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Exploring Nigeria’s population for national prosperity

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Dr. Mairo Mandara.

Dr. Mairo Mandara.

How can Nigeria’s population be explored for national prosperity? What lessons can the country learn from the Asian Tigers? These are some of the posers that stakeholders in reproductive healthcare are throwing up.

For a start, they are canvassing a new attitude to family planning. They want a different approach to defining family planning.“Family planning is not about contraception. Family planning is about life. It is about being able to plan your life in such a way that when you have children you will be a responsible parent,” says Nigeria Country Director of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Dr. Mairo Mandara.

She made the clarification at the fourth yearly family planning in Abuja recently, while underscoring the connection between family planning and elevating the living standard of the young ones.

And what made the fourth Nigeria Family Planning Conference unique was the quality and size of attendance. Mandara acknowledged this point saying “important stakeholders for me are not necessarily the service providers, but the converted people who advocate family planning. It is actually the people whose lives family planning affects: women. There is a good population of women. There is also a good participation of young people, religious leaders and traditional leaders. For me, that is what stands out,” Mandara said.

She called on government to step up the advocacy and support for family planning.“For me, one of the key problems that we have been having in this country is actually education in the broadest sense of it. I am referring to the quality and equity of education. If you give every person good education, you give them a tool to go and navigate and find their own level in world.

“The most important tool my parents gave me was education. My parents were able to give me that  because I have a very important personality in life – my father.  Fathers should stand by their daughters. I also had a very supportive husband who would only quarrel with me whenever I relegate to do my duty inside the house. So, the men have to stand up to their responsibilities,” Mandara said.

The participants used the occasion to call on the federal government to review the nation’s population policy.Specifically, experts are calling for a review of aspects of the population policy that encourages families to have only four children.

Chief Executive Officer, Association for the Reproductive and Family Health (ARFH), Prof. Oladapo Ladipo called on all tiers of government to promote initiatives that give prominence to the exploration of the resources of the nation’s population for the country’s prosperity.

He said: “We have a population policy that currently encourages four children per couple. I think that policy needs to be revisited by government and we all sit down together to do what is rational. I will not support legislation. Family planning should be free. It is by choice. But, everybody should recognise that everyone has the right to family planning.”

Oladipo canvassed the adoption of family planning by couples to enable them give birth to children they can cater for and raise families that will become assets to the nation.
He lamented how the country’s population had been made to become a burden rather than an asset.

He said: “The ‘Fourth Nigeria Family Planning Conference is coming at a time when every Nigerian citizen, old or young should be thinking about planning their family size. If we fail to plan our family, we plan to fail. The current recession is biting hard, and many people are really living very uncomfortable life; even those who are employed.

“Without any doubt, it is very important for us to begin to discuss the merits and wisdom of family planning.  Nigeria did not achieve anyone of the eight MDGs, unlike some other countries like Ethiopia and Rwanda. One of the reasons they achieve it was the highest level of commitment from the government. Now, we have moved unto the SDGs that will take us for the next 15 years. If we are to achieve any of them, family planning must be factored in. Population moderation must be factored in. Every effort must be made for us to reap demographic dividends. Every effort must be made to push internal investment, savings, so that there will be investment in education, qualitative education, through qualitative reproduction and savings from not having too many children.

“I believe there is no country in the world classified as developed that has not moderated its growth. The Asian Tigers are good examples. Nigerians love to go to those countries, but they have failed to do what they did to achieve development. It is time that individuals collectively as a nation that moderating population growth is the way forward to achieving sustainable development goals.”

Also speaking, the President, Association for the Advancement of Family Planning, Dr Ejike Oji, noted regrettably that contraceptive prevalence in the country had remained at 10 per cent since 2006.

According to him, “this has become a source of concern for us and that is why we have structured the conference into various parts. We do not prioritise health funding in Nigeria. The health budget for 2016 is 4.62 percent as opposed to the 15 percent minimum stipulated. We have convinced the government to help with the funding in 2012 and they agreed to give out $3 million every year. However we have only received $3 million in three years instead of $9 million.”

But to ensure effective leadership in the management of Nigeria’s population, the Federal Government has commenced the review of its National Population Policy.Nigeria in 2005 adopted the National Population Policy for Sustainable Development (2004), the second of such strategy in the nation’s history.  The policy had a 2015 end date for most targets and designed to improve standards of living and quality of life for Nigeria’s people by addressing the complex inter relationships between population and development.

Experts say that though the 2004 population policy addressed some of the prevailing development issues of the time, it was not effectively implemented at national, state, and local government levels.When concluded and adopted, the new document is expected to ensure effective coordination of population matters across sectoral lines.

Chairman of the National Population Commission (NPC), Eze Duruiheoma said the National Population Policy for Sustainable Development (2004) was being reviewed for ‘sustainable development’.Though details were sketchy on key provisions in the document, the NPC Chief called for stakeholders’ inputs into the review process “for the greater glory of our dear nation and the welfare and future of generations of Nigerians.”

He spoke on projections about Nigeria becoming the third largest population in the world from its present 8th position.His words: “This movement upward in the global demographic ladder is a very huge challenge and all hands must be on to ensure that we adopt the right attitudes and take bold decisions that will ensure that the quality of lives of Nigerians is not compromised by this high population growth rate.

“Though 2050 is still far, but the right time to act is now and today’s actions and inactions will have great implication for the welfare of the future generations. We must ensure that the fertility rate is reduced and through expansion of access to reproductive health services and information. We must also work consciously towards improving the maternal and child health situation and ensure the rights of the girl to live a meaningful life is enhanced. These are critical decisions and all stakeholders at nation, state and local levels must rise up to this historic challenge.”

Mandara stressed the need for the reviewed policy to be human-centred. “Every person you see in this country lives within a context. So, for me, a review effort is a population policy that is human-centred, that is development centred, and that is looking at moving the whole country into the next level. We are at the critical point that in this country – the recession – a lot of you may differ from me. The recession for me is a blessing,” she added.

She clarified: “The recession is a blessing. A blessing in the sense that it is making us reflect and ask tough questions as Nigerians. We are now having to live the reality of who we are. No more borrowing. If you are earning N200,000, you now can’t buy N2 million car and struggle to borrow to fuel your car, to buy party clothes. We are now prioritising. We are prioritising school fees over clothes. I think this is good. If we can sustain this, it will make us better human beings, and we will put the development of our country at the centre.”

At the end of the conference, stakeholders called for  aggressive campaign for family planning. Chairman of the Foundation for Development and Environmental Initiatives, Prof. Akin Mabogunje, observed that a country that is obsessed with just number of its population could discover that it is simply breeding and breeding into accelerating poverty.

He pointed out the way to effect population management, highlighting the role of policies in this direction.His words: “This is why countries that are serious about dramatically raising the level of their development had to intervene policy-wise and practically in determining the acceptable level of the fertility of their women folk limiting, as in the case of China until recently, to no more than one child per woman through her child-bearing age. This allows a country to plan decisively for what it takes to raise children to adult status- the high cost of clothing and feeding, of educating them, or providing adequate healthcare for them and eventually securing for them opportunities of gainful employment in a robust, diversified and fast-growing economy.”

On Nigeria’s expected population growth by 2050, he noted: “By 2015 we were somewhere between 150 and 170 million, a more than five hold increase in a space of 55 years. Putting us internationally in the 7th position behind not just China and India (countries with over 1 billion people), but also the United States (307, 727 million), Indonesia (250, 383 Million), Pakistan (222, 587 Million) and Brazil (200, 697). For us to jump over these four countries and become the third largest population by 2050 means that we are doing or not doing something which these countries are doing or not doing.”



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