 million people. Twenty years later, its population was about 73 million. By 2000, Nigeria’s population had ballooned to about 122 million. And now at 2020, Nigeria has about 206 million people.
Let us compare that to some other countries. Long before A.D. started 2,000 years ago, Greece was already established as a centre of intellectualism. Philosophers like Socrates, Plato and Aristotle had lived and died. Yet today, Greece as a country has a population of about 10 million.
Portugal was the first European country that interacted with the peoples of Nigeria. By the fifteenth century – long before the name “Nigeria” was coined by the British – the Portuguese had started doing business with the different indigenous peoples of what was to be later named Nigeria. Despite how long Portugal has reigned as a country, its population today is about 10 million.
Canada has been a developed and known country for centuries. It has the second largest land mass (second only to Russia). At 9,984,670 km2, Canada is almost 11 times the size of Nigeria. Canada has been welcoming thousands of immigrants every year. Yet Canada has less than 40 million people.
The United Nations has projected that by 2050, Nigeria will be the third most populated country with a population of over 400 million. Yet there is no similar growth projection about Nigeria’s food production, technological advancement, economic growth and the like. Nigerians are simply producing children thoughtlessly like rats without any care about how this booming population will be fed and taken care of. More people but less productivity means hunger, anger, joblessness, crime and insecurity. Therefore, Nigeria is just running into extreme poverty and insecurity with her two eyes fully open.
Around 1986 when the erstwhile military leader of Nigeria, General Ibrahim Babangida, came up with the idea of each family having a maximum of four children as means of checkmating population explosion, Nigerians reacted angrily. He clarified that it was merely an advisory and not a law. At that time, many people saw the idea of a family having only four children as outrageous. Having between six and nine children was in vogue.
Interestingly, in the Nigeria of today, especially in the South, that mindset has changed drastically. Anybody with six children today is viewed curiously as “a father of a nation!” Many families now have between two and three children. The idea is to give the children quality of life rather than having too many children that cannot be adequately catered for. Parents know that the minimum they are expected to give their children is university education. A second degree for all the children is highly recommended today, given that a first degree is no longer rated highly. The sorry state of public schools and universities in Nigeria implies that parents know that their children will not attend public primary schools and public secondary schools. The likelihood of the children attending a public university is low. The children will most likely attend private universities or foreign universities. The cost of training one’s children in good private schools as well in good private universities or foreign universities is enormous.
Therefore, having more than three children makes it hard for most parents. In addition, today’s parents do not want to continue training children by the time they are 60 and are retired. Therefore, even before marriage, many adults plan for the welfare of the few children they intend to have. Polygamy has also become unpopular in the South – no matter one’s religion and financial status.
However, this is the opposite of what obtains in the North. Polygamy is still embraced with pride because it is seen as a religious obligation. Many men still marry four wives who can have as many children as possible. The capacity of the man to take care of the welfare of the children is immaterial. It is not uncommon to see a man of less than 40 years (who is a labourer) with four wives and 20 children. The earning power of this man and all his wives is not even enough to take care of five of those twenty children. The only option is to send out the children, especially the boys, even before they turn six, to live with an Islamic teacher who sends them out to beg to feed themselves. Later in their teenage years, they may leave the care of the Islamic teacher and become labourers who use wheelbarrows to move sand and granite at construction sites or load bags of cement or iron rods into vehicles. Therefore, right from their childhood, these children experience little or no parental care and comfort. They were born into lack, nurtured in want, and grew up in suffering. They have no skills that will make them employed to work in any company and live a seemingly good life.
In 2015, the population of out-of-school children in Nigeria was put at 10.5 million, the highest in the world. UNICEF notes that “one in every five of the world’s out-of-school children is in Nigeria” although “primary education is officially free and compulsory.” By 2018 the figure of out-of-school children in Nigeria stood at 13.2 million. As 2020 draws to an end, that figure may be around 15 million. This figure is much higher than the population of Portugal or Greece.
There is also another angle to this population explosion. It is seen as a tool for political advantage. The more children born in an area will determine which region has more voting power to decide who will be the president of Nigeria.
Population was also used to allocate the number of local government areas as well as federal and state constituencies a state should have in addition to the amount of financial allocation each state receives every month from oil proceeds and other resources. This is a clear way of rewarding people for creating problems for the country!
Imagine if Nigeria were run like a true federal country where each state would control its resources and take care of its responsibilities. Each state would control its population. Every state would have put measures in place to punish any parent that has a child that is seen begging on the street or hawking goods when his or her mates are in school. That would make each adult to decide the number of children to have based on the earnings of the person. States would have banned the almajiri system or would have modified it to make it criminal for any teacher to send any child out to beg. Each state will think of things to produce or market to make money. That would make the country to grow.
The way Nigeria is run is not the way countries are run. Nigeria is being run to crash or explode. How could a country be gladly dousing its own house with petrol? How could a country hate its own welfare as badly as Nigeria does to itself? In a country where graduates and post graduates cannot find a job because of a shrinking and non-productive economy, over five million children are added to the population annually. Already there are millions of untrained, unskilled, and unhappy youths who can be easily lured into violence, crime and terrorism. In spite of all these clear signs of self-made disaster waiting to happen, Nigerians still hope and pray that Nigeria will one day be turned into an El Dorado by God. It is difficult to understand this country called Nigeria and its citizens.
Azuka Onwuka is a Public Affairs Analyst.