Nigeria’s Ballooning Population: A Time Bomb

Omolola Lipede
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Have you ever been in a room that can accommodate ten individuals but just eight people are dwelling in it? There is this sense of peace and fresh air everywhere, pause that feeling and imagine hundred people in that same 10-people capacity room. Yuck! What a choking moment, that is the true definition of over-population. A country can never be termed overpopulated if its resources and population size are balanced, otherwise, it is an overpopulated or under populated nation depending on the scenario of the economy.

United Nations (UN) projected that by 2100, the population of Nigeria will increase to over 505 million from the current over 190 million people living in the country. In 2018, projection by UN indicated that by 2050, Nigeria would be the third most populous country in the world, leading United States of America not by any macroeconomic variable but by population. On hearing the report, one can leap for joy because ordinarily, human constitute the greatest and most potent assets of any country. Any nation with abundant resources and utilisation of those resources having a large population is a plus to such country. Economic theories have it that a large active population implies productive labour force, thereby increasing the GDP of the nation, so, this stage should be an envious one for Nigeria. However, converse has been the case.

Nigeria is a populous country, obviously, but with a poor human development index. Individuals in the country have limited access to health care, low quality of education and poor standard of living. To add more salt to the injury, the country is a mono-cultural economic base with its over-reliance on crude oil, making the economy more vulnerable to the high volatility in oil prices; check statistics to know why the economy slid into recession in the 1980s and also in 2016. The country is on a bleak with the galloping population without commensurate increase in infrastructure, social amenities, economic growth and development.

Economic theories attach increase to population growth to industrialisation; unfortunately, the case of Nigeria is different. For increase in population to be accommodating, there has to be an increase in the country’s productivity level; capacity has to increase. Uncontrolled incessant increase in population leads to human congestion, high unemployment rate, environmental degradation, depletion of resources, increase in crime rates, struggle for scarce resources and unhealthy living conditions like water pollution, air pollution – a silent killer neglected. The struggle for the scarce resources led Nigerians to sought for greener pasture, a shameful case of the Libya slave trade; a return to the 15th century. The Nigeria Immigration Service reported that no fewer than 10,000 Nigerians died between January and May 2017 while trying to illegally migrate through the Mediterranean Sea and the deserts in their bid to cross to Europe. These statistics are appalling and shameful.

In Nigeria, along with high birth rates, the death rate is also high due to unhealthy food intake with low caloric value and lack of medical facilities. As a result of overpopulation, the country experience difficulty in housing, more people live in dirty and unhealthy communities in poor ventilated abodes.

In economics there are several theories attached to population, the most popular theory is the Malthusian Theory of Population. Thomas Robert Malthus, the founder of Malthusian Theory of Population posited that the pressure of increasing population on food supply could destroy perfection and lead to misery in the world. He however gave preventive checks like late marriage, birth controls and the likes to keep childbearing in check. Other theories also gave the pros and cons of increasing population; the gist is that any increase in growth in population that is not accommodated by resources is a time bomb, waiting to explode. The best population growth any country should attain is optimum growth, the stage at which resources and population are at par.

The increase in Nigeria’s population can actually be a gift to the nation provided needed framework is in place. The Vice President of the Federation said it well: …demographics showed the prospects and potential of a prosperous future for Nigeria, if appropriate and timely actions were in place. Nigeria’s population size is currently estimated at over 198 million, the largest in Africa. About 63 per cent of the population was under the age of 25 years, 33 per cent between 10 years and 24 years, and 54.8 per cent of working age between 15 years and 64 years. 51 per cent of the female population was in their reproductive ages-15 years to 49 years. Of course, the reverse side of Nigeria’s rich demographic potential, is the much-talked-about ‘population time bomb,’ or as some would say demographic threats. Total Fertility Rate (TFR) has remained high over the last three decades and currently stand at 5.5 births per woman; modern Contraceptive Prevalence Rate (CPRm) is very low at 10 per cent with 16 per cent unmet need for Family Planning (FP). Twenty-three percent of our adolescents (ages 15-19 years) have commenced childbearing and Child Marriage still persists at 18 percent. These figures vary across the North and the South, for example, TFR is lowest in the South West (4.5) and highest in the North East (6.3) and North West (6.7), respectively with Bauchi at 8.1 and Sokoto at 7.0. To avoid the time-bomb scenario, we must act with urgency to build an economy that can support that population, provide jobs and economic opportunity, education and healthcare, hope and optimism. Well said, however, the nation needs enactment of those words.

With all these staring boldly at the nation, what can be done to defuse the time bomb? Organisations, Government and private individuals have attempted various means to promote family planning and the use of contraceptives in the country; however, these actions carried out have achieved little success as a result of cultural and religious belief. The former president of Nigeria, Goodluck Jonathan recognised the fact that Nigerians are attached to their religious belief when he said: We are extremely religious people, so, it is difficult to tell any Nigerians to number their children because it is not expected to reject God’s gift. People being illiterate, ignorant and superstitious are very adverse to any methods of birth control. Children are regarded as God’s gift and you don’t want to be the devil hindering such gift.

The government needs to adopt population policies encouraging the lowering of fertility rates, improving the educational system in the country; educating women lowers the fertility rate. The government should also play active role in rural sensitisation on family planning and the use of contraceptives. The current administration is making plans to collaborate with religious leaders in the country in order to reduce the population growth, this a good start. History has it that during the regime of Ibrahim Babaginda, child policy was suggested in the 1990s. The First Lady, Maryam Babangida made the suggestion through her programme; ‘Better Life for Rural Women’ where couples are advised to bear only four children. This policy was highly criticised by the traditional and religious establishments and it experienced a natural death.

Can child policy work in Nigeria? It was suggested before but was panned, can we bring it to the surface again? Can Nigeria adopt China’s method of population control? In the late 1970s and early 1980s, China implemented the one-child policy to check the galloping population. By the late 1970s, China’s population was rapidly approaching one billion, it was an issue of concern, so, the policy was standardised nation-wide. The policy adopted declined fertility rate from 6.5TFR (Total Fertility Rate) to 1.6TFR, so, it was relaxed in 2015 and the policy of two-child was adopted by the government. How realistic is this policy in Nigeria? Can this method be employed to combat the galloping population in Nigeria? Remember, politics is a game of number, will this policy not be hampered for political selfishness?

Above all the corrective measures for overpopulation, the best contraceptive is economic development. Investing in human capital through quality education, sound health and boosting the level of productivity is paramount to defuse the bomb. If this bomb is not successfully defused, the casualties will be fatal and jeopardising.


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Omolola Lipede (The Talking Pen) is a contributor to The African Progressive Economist and the opinions expressed here are her own. She is currently an Economics post graduate student at the University of Ibadan.





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