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Nigeria’s Population: A ticking time bomb



Nigeria’s Population: A ticking time bomb

As with some African countries, Nigeria is sitting on a keg of gunpowder over a rapidly increasing population that is projected to be 400 million in the next 32 years. In this report, WALE ELEGBEDE writes on the burgeoning demography of Africa’s most populous country without corresponding infrastructure, social welfare initiatives, and medical facilities to cater for the booming population



He sat on a near fractured bench looking forlorn with his head buried between his two hands. Lost in his own thought, he cares less whether those around him at the popular newspaper stand in Ketu, a boisterous suburb in Lagos, are shouting on the top of their voices arguing for and against political and sports news headlines of the day, to the point of almost exchanging fisticuffs. For a man, who identified himself simply as Akinlabi, the popular newsstand had been his second home over the last five month as he usually goes there to update himself of happenings in the country and sometimes engage in the hot arguments, especially politics.

But on this day, he didn’t have the energy for such; he had more serious termites biting in his shorts. “My wife just confirmed that she is pregnant again,” he said to a friend with a depressing facial expression. “I told her that the six kids we have are okay but she wouldn’t listen. Can you imagine having another child in this state of penury? Three of our children were sent home yesterday from school for non-payment of their school fees.”

For Akinlabi, life has served him bitter pills over the last two years. He was in charge of a local bakery before the business went awry. Since then, it’s being a life of hustling. The wife has had to engage in all sorts of menial jobs to keep ends meet. But with an additional seventh child on the way and in the face of a shrinking economy, the Akinlabis are already counting the excruciating cost of adding another issue to their already handful household in an economy where the cost of living is astronomically high.

“I told her to look for a suitable family planning method but she wouldn’t listen; see what it has caused us now,“ he muttered. Interestingly, Akinlabi’s circumstance is not an isolated scenario in Nigeria, and by extension, Africa. On a daily basis, additions are made to the already populated nation and continent and this is without corresponding infrastructure for an affordable standard of living. For Nigeria, it’s been a bourgeoning concern.


The Projections

The country is yet to conduct a population census since 2006 after the proposed 2016 census failed to hold. According to the Nigerian Population Commission (NPC) there were only 37.9 million Nigerians as of 1950. At independence in 1960, Nigeria’s population had risen to 45.1 million people with a yearly population growth rate of two per cent while it jumped to 56 million in 1970 with a growth rate of 2.2 per cent. By the end of 1980, the total number of Nigerians was 73.5 million with a population growth rate of 2.9 per cent but dropped to 2.65 per cent in 1990, with a population of 95.3 million.

At the turn of the century in the year 2000, Nigeria’s population had grown out of proportion and it consequently broke into the list of world’s top 10 most populous countries, with a population of 122.4 million inhabitants. 10 years later in 2010, the yearly population growth was 2.7 per cent,  with a population of 158 million people. As at this week, Nigeria’s current population is estimated to be around 198,613,487.

This, according to experts, is equivalent to 2.6 per cent of the total world population. Nigeria now ranks number seven in the list of countries by population and her population density is put at 221 per Km2 (571 people per mi2). While 51.9 per cent of population in Nigeria is urban, the UN estimates put the median age in the country at 17.9 years. Nigeria’s population has more than tripled since independence, from 45.1 million in 1960 to almost 200 million in 2018. According to a UN projection, the country will be the third most populous country in the world by 2050, standing behind India and China.

By the projection from the World Population Prospects, Nigeria’s population, currently Pa Abeke the seventh largest in the world, is growing most rapidly and is projected to surpass that of the United States by about 2050, at which point the African country will become the third largest in the world. “Understanding the demographic changes that are likely to unfold over the coming years, as well as the challenges and opportunities that they present for achieving sustainable development, is key to the design and implementation of the new development agenda,” Wu Hongbo, UN under-secretary-general for economic and social affairs, said.

The UN projection appears to have validated when the NPC, also declared that by the year 2050, the country’s population will hit 410 million, making her the third most populous nation in the world. Speaking at the 2018 World Population Day in Abuja, NPC Chairman, Eze Duruiheoma (SAN), said going by the current growth rate, by 2100, the country’s population will reach 724 million.


