The wisdom in controlling Nigeria’s population
In drumming support for the simmering 2023 population and housing census in Nigeria, some federal commissioners of the National Population Commission (NPC) recently said that Nigeria’s population remains its greatest asset in national development. While the Federal Commissioner for Katsina State, Bala Banye made the declaration in Katsina; the Federal Commissioner representing Ekiti State in the same Commission, Mr. Ayodeji Ajayi, declared same in Ekiti State.
This is easily agreeable but only in so far as the population is structured along with available resources and mobilised to enhance national development. In that case, the greater the number, the more the advantages. If otherwise, population can be a major setback; for instance where schools, hospitals and jobs available are grossly insufficient for the huge number of people. That scenario can easily lead to massive social dislocation.
While a credible, reliable and acceptable population and housing census is purposefully relevant in planning for sustainable national development; poor management of same could be disastrous particularly in the face of rising inflation, high unemployment, increasing poverty and poor human capital development due to poor quality education. This debate is healthy if it can stimulate the country to plan for provision and distribution of basic amenities to the people; and also to ensure that the available resources are adequate to cater for the existing number of people in the face of the geometric population explosion.
However, going by rising inflation particularly of food items, high unemployment and increasing poverty in Nigeria, Nigeria’s population may be a liability. So, all and sundry should be concerned over the country’s rising population, amidst projection that the nation might be the third most populated in the world by 2050. Essentially, without a visible corresponding socio-economic growth, which had slowed down national development, the explosive growth in Nigeria’s population could be a liability, because population by itself may not be an asset unless properly managed.
Looking at the two broad schools of thought regarding population and development – population might be a demographic dividend or turn out a demographic disaster; depending on the socio-political 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 should slow down to match government’s pace in swinging the polity and the economy right.
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 among others. 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 against cultural and religious constraints against moderation of the population; enforce a policy that will keep the population within manageable limit and undertake civic education to carry the people along.