The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) recently released the estimated world population. Nigeria’s population, according to its estimation, will hit 211.4 million by the end of 2021, a sharp rise by 69 million from 142.5 million recorded in the 2006 head-count. With an unemployment rate of 32.5 percent projected for 2021, and no hope of stimulating productivity for economic growth, this growing population figure does not give one a reason to be cheerful.
Apart from the estimated figure generated by the UNFPA, other indicators about the country’s population are not encouraging. For instance, the use of contraceptives by women all over the country is put at 17 percent. That of Ghana is about 30 percent. This means our population growth is not under control. If individuals fail to use contraceptives to ensure child spacing, government may take the blame for it. The UNFPA report states specifically that in Nigeria, there are “no laws and regulations that guarantee access to sexual and reproductive healthcare, information and education… “That is to say there is no population policy in Nigeria; and if there is one, such a policy is ineffective or never implemented.
Population policy is defined in Encyclopaedia.com as “deliberately constructed or modified institutional arrangements and/or specific programmes through which governments influence, directly or indirectly, demographic change.” It offers a way for any country to be prepared and respond to the current and future needs of its citizens. Many developed societies have population policies. They may not pursue them aggressively like China would do, but with access to sexual and reproductive healthcare, information and education, citizens of developed societies determine or control the number of children they bring into this world. Unfortunately, in Nigeria, many state governments do not make budgetary provisions for family planning, for instance. Rather, they absolutely depend on interventions by donor agencies which may not be adequate. Worse still, many states fail to provide their counterpart fund in donor-funded interventions, making it impossible to deepen and sustain such funded projects.
At the rate the country’s population is growing, it could attain the predicted 450 million by year 2050, and become the third largest population in the world, after China and India. Economists have argued that high population could be an advantage because it means high demand for goods and services. But Nigeria’s experience is in the reverse, with poor human capital development that has made graduates to be unemployable, and low industrial production that has relegated the country to a net importer of consumer goods. Under this atmosphere, the burgeoning youth population has produced beggars, social deviants, bandits, fraudsters, and thugs who constitute low-hanging militia for politicians and dubious political leaders. High population becomes an advantage if the population is well-educated and involved in the production of capital and consumer goods, not just for local consumption, but also for export. China is a classical example of a nation that has taken advantage of its population for economic growth.
We call on the federal and state governments to rise from their complacency about the uncontrolled population growth and put in place mechanisms for evading the predicted doom. A Nigerian proverb says, it is only a goat that grazes unperturbedly even when faced with certain death by slaughter. Nigerians must embrace child spacing and every technique and products that would enhance it to prevent the tragedy of unmanageable population in the near future. Women should be made to play an active role in the timing and number of children they would bring into this world. Religious leaders, who influence matrimonial and family disposition and decisions in this respect, should play an integral role in popularising population control measures by government.
On its part, government should ensure a genuine, credible and transparent population census takes place in Nigeria, instead of depending and making policy decisions on the estimated 2.6 percent annual growth. Also, government must put in place fiscal and monetary policies necessary to stimulate the economy, enhance productivity, and create employment for the population. The future is not a far distance away; it is here with us with its associated troubles.
We must tackle this unrestrained population growth immediately.