The gathering clouds

Nigeria cannot afford to look the other way on its exponentially grow-ing population and also care less about basic human index development and infrastructure. The country, experts believe, must harness all within its fold to curtail increase in population and to also fix its languid system. Clearly, the current estimate population of over 180 million people is stretching the country, and this has negatively reflected in almost all indices of the wellbeing of the country. In fact, the country’s social and economic challenges in the last five years, some say, have become a subject of interest in the global arena.

If these human development indices stay the same and the 2050 forecast hits the country like a thief in the night, the outcome is better left imagined. According to the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS), Nigeria’s unemployment rate increased from 18.8 per cent in the third quarter of 2017 to 23.1 per cent in the third quarter of 2018. The bureau said the economically active or working-age population (15 – 64 years of age) increased from 111.1 million in Q3 2017 to 115.5million in Q3 2018.

The report said the total number of people classified as unemployed, which means they did nothing at all or worked too few hours (under 20 hours a week) to be classified as employed increased from 17.6 million in Q4 2017 to 20.9 million in Q3 2018. Expressing his thoughts on this, an economist, Olaoluwa Adelegan, said in relation with the growing population, economic opportunities in the country in almost every sector had not proportionately increased.

He added that there were more people especially the youth seeking employment but no opportunities to absorb them. While calling for the reduction of birth rate to an optimum level to create more opportunities, Adelegan called for a retooling of the country’s education system to give room for entrepreneurship. Despite being the largest economy in Africa with abundant human capital and the economic potential to lift millions out of poverty, inequality in Nigeria has reached extreme levels. According to the “2018 Commitment to Reducing Inequality Index”, which is a global ranking of governments based on what they are doing to tackle the gap between rich and poor, Nigeria for a second year running, ranked 157th out of 157 countries.

The ranking was done based on three major indicators – social spending, tax and labour rights. These indicators are the critical areas necessary to reduce the inequality gap. In one of its reports, the Bureau of Public Service Reform (BPSR), raised the alarm that urgent attention should be given to the housing shortage in the country which has made over 108 million Nigerians technically homeless. Reacting to the report, some experts have said that the deficit reduces productivity and breeds crime. They add-ed that government at all levels should collaborate with the private sector to address the deficit. Nigeria is ranked as having the highest number of out-of-school children in the world.

A survey by the United Nations Children Fund (UNICEF) and the Nigerian government showed that the population of out-of-school children in Nigeria has risen from 10.5 million to 13.2 million. Like most other indices of human development, the country was also poorly ranked in the recently released first global healthcare access report. It was placed in the 140th position, with 51 points, on the report’s Healthcare Access and Quality Index.

The ranking is based on a quantification of personal access to healthcare and the quality of healthcare available in 195 countries, from 1990-2015. The report surveyed and assessed 195 nations on healthcare quality and access, ranking them from zero to 100. The country’s huge gap in infrastructure has over the years, diminished economic growth and competitiveness. Currently, the value of Nigeria’s infrastructure is about 35 per cent of Gross Domestic Product (GDP), paling in comparison with 70 per cent for larger economies. Less than 56 per cent of Nigerians have access to electricity compared to 80 per cent for developed countries. This level of access translates to an average of 24 hours in a week.

Upon the daunting projection on Nigeria’s demography in the next 30 years, some organisations and individuals have raised fundamental issues that the government should keep pace with to arrest the anticipated effect of the burgeoning population. In its Goalkeepers Report for 2018, the Bill and Melinda Foundation report predicts that by 2050, about 152 million Nigerians will be extremely poor out of her projected population of 429 million people. According to the report, by year 2050, both Nigeria and Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) will be home to over 40 per cent of world’s extremely poor people.

The annual report which tracks progress being made by countries on the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) was produced in partnership with the Institute of Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) at the University of Washington. According to the report, the lack of investment in young Nigerians has continued to lock productivity and innovation, which has consequently failed to create opportunities and generate prosperity. It added that while more than a billion people worldwide have lifted themselves out of extreme poverty since 2010, more and more Nigerians are becoming extremely poor.

“At the moment, things look pretty bad in Nigeria,” Farouk Jega, the director of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’s Nigerian office, told foreign news medium. “Increasing poverty is exacerbating the security situation, causing unrest and increasing crime. The minister of health is promoting the use of modern contraceptives, but only 10 per cent of women use them,” Jega added. Similarly, a report by Brookings Institute, points out that Nigeria has overtaken India as a country that has the highest number of extremely poor people.

