THE fresh data by the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs showing that Nigeria’s population has spiked to 216 million is deeply concerning amid successive governments’ costly indifference over the years. Now the sixth most populated country, accounting for 2.7 per cent of the global population, the unchecked increase, juxtaposed with the absence of complementary infrastructure and economic growth, and missing human capital development, has inevitably contributed to the prevailing poverty, insecurity, and escalating unemployment. Government at all levels need to shake off their apathy and aggressively implement holistic population control policies.
In its World Population Prospects 2022, UN-DESA estimated the global population to have hit eight billion. More than half of the projected increase up to 2050 will be concentrated in eight developing countries, Nigeria inclusive. Others are Congo DR, Egypt, Ethiopia, India, Pakistan, the Philippines, and Tanzania.
Population growth is inevitable, especially in emerging economies. And a large population, according to experts, can have advantages such as increased human capital, greater scope for innovation, economies of scale, and specialisation. Without effective planning and commensurate infrastructure and service provision however, a ballooning population, UN-DESA warns, can hamper the attainment of sustainable development goals.
Nigeria has not leveraged its high human numbers for prosperity. Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo admitted at a forum in June that while a huge population had potential for increased taxes, productivity, and large workforce, if not properly managed, it could fuel increased crime rate, unemployment, and environmental degradation.
The government has been nonchalant; the United Nations Population Fund said Nigeria had not met its counterpart funding of the procurement of family planning items, despite the UN fulfilling its part. The Chairman of the National Population Commission, Nasir Kwarra, agreed that the country was not doing enough. He deplored the persistent inadequate budgetary allocation and low sensitisation. Nigeria is among the countries with a high percentage of unmet needs for family planning among married women. The rate among its sexually active unmarried women is 48 per cent, while contraceptive prevalence rate is just 12 per cent.
Kwarra added, “Given the way we are going, the economy has to be strong to be able to support continuous growth and if we don’t have that, there will be malnutrition and a lot of crises among the youth who form the majority of the population. So, it’s a call to action.” Already, 40 per cent of the country’s youth is unemployed, “jobless and angry,” declares Akinwunmi Adesina, President of the African Development Bank.
The World Bank put Nigeria’s annual population growth rate at between 2.0 per cent in 1961 and 2.5 per cent in 2021. World Data estimates it at 2.65 per cent, adding that the country’s population rose 26.41 per cent between 2012 and 2021. By 2050, projects the UN, it will have the world’s third largest population.
Conversely, developed countries maintained below one per cent growth rate by 2021, while Nigeria is producing more poor people and making very little progress in bridging the wide infrastructure and human development deficits.
The literacy rate is modest at about 62 per cent; the number of out-of-school children is the highest globally at about 20.2 million; access to health care is appalling; access to potable water is beggarly with about 86 per cent of Nigerians unable to drink safe water as of 2021; and nearly one-third of Nigerian children do not have enough water to meet their daily needs, according to UNICEF. About 23.5 per cent of the population still practise open defecation.
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The federal, state, and local governments are sitting on a time bomb. If the current level of poverty, afflicting about 133 million Nigerians, and illiteracy are not swiftly addressed, the country may not have witnessed its worst criminality yet. Social unrest is also a possibility. Government at all levels should invest in human capital development. Provision of basic infrastructure and social welfare programmes, especially in the rural areas, would enhance the quality of life and productivity.
Jobs are not being created for the youth – the largest population segment – and there is no adequate empowerment to encourage entrepreneurship. The result is the atrocious 33.3 per cent unemployment rate. The operating environment is stifling for existing businesses, especially for SMEs.
The reprehensible practice of child marriage that is fuelling population growth should be stamped out. A 2018 report by UNICEF indicated that Nigeria had the highest number of child brides estimated 22 million, accounts for 40 per cent of all child brides in West and Central Africa.
Nigeria should avoid the “Malthusian curse”; when human population is more than food supply, famine, war, or disease could reduce the population. Apart from spending $5 billion on food imports annually as of 2018, insecurity, malnutrition and other avoidable health challenges fostered by bad governance have defined the country.
Nigeria got family planning right in the late 1980s and early 1990s when it partnered with global agencies. This programme should be revived at the federal, state, and LG levels. Families, especially the least economically endowed, should be educated on the advantages of having fewer children.
China’s rigidly enforced one-child policy between 1980 and 2016 helped to control its population growth and propel it to the world’s No.1 exporting country, and to drag 800 million persons out of poverty. By 2021, its annual population growth rate was estimated at about 1.0 per cent.
States and LGs have abdicated their roles; even the cheapest and simplest intervention, which is sensitisation and public enlightenment, has been abandoned. They should take responsibility for family planning.
Education must be prioritised. Studies have shown that the more educated people are, the less inclined they are to have children they cannot cater for. Alongside education, water supply, sanitation, infrastructure, and health care, conducive business environment and job opportunities should also be prioritised.
A country with a manageable population is adjudged to be more stable, peaceful and less crime-prone than overpopulated countries that also lack basic amenities. Nigeria’s leaders should take all necessary measures to properly manage its burgeoning population. ,
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