- Time for policy to control birth rate as too many are born into poverty
Penultimate week, the ballooning population of Nigeria was on the front burner at two different fora. On one hand was the Emir of Kano, Sanusi Lamido Sanusi, who spoke at the 25th Nigerian Economic Summit in Abuja. The Catholic Bishop of Sokoto, Mathew Kukah, who is also the founder of Kukah Centre also attended the summit. Thus, the traditional head of the Northern Muslims and the spiritual head of the Catholics in Sokoto State, both very influential Nigerians, expressed deep worries over the growing population that has somewhat turned into a huge burden on the country.
From Oxfam International came the depressing news too that 94 million Nigerians live below poverty line. Again, the country sadly retains the trophy of the poverty capital of the world. According to Oxfam, between April and September, more than two million Nigerians fell deeper into abject poverty, a number that is more than the combined population of Gambia and Cape Verde.
Since his coronation, Emir Sanusi has been very vocal about the dangers of an unchecked population growth and the attendant economic and social implications like heightened insecurity, drug abuse, kidnappings, armed robbery, Boko Haram and human trafficking. Sadly though, he has met with very stiff opposition every time he raises the argument and narrates the dire implications of unchecked population growth without the requisite education and other infrastructural developments that can assist the people to be more productive.
While we commend both Oxfam and the two prominent Nigerians for daring to speak out about the spiraling population growth, we fear that it is a disaster foretold. The fact that Nigerian leaders keep making assumptions about the actual population is very worrisome. It is not a hidden fact that due to political expediencies, politicians have at different times manipulated population figures. Nigerians often rely on most global agencies like the UN and its agencies, the World Bank and IMF, to quote the different demographics given that they often sponsor research that is often age and gender specific.
There is no serious nation that relies on guesses for their population figures. There are no reliable records of births and deaths and immigration. Logically therefore, it follows that Nigeria never plans properly for its population. Federal, state and local governments in Nigeria all do not have any population records that they plan with.
Sadly therefore, the problem with Nigeria in terms of population is hydra-headed. It just follows that if you do not know how many people you are cooking for, chances are that your food might not go round or satisfy those present. It might not be wrong to conclude that the underdevelopment afflicting Nigeria results from of lack of planning.
So, while politicians bandy figures to get some political and economic advantages, real development planning falls short because, in reality, the number of people in Nigeria continues to be a mystery. A huge population is not necessarily a bad thing to any nation. However, most nations try to maximise their population through well thought-out and effective population management programmes.
Education is at the root of development and Nigeria must begin to think about quality and affordable education for its citizens to be able to compete in a world ruled by ideas and technology. There must be a deliberate effort to educate the children, not mainly for blue-collar jobs but for skills acquisition, too. The country must, as a matter of urgency, begin a re-orientation of the people’s fixation from having more children than they can train, and probably peg the number of children every couple can have. Alternatively, the government should introduce incentives like half or subsidised tuition for couples that have a certain number of children.
Ignorance, religion and illiteracy are some of the reasons for population explosion and the government must find ways to educate the people about the implications of an unproductive population.
Already Nigeria has almost half of its population living below the poverty line; so, the trouble is here already. The way out is to shun political capital and do the right things by making sure that laws are made and implemented to curtail the number of children being born. Girls must be sent to school to avoid early marriage and sex education introduced in schools so that reproductive health can be better advanced. Nigeria must act swiftly to save itself from filling the geographic space with illiterates and poverty-stricken men and women that are neither useful to themselves nor to the society.