By Victor Anya
The need for population control has become inevitable considering the fast growing rate of the Nigerian population which is estimated at 200 million and it is still growing! It is indeed a huge population that should give every foresighted Nigerian a great concern. While the population is growing an alarming rate, infrastructures that should propel such a large population to active production are in obvious decay. The roads across the country are deplorable, water supply is poor, telecommunication is erratic, education has reached a near collapse status and electricity supply is fluctuating between 3500-4500 megawatts. This cannot sustain production of goods and services for a population of 200 million people! South Africa with a relative low population of 50 million people generates about 50,000 megawatts of electricity while Egypt with a population of 82.7 people generates 45,000 megawatts of electricity. This is why these two countries have high production capacity rates and also have stronger economies than Nigeria which bears the slogan of “Giant of Africa.”
In early 2018, Minister of Finance, Hajiya Zainab Ahmed, during the 24th Economic Summit in Abuja, said that to fulfill President Muhammadu Buhari government’s Economic Recovering and Growth Plan (ERGP) “Will align our population growth rate to economic growth and eventually exit Nigeria from its current poverty trap.” The Nigerian Bureau of Statistics said Nigeria’s current population growth is about 3 percent, while the slowly recovering economy is growing at 1.9 percent. The Chairman of Nigeria Population Commission, Mr. Eze Duruiheoma, in 2018 said that the population of Nigeria has hit 198 million. He noted that “Nigeria remains the most populous in Africa, the seventh globally with an estimated population of over 198 million, the recent World Population Prospects report predicts that by 2050, Nigeria will become the third most populated country in the world.”
Mr. Eze added that in the past 50 years, urban population growth rate was more than 6.5 percent without commensurate increase in social amenities and infrastructure. It grew from 17.3 percent in 1967 to 49.3 percent of the country’s total population in 2017.
The quest for population control policy was first initiated in the 1990s under the military government of General Ibrahim Babangida by the then First Lady Mrs. Maryam Babangida. Under her pet project, Better Life for Rural Women, she advised couples to bear four children but this policy was harshly criticized by traditional and religious leaders.
But there are obvious reasons to revisit such a laudable policy of population control considering the fact that a very large population is not always the best. Apart from the advantage of having a large and ready market for the goods produced, there are many challenges associated with large populations. A huge population comes with many daunting challenges of scarce opportunities for the teaming population. The contestation for the few available opportunities is usually very fierce and sometimes deadly. For instance accessing admission into tertiary institutions can be very hectic as the institutions available can hardly accommodate the humongous numbers of candidates seeking admission each year. This is evident in the country.
Again, after graduation from the university, employment opportunities are not available; leaving many graduates to roam the streets and seeking jobs that are not there. The resultant effects of joblessness are upsurge of crimes like banditry, armed robbery, kidnapping, terrorism, insurgency, rapping, drug addiction, prostitution etc. such as Nigeria is currently experiencing. In addition to the above, a large population that is not productive can’t feed itself which is also a big challenge. Currently, about 13 million children are out of school as a result of uncontrolled population. There is abject poverty in Africa and Nigeria which is the most populous country on the African Continent is currently the poverty capital of the world with five persons sliding into the poverty line every minute according to the World Poverty Clock! This is not a cheering piece of information!
Also, access to good quality healthcare is another big challenge in a country with a large population. The reason is because the available hospitals maybe ill-equipped and not enough to handle the huge population of people in need of healthcare services. More often than not, the leadership of the country engaged in health tourism to access quality healthcare abroad but leaves the ordinary Nigerians to their fate.
But why is the population of Nigeria growing like a wide harmattan fire? The reasons are obvious-ethnic, cultural and religious practices that promote polygamy with multiple wives and children. These beliefs and practices allow men to have four or more wives bearing 20, 30, 50 or 70 children yet the same man is so poor that he can’t feed or send his numerous children to school!
Thus, there is an urgent need for Nigeria to emulate China and draw up a population control mechanism to help reduce the fast growing population in the country. In 1979, China introduced a one child policy for a couple under the leadership of Deng Xiaoping when the population of China was 970 million people. With this policy in place, a couple was expected to procreate only one child and any couple that had more than one child was made to pay tax to the government. This has helped to control the population to a large extent, where it not for this population control mechanism put in place, the population of China would have doubled the current 1.7 billion people. Though, this policy was relaxed in November, 2013 to allow a couple to have two children if one of the couple in the marriage was the only child of his or her parents. It should be noted that between1979-2013, China succeeded in lifting 500 million Chinese from poverty owing to the slowing down of her population.
Large populations are not easy to manage and shouldn’t be promoted by any country. Apart from America, China, Russia and India that have been able to manage their huge populations relatively well, other countries with huge populations especially in Africa are not doing well at all.
Though, it is not an easy task to dissuade people from their long held dogmas and mythologies but with frequent and persuasive advocacy that will appeal to the conscience of Nigerian men to marry only one wife and bear four children will promote the envisaged birth control policy. Birth control departments should be incorporated into the health centers across the country with the provision of free contraceptives and other birth control materials. The National Orientation Agency should be well funded to lead the advocacy for the population control policy. The days of having large populations that can’t be properly fed and educated are gone and no longer in vogue. What is in vogue at the moment are manageable populations that are educated, healthy and productive-with high gross domestic product and per capital income. This should be the major concern of Nigerians and her government and not unnecessary large population that is not educated, healthy and productive.