Setting an Agenda for 2019: Nigeria’s Population Explosion Should Concern Us All

Nigeria’s population is growing in amazing proportions and borrowing colloquial speak, it is all jokes till the country can literally and figuratively no longer contain us. In the absence of timely and reliable census data updates from the National Population Commission (NPC), government officials and everyone else have over the course of the last decade moved casually from estimating Nigeria’s population being 140 million to 200 million.

The population of Lagos State has for instance remained indeterminate regardless of the state’s claims to sophistication and excellence. Figures for the number of residents in the state regularly swing from 13 million to 22 million depending on who is making the assertion. This inability to count ourselves makes it difficult to correctly ascertain the possible demand for social goods and infrastructure, a challenge worsened by the absence of perceptible deliberateness on the part of government to invest in proportionate social and economic planning for the growing population.

If there was much thoughtfulness around proper planning, it is presumable that there would be a number of policy guidelines on managing population growth in line with available resources, as opposed to occasional hand-wringing by a few government officials when confronted with the statistics of an under-estimated challenge.

For those who care to look, Nigeria’s population figures are inundating. The average population growth between 1960 and 2010 was 2.55 percent while the average population growth rate in the last ten years was 2.60 percent. The rate is expected to be about 2.20 percent over the course of the next 50 years which would translate into a possible population of 450 million people by 2070.

To illustrate our challenge, it is helpful to point out that in 1980, Nigeria’s population was in the neighborhood of 73 million while that of Nigeria’s former colonial master, the United Kingdom was about 56 million. Within the 38 years that followed, Nigeria’s figures have risen to an estimated 200 million while the United Kingdom added only 10 million people to its population in the same time frame. The more distressing fact about Nigeria’s continuing explosion in numbers is that the population growth is not being matched by a corresponding increase in economic productivity or investment in infrastructure which invariably implies that with increased pressure on a static supply, dilapidation is the inevitable fate of healthcare, transportation, education and other infrastructure.

The United Kingdom had a GDP per capita of $41,524.07 in 2005; Nigeria had a GDP per capita of $807.89 in the same year; South Africa had $5,414.63 while Rwanda had $287.09 and Singapore’s was $29,869.85 for the same period. Twelve years later, Singapore’s GDP per capita had risen to $57,722 by December 2017; Rwanda’s was $771; South Africa’s went up to $6,179.87 and the United Kingdom’s declined to $39,734 while Nigeria’s had risen to $1,994.24.

While it is true that the rate of growth in GDP per capita is no automatic measure of economic development especially when considering inclusive growth, my present worry however is that Nigeria’s GDP is not even growing at the same pace as its population unlike the other countries highlighted. Singapore’s population was 4.266 million in 2005 and grew to only 5.61 million by 2017. The U.K. population was 60.4 million in 2005 and grew to only 66.58 million by 2017. Rwanda’s population was 9 million as of 2005 and only went up by 3.5 million in twelve years to stand at 12.5 million in 2017. Nigeria on the other hand grew by at least 50 million people between 2005 when its population was 138.9 million and 2017 when it stood at an estimated 190 million. Therein lies a major problem for the country. If we are not ramping up general productivity fast enough, how do we even begin to think of growth that reflects in the living standards of the average Nigerian.

Nigeria’s budgetary allocation for infrastructure spending in 2005 was N617.3 billion which appears to have significantly gone up to N2.8 trillion in the 2018 budget but when due consideration is given to inflation and the dynamism of unreleased funds as well as spending without visible results which has been the bane of public spending, the supposed increment is hardly comforting. Poignantly, the N2.8 trillion allocation to capital expenditure is much lower than the recurring expenditure of N6.3 trillion under the same budget of N9.1 trillion. For a nation whose electricity, transportation, manufacturing, agriculture, refineries and other critical infrastructure are in dire need of substantial upgrade requiring an annual spend of about $300 billion, the sums budgeted clearly cannot do much.

Having identified a major gap between available resources and existing demand which is expected to keep rising, it is expedient for us to consider measures to manage that rise in demand while looking to stimulate an increase in infrastructure supply. Population control has become a necessary consideration but as the general elections approach, there is little or no attention to this important issue among those jostling for relevance. China and India, the two most populated countries in the world have at different times explored various measures for population control with little success also dogged by concerns bordering on human rights violation, discrimination and health hazards of such options as sterilization. The anticipated loss of privileges accompanying conformity with the one-child once adopted rule in China is also believed to have influenced unsafe abortions, infanticide and high-handed tactics by supervising officials.

It is time to ponder what possible measures can be adopted in Nigeria, taking into context our social, traditional and religious peculiarities. In varying expressions, cultural beliefs in many parts of Nigeria extol having multiple children and in a particular ethnic group, counting a man’s children could earn a visitor the tag of an enemy. A number of religious groups are also openly against the use of contraceptives and the stigma that attends buying condoms for instance have been well documented. It would then appear that a course of action open to government would be orientation campaigns to elicit the buy-in of citizens.

One other option would be to legislate limits to childbirths per family but with the failure of government to collate data over time and many births happening outside of the underwhelming medical facilities, among other factors including possible lack of public support, enforcing such legislation will prove herculean if not completely impossible.

Yet another option open to government is incentivizing the process by for instance offering educational and health benefits to families that comply with maximum birth stipulations, or offering monetary compensations to couples who present themselves for sterilization at designated facilities. This option however has the imprints of a statist society and is both open to abuse and exploitation.

I do not pretend to have the answers to Nigeria’s population explosion challenge but it is about time all stakeholders pay serious attention to discussing policy options for mitigating the effects of a population growth that outstrips economic development. We need new ideas on how to maximize the strengths of the growing young population for the utilization of available resources to ensure economic prosperity and inclusive growth. This challenge of finding measures to mitigate the impact of the population explosion is not for just aspirants to the presidential, governorship and legislative seats but to us all as Nigerians.

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About Tobi

Lawyer. Writer. Observer
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