The population question in Nigeria

Going by rising inflation particularly of food items, high unemployment and increasing poverty in Nigeria, it is hardly surprising that a debate on the country’s population has been simmering lately.

The debate is healthy for the country to plan for provision and distribution of basic amenities to the people; and also to ensure that available resources are adequate to cater for the existing number of people. Former President Olusegun Obasanjo joined the debate, basically expressing concern over Nigeria’s rising population, amidst projection that the nation might be the third most populated in the world by 2050.

Obasanjo had called for better management in the face of the geometric population explosion without a visible corresponding socio-economic growth, a situation, which he said, had slowed down national development. He recognised that the explosive growth in Nigeria’s population could either be asset or liability, adding: “Population by itself may not be a liability if we do what we have to do. But if we don’t do what we have to do which we are not doing now, population will be a liability.”

According to two broad schools of thought regarding population and development – population might be a demographic dividend or turn out a demographic disaster; depending on the sociopolitical and economic structure prevalent in the society. While Malthusians believe in finite resources, most recent studies see population as a positive thing emphasising that population is not a problem per se, but its poor management is!

A large population increases demand for goods and services in the economy, which in turn ought to stimulate investment and production, leading to creation of more jobs and better incomes. Sadly, Nigeria is not one of the countries that have been able to positively blend exploding population to improvement in economy. Largely, her experience has been that of large number of persons and huge money chasing few goods.

Given that this country has failed consistently to put its acts together and key into the economy of scale potential at her behest, the question is whether or not it would not be wise for citizens to slow down on their breeding to allow government catch up with development.

For instance, Nigeria’s rapidly growing population is giving life to the baby food market, which has to ensure that an estimated seven million babies born in Nigeria every year are properly fed. But rather than translate to a boom in baby food factories and employment, the country has simply been spending more of its scarce foreign exchange to import baby food. According to a research firm, the Nigerian baby food market has a promising future and is expected to reach over N200 billion by 2023 on the back of high birth and fertility rates.

A positive scenario for an expanding population can be gleaned from the fact that more taxes can be collected, provided the people are productively engaged. The revenue can be used to improve social benefits for those in the dependent age group, thus creating a happier society. Furthermore, with a large population, there is greater demand and supply in the economy, leading to large economies of scale.

Also, large population increases a country’s international prestige and perceived strength when looked at in terms of manpower available. It guarantees a respectable voice in the international community and improves a nation’s standing in shaping global opinion. A large population, when properly managed or built as productive capital, can be a source of security against external aggression.

On the other hand, allowing a country’s population to grow without corresponding growth in her resources and investment can lead to undesirable consequences such as poor nutrition, high out of school children, high unemployment, high crime rate and high poverty level among other ills

Therefore, a large population is not a problem. How it is managed or mismanaged as economic resource is. It is imperative that Nigeria manages her population and other resources well, and reap the demographic dividend of having a large citizens’ base.

Although, Nigeria’s youthful population is an asset; the reality is that the resources are not being properly harnessed and for reasons of bad governance, Nigeria is developing very slowly, while its population is booming. This is incongruent and some say can aggravate poverty of Nigerians. So, population growth must slow down to match government’s pace in swinging the polity and the economy right.

Meanwhile, it is important to manage population growth for the benefit of all. Family planning is critical in this calculus because Nigeria’s exploding population without a corresponding expansion of health, education and job opportunities, is headed towards demographic disaster, which is already manifesting in sectors such as securing admission in schools, hospitals, getting a job and pervasive criminality, etc. It is plausible that condition of living in the country today would be much higher were the population to be much lower than what it is presently.

Uncontrolled population without commensurate infrastructure is again evident in the overcrowding, depletion of natural resources and environmental deterioration in the land. Political leaders need to come up and enforce a policy that will keep the population within manageable limit; and undertake civic education to carry the people along.

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