The United States Deputy Chief of Mission in Nigeria, Mr. David Young, last week, drew the attention of the Federal Government and other Nigerians to what he described as the challenges of population explosion which might drive Nigeria’s population to 400 million by 2050. He expressed concern that the country’s growing population, if not properly handled, could create more problems than opportunities in the future. He spoke at an interactive forum with members of the Sir Kashim Ibrahim Fellows held at Government House in Kaduna, Kaduna State. Time was, when comments such as Mr. Young’s, could be ridiculed as the asseverations of a busybody. Our view is that he is reflecting informed opinion which has been expressed by different well-meaning personalities at different times and at different places in recent times. These observations must be given the serious attention they deserve.
The first national census conducted in Nigeria after independence in 1963 put the country’s population at 55 million. That was 55 years ago. The figures were hotly disputed but they remained the working figures for nearly 30 years. A few months ago, the Chairman of the National Population Commission, Mr. Eze Duruiheoma, announced that the population has grown to be 198 million. In simple arithmetical terms, we added 143 million to our population within the period. In contrast, the population of the United Kingdom in 1963 was 53.6 million, in 2018, it is 66.57 million. Thus, whereas we added 143 million to our population during the last 55 years, the UK added less than 13 million. In other words, over and above the population growth in the UK, Nigeria added an extra 130 million to its population.
Going by our living standards, and the world has also seen how we live compared to other countries, all seems to have arrived at the conclusion that our population growth is “unparalleled and unrivalled” in the world, and this is the only index in which we scored such a distinction. It made us the seventh most populous country in the world and at our present growth rate of 6.5 percent, our population will hit 400 million in 2050 at which time we would then become the third most populous country in the world. These figures show that we account for 5 percent of all births in the world and 19 percent of all African births, with more than 7 million babies (about the population of Sierra Leone) born every year.
Thus it was no surprise when the Washington DC think tank, the Brookings Institution, demonstrated that Nigeria has overtaken India as a country that has the highest number of the world’s extremely poor. The report was authored by members of the World Data Lab, which keeps the World’s Poverty Clock. The clock measures the progress of the eradication of extreme poverty in all its forms by 2030. By its calculation, Nigeria has about 87 million people living in poverty as against 73 million in India. The irony is that the population of India is six times that of Nigeria. And when Mrs. Theresa May, the Prime Minister of Great Britain, visited Nigeria in August she noted that “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.” In contrast with Nigerians’ reaction to the “fantastically corrupt” remarks of her predecessor, David Cameron, Nigerians accepted her observation with silence and, perhaps, some shame.
It is 32 years before 2050 and the time to try to avert the expected disaster is now. The watchword should be planning. The cause of anxiety is that the population is growing faster than the economy which means that the country may find itself in a situation where it is unable to take care of many citizens. The antidote to poverty the world has discovered in the last 50 years is education. The government should investment more in education.
We should return to family planning, a thoughtful precaution which saves everyone so many troubles. When the Chinese found themselves in a similar situation as we now have, they instituted the “one-child” policy. The consequences of an uncontrolled population explosion are impossible to predict and may involve social and political upheavals. Our population growth rate is excessive and unsustainable. The Federal Government should urgently constitute a task force to more deeply look into this issue and offer a practical, honest, culturally sensitive blueprint.