September 21, 2017 – Nigeria’s Population May Hit A Billion By Year 2050 – Experts Predict Population Explosion
By Jide Osuntokun
I just saw a documentary on BBC on future demographic development in Africa zeroing in on Nigeria and its neighbour Niger Republic. The thrust of the documentary is that if both continue at the current rate of growth, Nigeria’s population will nearly hit a billion by the year 2050. Nigeria will be the number three most populous country in the world next to India and China because India would have overtaken China by that time. The documentary points to the unsustainable population growth in Niger Republic which is over three percent and that this should be a cause for worry for Nigeria because the excess always spills over to Nigeria. Nigeria in other words, is the safety net for Niger republic. In the meantime, Nigeria itself is growing at three percent or more on average even though there are regional differences and diversities in this growth pattern.
The question to ask is what is responsible for this exponential growth in population in these two countries and what can be done about it. In Nigeria and Niger the main reason is cultural. Niger is largely a Muslim country while the far north of Nigeria is similar to its northern neighbour. These are Islamic societies where polygamy is acceptable and not against the Islamic religion. One young man in Niger was interviewed on the size of his family of four wives and 16 children and he readily agreed that he is not able to feed them and virtually begged for available contraceptive measures. He immediately became an advocate of all measures to stop this obvious population explosion. One of the things the man said which the documentary highlighted was that he will encourage his children to go to Kano and Lagos to seek their fortunes. The focus of the documentary was on the Hausa speaking town of Zinder. One interesting thing the government of Niger has done is to embark on massive family planning campaign including public medical contraceptive practice on women from village to village in a desperate measure to stem this tide of uncontrollable population explosion.
Now what is happening in Niger as far as population growth is concerned is also happening on the Nigerian side of the border on a bigger scale because of its huge population. Apart from religious similarities, the two societies are largely agricultural with farmers raising large families to help them on the farms. The level of illiteracy is also high. This is responsible for the people not benefiting from contraceptive measures that would readily be available to the people if they were educated. The status of the girl-child remains abysmally low in human development index. Illiterate parents pay little or no concern for the interest of their female children other than just looking forward to payment of marriage price or dowry by their suitors. Children, sometimes while very young in age, are married off to their husbands where they are turned into breeding machines. In the past, the high mortality rate of children at infancy stabilized and moderated population growth, but the improvement in maternity care means that more children survive to live in abject poverty to the detriment of their families who need to be taught that large families are no longer of any economic value.
It can thus be seen that there is a complex interplay of factors that lead to this extraordinary population growth. The difference between Niger and Nigeria is that there is some fitful effort to address the problem north of the border but here in Nigeria nothing is being done. Population growth is not limited to the north of Nigeria alone; it is no doubt a national problem. In fact, the size of population has become political! Like in Northern Ireland where the Catholics are trying to outbreed the protestants for political parity, the various ethnic groups in Nigeria seem to fight a silent and perhaps unconscious “crib” war because as seen in their census battles, population figures have economic significance because of their being tied to revenue distribution from the federation account. This means nobody is seriously thinking about population control in the country or any part of it.
In the south-east of Nigeria, some men encourage and celebrate their wives for their effort in outbreeding their neighbours. Some communities give their wives and their wives ‘ parents cows when a single woman is able to have 10 or more children without caring for the health of the woman involved. The factors of illiteracy, economic demand for more hands on the field of farming or even trading and preferably their own children drive people in the south generally to have large families and multiple wives.
In the south-west of Nigeria, the monogamous example of their Christian cousins tend to moderate the polygamous tendencies of the Muslim community .This can be seen in the apparent slowing down of the population growth in the South-west. This is evidenced by national statistics. As western education spreads, the culture of small families and monogamy develops in all people irrespective of the religion one practices or the region where one lives. There is no doubt about the correlation between family size and education particularly female education. With women staying longer in school, the years left for them to have football size families have been reduced. There is also medically proven fact of too many children leading to high female mortality. On top of this is the fact that our economy and food production cannot really cope with this huge population growth. The situation calls for a national approach to defusing this population bomb. There must be a national population growth policy that would have to be enforced. This must be coordinated with the leadership of the two monotheistic religions of Islam and Christianity, because the clerics of the two religions seem to encourage large families by their followers. Even the African culture of seeing children as gifts from God would have to change if we are not to be overwhelmed by a deluge of children. There ought to be a legislation to discourage multiple wives. I pray we do not have to do what Indira Ghandi, the former prime minister of India did when she started castrating the men which eventually led to an assassin taking her life.
We are actually facing an emergency and we must adopt enforceable population policy and coordinate it with that of the Republic of Niger and perhaps other neighbouring countries of Benin and Chad where massive movement of people into Nigeria is currently occurring. People from as far as Togo and Liberia are flocking to Lagos because of its attractiveness as an economic magnet. The thought of Nigeria having a billion people 30 years to come is frightening. We will just not be able to handle it. Our economy cannot sustain or support it. We do not have the technology or the medical facilities to support such an unthinkable population problem. Lagos State claims one million people are moving to Lagos every year. This massive movement of people to Nigeria is pregnant with social, economic and political consequences. We must reverse this demographic trajectory by all means.
Because of the freedom of movement of people and capital enshrined in the ECOWAS treaty compels us to champion a population policy in the region, the control of population growth is not only an economic but a strategic and security issue. The population of Nigeria is also very young .Those under 30 years is more than 60 percent. This means they are at the high reproductive stage of their lives. If serious campaign of limiting every man to two children is not urgently embarked upon, it will be too late. The emphasis must be put on men not on women. Some years ago we had this debate but it was quietly forgotten. The time has now come when we must take serious measures to roll back this economically crippling population growth and a phenomenon which has become unsustainable.
When faced with similar problems, China limited a family to one child and medically enforced it. As a dictatorship, the communist regime was able to stabilize population growth at zero percent although the policy is being relaxed in special cases. In democratic India, this could not be done and this accounts for India catching up with China. In Europe, generally economic factor of the cost of raising children has stabilized the population growth. In the USA, massive immigration has led to what is an unsustainable population growth and this is responsible for the rise in right wing nationalism. Latin Americas’ poverty is related to its huge population growth and countries in the region, in spite of being largely, Catholics with their aversion for abortion are doing all they can to stabilize their population growth. Nigeria has a choice to make and this choice has to be made. The sooner the better. The time bomb is ticking.
[By Jide Osuntokun]