The report was written by Homi Kharas, Kristofer Hamel and Martin Hofer from the World Data Lab, which keeps the World Poverty Clock. The report suggests that based on data from the World Poverty Clock that measures the progress of eradicating extreme poverty in all its forms by 2030, Nigeria has about 87 million people living in poverty as against 73 million of India.


The population of India is more than six times that of Nigeria. On its part, the United States government warned that unless Nigeria takes remedial measures, the impending population explosion will create more problems than opportunities for the country in the future. According to the United States Deputy Chief of Mission in Nigeria, David Young, the country’s projected population by 2050, may come without commensurate amenities to sustain it and, therefore, will become a challenge rather than an opportunity. He advised the government to focus attention on human capital development, health, education and curbing corruption to the barest minimum. To the Prime Minister of United Kingdom, Theresa May, Nigeria is the home of very poor people. She said: “Much of Nigeria is thriving, with many individuals enjoying the fruits of a resurgent economy, yet 87 million Nigerians live below $1 and 90 cents a day, making it home to more very poor people than any other nation in the world.”


The economy vs population mismatch


With Nigeria population currently growing at 2.7 per cent, it is expected that the GDP should expand at a higher rate to improve human development indices. But the reverse is the case and this is stretching the limit of the available infrastructure as the country is unable to support its increasing population. While the population is booming, the economy is declining sharply. According to data from the World Bank, Nigeria’s rebased economy in 2014, had a GDP of $568 billion. But with the in and out movement with the recession, the economy diminished to $375.8 billion in 2017.


The current GDP of Nigeria is just 0.61 per cent of the global GDP. Meanwhile, the country’s population is 2.47 per cent of the global population of 7.6 billion. This, many view, as a gross mismatch between the economy and the rising population. But, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) has said that a large population, properly harnessed, can help propel development. The reverse, is also added, can retard it and keep the majority of a country with a large population in poverty.


When the members of the Nigerian Conservation Foundation visited President Muhammadu Buhari in Abuja, he makes no pretense on the danger lurking around the country over a mounting population. He identified population as one of the big challenges facing Nigeria, adding that, “the problem of climate change is also real. The desert encroachment is aggravating it.


The population explosion in Nigeria is another big challenge.” The concern of the Federal Government to the pending time bomb of a population explosion was also expressed at the last Nigerian Economic Summit when both Vice President Yemi Osinbajo and the Finance Minister, Zainab Ahmed, called for support for the management of the country’s population. Osinbajo disclosed that the Federal Government is working to reduce the country’s population growth rate by half. He added that research has shown that Nigeria can do that by simply educating the girl child.


“The problem of poverty and the attendant deficits in human development indices become more significant because our population continues to grow at three per cent annually and we are to become the world’s third most populous nation by 2050. Of this population, over 60 per cent will be young people, and about 1.4 million entering the job market every year.” Speaking in the same Summit, Ahmed, said that the Federal Government is working with religious and traditional leaders on ways to limit the number of children a woman can give birth to.


“We hope that with their support, we will get to a point where we can come out with the policy that limits the number of children that a mother can have because that is important for sustaining our growth,” said Ahmed. However, the swift criticism to the minister’s remarks at the Summit compelled her to clarify her position, stating that government is not limiting the number of children per mother to four as some news media reported, but that families are advised to embrace child spacing. “Exponential population growth was identified as a challenge,” she said. “We never said Federal Government will place a cap on the number of childbirths.”


She also referred to the government’s Economic Recovery and Growth Plan [ERGP] which stated that “the management of population growth is vital to the development of any nation.” Likewise, the Minister of Health, Prof. Isaac Adewole, had said that Nigeria would need N234 billion to control its population growth which stands at 3.2 per cent per year.


The minister harped on the need to boost Contraceptives Prevalence Rate (CRR), noting that the birth rate of “5.5 children per woman is too high.” While a number of issues ranging from religious, cultural, social and economic identified as factors triggering high population growth, the sentiments appear closer to some than others. The cultural perceptive to procreation still subsist in Nigeria as many still hold on to traditional views of women.


The end of discussion on procreation revolves around women and they are particularly vulnerable. Issues of child marriage and unwillingness to educate the girl-child are persistence especially in the Northern part of the country and these are some of the catalysts for the burgeoning population.


