Saturday, November 12, 2011

Implication of Nigeria’s 167 Million Population

Baby Gabriel, born 12am at Gwarinpa General Hospital, Abuja, officially made Nigeria’s population 167 million (82 million females and 85 million males) as the world celebrates Day of Seven Billion People on Monday, October 31, 2011. At that official figure, Nigeria also becomes the sixth largest population in the world after China, India, USA, Indonesia and Brazil according to the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA). Nigeria’s latest projected inhabitants represent 2.4 per cent of the world’s new population. According to recent estimates by the UN Population Division, by 2100 Nigeria will be the third most populous country in the world, next to India and China.

Immediate past Chairman of National Population Commission (NPC), Samu’ila Danko Makama at his valedictory meeting with the media on October 26, 2011 “urged leaders at the three tiers of government to up the ante on nation-building initiatives, with a view to expanding public infrastructure in proportion to population growth in order to stem a future social crisis that could be foisted on the country by its alarmingly increasing citizenry base.”

He also stressed the need for the Federal Government to step up preparations for the conduct of the next census, expected to be in 2016 in conformity with global standard of 10 years interval and a three-year preparatory timeline. Drawing attention to projections that Nigeria’s population would be 188 million in four years and 221 million by 2020, Makama charged the government to brace up ahead of the challenges that would inevitably come with these population growths. According to him, the rise would impact positively or negatively on the citizenry depending on government’s plans or failure to plan.

Makama said: “For instance, we all know that such areas like health, food, housing, and other social infrastructure will dominate the need of the population. We should start thinking about protecting the people with adequate preparation ahead. Take family planning more seriously because if the current exponential growth rate of 3.2 per cent increases, it will translate to population explosion, which can mean crisis.” Erstwhile NPC chairman further opined that Nigeria’s increasing population has an annual growth rate of 5.6 million people and cautioned that the population explosion could lead to a higher rate of unemployment and poverty among Nigerians. “For Nigerians, it is necessary we start to space our children and have plans for them, otherwise this may lead to increased food shortage, poverty among Nigerians and a higher rate of unemployment. These effects are already manifesting in every spheres of life of Nigerians, many of whom still wallow in poverty”.

Speaking at a news conference at UN headquarters in New York to mark the Seven billion human population milestones, UN Secretary General, Ban Ki Moon stressed the need for concerted action to address growing social and economic challenges of population growth. According to him, people have lost faith in governments and public institutions to do the right thing. “Our world is one of terrible contradictions. Plenty of food but one billion people goes hungry. Lavish lifestyles for a few, poverty for too many others. Huge advances in medicine while mothers die every day in childbirth … and children die every day from drinking dirty water. Billions spent on weapons to kill people instead of keeping them safe. What kind of world has baby seven billion been born into?”

On the same issue National Mirror in its editorial of November 7, 2011 observed thus: “There are disturbing patterns of global demographic trends that give serious cause for worry. The least developed countries are experiencing a population boom while at the same time facing underperforming economies, chronic scarcity of resources, food crises and famine. The developed nations have, in contrast, overcome most of these basic challenges, while their population growth has slowed down. The advanced and developing countries have shown the way out of the quagmire. Since 1979 China has put in place its one child policy, and America has its 2.1 children per family.....There is no reason why Nigeria should not toe this line. There is currently a national policy of one woman, four children; it must be enforced. This should be complemented with a vigorous national campaign to discourage the men folk from continuing with the traditional large family sizes arising from polygamy.

Helping married women to have access to good education and reproductive health services will be the most effective measure for fertility reduction. Furthermore, the authorities must work harder to check rural-urban migrations by developing the rural areas into places where citizens can enjoy a better quality of life through access to sustainable means of livelihood, good education and affordable, qualitative healthcare, among other basic amenities, including electricity and safe drinking water. It must be recognised; nevertheless, that population is an index of power in international relations. A big population confers status and respect, especially where this translates to abundant human capital. Beyond that, population size is a critical factor in investment decision-making. Markets must be found for goods and services produced, and so a large population is an asset to a nation.”

My own interpretation of all the aforesaid is that Nigeria’s new population figure could both be benefit or albatross depending on how our policy managers particularly government at all levels relate with the new figure. The first major challenge thrown by the new population size is for National Population Commission to come up with a disaggregated data of the 167 million. Each state and local government must be informed about its new population figure and concomitantly growth rate.

The second major issue lies in the imperative of good governance. There are three types of population: Over-population, Under-population and Optimum Population. I do not subscribe to the view that Nigeria at 167 million is over populated. I think the nation is well endowed to cater adequately for the size of its population if, and only if, the nation’s natural and human resources will be harnessed for national development. Here lies the imperative of selfless and visionary leaders with genuine anti-corruption posture. It is well and good for the government to embark on civic education on the significance of child-spacing and family planning, however, limited success will be achieved in this area because of our people’s cultural and religious orientations.