By Segun Ogunlade
Nigeria’s population has grown exponentially in the last three decades and had seen itself as the most populous black nation on earth. Most of the current data on Nigeria’s population growth suggests that it would continue unabated. This growth as it continues has its attendant effect on the nation and the people living within its borders unless urgent measures are taken to turn the situation around.
According to a UN publication in 2017, Nigeria will become the world’s third most populated country in 2050 while it would also be among the six nations with over 300 million people. In a publication released by National Nutrition Health Survey (NNHS) in June 2018, the population of Nigeria is 201,310,816. If it is true that the population of Nigeria increased by 50 million between 2005 and 2015, then it might not take the country up to 2050 before hitting the 300 million projected figure. This means that Nigeria will contribute significantly to the 1.3 billion people that is projected to be added to the population of Africa between 2017 and 2050.
This is a red flag that shows the country is losing its grip on population control and is sitting on a time bomb. Manifestations of Nigeria’s overpopulation status are already obvious. Nigeria is currently the poverty capital of the world, after overtaking India in 2018. It is estimated that six Nigerians slip into poverty every minute. According to World Poverty Clock, an initiative of World Data Lab, 90.8 million Nigerians are living in extreme poverty, living on less than $1.25 a day, an amount equivalent to about N381.25. According to UNICEF, 10..5 million children of school age are currently out of school and out of the reach of formal education. This is the highest in the world. And in every five out-of-school children in West Africa, one is from Nigeria.
According to the same UNICEF, 43 percent of children under-five, translating to 16.5 million children, are stunted due to malnutrition and poor access to good health. 2.5 million children are suffering from severe acute malnutrition (SAM). About a million children die from malnutrition before their fifth birthday. Between 2005 and 2015, it’s reported that only 26 percent of the 10 million people that applied to Nigerian universities were admitted. This shows only one thing – the country’s university system is suffering from lack of capacity. Yet, only a small portion of the 26 percent that got admitted to the university were gainfully admitted after graduation. Hence, unemployment rate has risen significantly.
Could it be said that the nation has always lacked population control policy? Far from it. In 1988 under the military government of General Ibrahim Babaginda, the first policy tilted towards population control was launched. Its target included reducing fertility rate, checking and stamping out rate of early marriages and controlling the population growth at large. This policy failed. A similar policy, the National Policy on Population for Sustainability Development, was launched in 2005 under Chief Olusegun Obasanjo. The policy again failed to meets it targets. This is particularly mindboggling especially as the country is suffering from huge infrastructural deficit and failure to enhance human capital development that has proven effective elsewhere where there is similar population surge.
Of course, as with every other problems in the country that has defied solution, a lack of political will and poor policy implementation are some of the reasons while the policies have failed and fell short of its target. The government and other policy makers in the country appear far removed from the problems of overpopulation besetting the country and bothered less with its attendant menace. In Nigeria, policies such as the ones that affect the generality of the masses are only as good as they appear on paper and as discussed at round table discussion where little effects are garnered to drive implementation. Political position in Nigeria instead of being a tool for good governance geared towards a better society have proven to be only a means to satisfy the pecuniary greed of the political class who are also the top gainers in the decayed nature of things in the country. Policy implementation in Nigeria goes in tandem with the common saying that after all is said and done, much is often said than done.
Deliberate withholding of funds for good cause also characterize the Nigerian terrain. Funds meant for development of the political are spent on mundane things. While the education and health sectors stuffers from lack of funds, billions of dollars are spent annually on maintenance of federal legislators. In a country where 90.8 million people are living in extreme poverty, children and adults dying in hospitals for lack of treatment and the battle against insurgency taking a perennial stride due largely to insufficient funds, a federal legislator earn over 12 million naira in salary and benefits. Diversion of public funds is a known phenomenon that has bedevilled almost all government parastatals at the expense of funds to execute human development related policies.
Even greater a clog in the wheel does some cultural and religious beliefs and practices, and poverty constitutes to the success of policies on population growth. In some culture, a large family boosts one’s social status, especially the men as the society is highly patriarchal. A man prides himself in having more children than those around him.
Some religious sects believe birth could not be controlled as it is an act of God. Thus, abortion of babies, mostly those resulting from unwanted pregnancies, and the use of contraceptives is frowned at. The use of condoms this raises severe controversy in some communities while abortion is totally ok outlawed. Men are also encouraged to marry as many women as they could take care of without adequately taking into cognizance the effect this has on the nation when those women began to give birth to children. That is if the wives doesn’t include child bride that comes with problems of its own.
Poverty, especially in rural areas, is a fact of life. In most rural communities where poverty rate is high, subsistence farming is what is obtainable as intervention from government to aid mechanized farming is low. To achieve maximum outputs from the farmland, many hands are needed in tilling the land. Thus, some men married many wives who gave birth to many children thus increasing the number of people working for greater output on the farm. Besides using manual labour on their farm, many rural communities are bedevilled with lack of development culminating in poor access to both maternal and children health. Hence, the only hope of keeping a family in such rural communities is to give birth to many children in the hope that many will survive infancy death.
As it is now, the growing population of Nigeria means and the dwindling employment rate means the working class people are outnumbered by people who depend on them. This breeds an endless circle of poverty. But as it has been proven in countries like China and India, highpopulation is not an impediment to development, thus all hope is not lost for Nigeria. High population if property managed is a tool for development. Nigeria as a country is blessed with human, capital and natural resources. As it is done elsewhere, many people should be educated and trained with basic skills that the economy needs. Government at all levels should place highpremium on infrastructural development for the increasing population, technical and vocational education and proper enlightenment on family planning especiallyfor women and girls. No nation would help another that does not first help itself. Nigeria has the resources to cater for the people within its bother. The government and other stakeholders should harness the advantages that comes with high population as it China and India had done it by pulling a large percentage of their population out of poverty and displacing the problems that comes with population growth spiralling out of control without doing anything. This means the government should invest in people for that is the greatest investment any country can make. And as Harvard professor of international development, Calestous Juma,aptly puts it when talking about the population growth in Africa, “the best contraceptive is investing in people so they could lead healthy and productive lives.”
May God bless Nigeria.
Segun Ogunlade writes from the University of Ibadan. He is a final year student of theDepartment of Religious Studies. His email is email@example.com and could be reached on +2348085851773