Stakeholders Speak

According to a family planning expert, provider and facilitator, Dr. Ibukun Wellington, if family planning is appropriately executed in Nigeria, the population growth rate and other issues will fizzle away. “Contraceptives lie at the heart of proper family plan ning but its usage in Nigeria has been incredibly low.

The low uptake has been a lack of knowledge about the various available options, combined with misconceptions about its usage. If we want to check this astronomic rise in our population, we must urgently rethink our family planning programmes; educate people and make the contraceptives available to them,” she said.

Highlighting some of the issues that should be addressed, a sociologist, Mrs. Harriet Okolie, told Saturday Telegraph that aside from issues of non-implementation of birth control policies by the government and its agencies, there is also misplacement of policies in different directions. She said: “Nigeria has diverse cultures and beliefs on just everything and the treatment of population surge with a blanket approach cannot produce anything meaningful.

The situation of birth control and procreation in the North is not the same in the South, so we can’t have the same policy, peculiarities must be considered and policies must be tailored to suit the differences.”


Okolie also identified socio-cultural and religious factors as another bane of the burgeoning population. “For us to put a check on our growing population, we must also move to disabuse perceptions based on myths and misconceptions on childbirth, early marriage, male-orientated culture, and other attendant customary challenges.” There are those who believe that child marriage should be criminalised in line with the Child Rights Act that also stipulates education for all children.

The education of the girlchild, according to them, should be a priority as an uneducated girl is more likely to be married off early.


A senior lecturer in the Department of Economics, Dr Seun Olayungbo, said the question of whether the huge population is an advantage to Nigeria is a yes or no answer. He said: “The answer is yes and no.   If it is to be yes then it means Nigeria will have to invest in the huge human capital in form of education to take advantage of high productivity from the huge human capital endowment. But no, in the sense that if the huge population is just a bunch of illiterates and unproductive people then, the population increase will not translate to economic benefit. “As I said earlier, if the huge population is just a set of uneducated people then poverty will increase with such population. India is a good example. India was once the most impoverished economy in the world due to her huge population.


However, there has been an improvement in her economy due to a large investment in her people in terms of education and training. “Although population growth is a natural growth, yet it needs to be checkmated. China once adopted one-child policy due to her huge population growth. Maximum of three-child policy may be adopted in Nigeria. Also, there should be awareness of the use of contraceptive, birth control pills. Polygamy should also be discouraged,” he said.


Olanrewaju Suraju, the executive chairman of the Human and Environment Development Agency (HEDA), also said Nigeria has not been paying attention to its growing number and that the population may be a disadvantage under the current situation of the country.  “It’s sad that we have not been paying serious attention to our rising population but incidentally other people from other countries have been taking economic advantage of it and making money out of here. We are not adequately prepared for 2050 and we are not also having any form of future plan in terms of providing social security and corresponding infrastructure.

The government should set a plan in motion and ensure that we have a feasible national blueprint to check the pending population boom.”   For the Presidential candidate of KOWA party, Dr. Bryan Fagbenro, there is the need to change the framework of the constitution to accommodate the rights of all citizens.  “If we don’t change that constitution or the framework, we will continue to deceive ourselves as a nation. First of all, we must disincentive that irresponsibility to childbearing. “If you do national planning, state development plans and local government planning, why do people have a problem with family planning? Family planning is the nucleus of the nation. Some people excuse or redefined family planning as something that is culturally or religiously unacceptable but they embrace national planning. Who is the family and who is the nation? That is the contradiction in our whole mindset and the way we put things together. There is a lot of advocacy that is needed to be done. The government has to show the way and carry them along.”

The presidential candidate of the Allied Congress Party of Nigeria (ACPN), Dr. Oby Ezekwesili, equally said that the population boom will be an advantage if the girl-child is educated. She said: “Large population could be an advantage but we can see that with poor infrastructure and poor investment in our people, it’s a disadvantage.

We are going to have a larger number of poor people on our hands and that is a destabilising factor. “We need to focus on how we will get more girls in school, the more girls we get in school, the delayed marriage, and when they get married, they reduce the number of children they are having or they will plan their child bearing very well to tie it to their economic possibilities. The more that we educate women the more they are empowered economically, and when they are empowered economically, what they do is that 70 per cent of their income goes to their children. So, the education of the girlchild helps us to break the cycle of poverty from one  generation to another.”



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