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Experts worry over Nigeria’s increasing population

Last week, the United Nations (UN) estimated that the world’s population had grown to eight billion, with China and India accounting for more than 2.4…

Last week, the United Nations (UN) estimated that the world’s population had grown to eight billion, with China and India accounting for more than 2.4 billion.

The UN, in its World Population Prospects, 2022, released in July, however, stated that the increase in the world population was growing slower as fertility rate among women declined to 2.6 per cent in recent decades for many countries.

It added that two-third of the global population resides in a country where each woman has 2.1 births, which is required for zero growth in the long run for a population with low mortality.

Nigeria’s population is currently estimated at 216million, and the number is projected to almost double by 2050 to 375million, making the country the third populous country behind India and China.

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Why Nigeria’s population is increasing

Nigeria’s population has seen an astronomical increase since the last census was conducted in 2006. The census had shown that the population was around 144million, but years later, more 76million persons have been added.

According to the revised national population, which was launched in February, Nigeria’s population is one of the fastest growing in the world with a projected growth of 3.2 per cent per annum.

The document noted that the increase was influenced by mortality and fertility trends, with the trend favouring fertility, leading to the 70 per cent of the population to be below the age of 30.

But the high fertility is caused by high infant mortality, with every 72 newborn dying from 1,000 births in the country, thus, the need for women to plan to have more children, with the average fertility rate in the country standing at 5.3 per cent, meaning that each woman in the country would give birth to at least five children.

Similarly, the World Bank noted that 23 per cent of girls between the ages of 15-19 were already married and 19 per cent were mothers or pregnant with their first children.

Globally, the UN stated that the population of men (50.3 per cent) counted slightly more than women (49.7 per cent) in 2022, and the case is the same in Nigeria, adding that the figure is projected to slowly change over the course of the century, and by 2050, it is expected that the number of women would equal the number of men.

As Nigeria’s population inclines towards a youthful one, the figures show that if fertility remains unchanged, the country would have a population the government would not be able to cater for with current infrastructural deficit.

According to the country director of the World Bank, Shubham Chaudhuri, the situation is due to the country having the lowest level of public spending in the world, with 11 or 12 per cent spending to Gross Domestic Product (GDP). He said the figure was not enough to sustain basic services that every state provides for its people. 

Chaudhuri also attributed the low spending to low revenue generation as fewer people pay taxes due to lack of trust in the government.

Already, the country’s financing shortfall for infrastructure would need over $3trillion for the next 30 years to be updated to serve the population adequately.

Impact of population

Nigeria’s youthful population could either be a burden to the country or lead to its prosperity if the government initiates policies and invests in education, health care and employment.

Speaking during a parliamentary summit to fast-track Nigeria’s demographic transition recently, the United Nations population Fund (UNFPA) Country Representative to Nigeria, Ms Ulla Mueller, said the country needed to take every action to change the tide of its population, as in few years, there could be 250million people that could feel a sense of opportunities and possibilities, but with the wrong investment, there could be 250million people living in increased poverty and insecurity.

This is just as the National Bureau of Statistics had in a survey titled, Multidimensional Poverty Index, disclosed that 133million Nigerians were in poverty due to lack of access to water, electricity, housing, education, health, energy, among others. This means that the country has not been able to meet the needs of 68 per cent of its population.

Similarly, lack of employment opportunities is forcing the youth into crimes and social vices, breeding insecurity. Over 15million children are out of school.

If the country is to continue in this trajectory, the environment would also be impacted negatively, with a huge junk of the population depending on trees, firewood and coal as energy sources to meet their needs.

The Director-General of Budget Office, Ben Akabueze, said the government was aware that its greatest assets was human capital, but, however, admitted that the country is not on track to meeting its targets on education, health etc. 

Experts believe that as a way out of the population crisis, Nigeria needs to leverage on the number of its youths to achieve its development agenda through a process known as Demographic Dividend (DD).

In 2017, the chairman of the National Population Commission (NPC), Isah Nasir Kwara, said the African Union (AU) adopted the path to harnessing the DD through investment in the youth. 

He said, “Harnessing the DD requires each country to meet certain conditions that start with achieving a rapid and speedy fertility decline to permit sufficient demographic transition for economic transformation to occur. Achieving this feat will facilitate the emergence of a population age structure that hosts fewer dependents but with a large cohort of productive/working age population that will breed prosperity. 

“This achievement can happen only if Nigeria makes the right choices now in adopting targeted sound social policies and interventions in key sectors (education, health, women empowerment, job creation/productive and decent employment), guided by good governance built on strong and responsive institutional structure.”

In the same vein, Mueller said the need for adolescent girls to have access to education and end early marriage was paramount as Nigeria needs all her people to be educated so that the 250million projected to be in the country in the next 20 years would have opportunities.

She noted that to achieve a reduced population in the country, the federal government had in 2021 also committed to contribute $4m annually towards contraceptive commodities, but the Central Bank of Nigeria has not released the fund for 2021 and 2022, which has already been approved.

Chaudhuri also noted that between 2015 and 2019, 19million young Nigerians came of working age.

He said, “The national statistics indicated that 4million found formal jobs in the productive sector while the remaining 15million ended up at the lower end of the informal sector. They are surviving on subsidies from agriculture. Last year showed that many of them have also decided that there are other ways of surviving, including criminal activities. 

“Another part of the agenda is to help Nigeria realise its potential as a growing and thriving economy that offers opportunities to all.”

He also emphasized the need for the country to invest more in secondary education, especially in basic areas, to keep adolescent girls in school. 

An environmentalist, Mike David Terungwa, also said Nigeria’s increasing population would adversely affect the environment, which could lead to land degradation. 

He said 200million people were already generating waste on a daily basis, many of which are not recycled but end up in the ocean and landfills, thereby affecting the environment negatively.

“Imagine the number of people and plastics produced. By 2050, the environment will completely be in a mess. The number of cars will be much, so will be pollution,” he said.

He said there was the need to check population growth with a massive and intentional campaign on family planning, which can be done naturally to prevent the negative view of modern contraceptives.

But the Director of Programmes, Corporate Accountability and Public Participation Africa (CAPPA), Phillip Jakpor, said population was not Nigeria’s problem.

He said, “If you travel the length and breadth of this country, either by land or air, you would notice that there are vast uninhabited lands, and we might add, ungoverned spaces. There are lands that are cultivable and habitable but left to waste or unallocated for use because the government has not put infrastructure in place to make those places attractive to our people.

“We see how China and their Asian counterparts are connecting remote areas of their countries by train. In each train station, a flourishing hub of businesses or habitation is created, and they later become towns, attracting people from elsewhere. 

“What we amplify here to mean overpopulation is actually the overconcentration of people in some key cities like Lagos, Warri, Kano, Ibadan, Kaduna etc because they have some incentives to attract people from rural areas.

“We have failed to decentralise and spread development; hence we aggregate the population in the cities to portray Nigeria as overpopulated. I totally disagree with this notion.”

He added that the absence of amenities to accommodate the influx of people in overpopulated cities means that their handlers are also not thinking proactively. 

“As we continue to have fewer opportunities in rural areas, the cities will remain congested. That is why we have urban housing, waste management, transportation and food crises and even crime in the big cities. And disturbingly, the ungoverned spaces are now being taken over by bandits and other criminal elements. That said, the perennial flooding crisis in most states is attributable to the poor urban planning and waste management systems that reflect inadequate or perpetually blocked drains. These things are interlinked,” he said.

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