Nigeria’s population as a blessing
Nigeria, as the most populous country in Africa must be the envy of many other countries. This human capital is not only a blessing of immense proportions, it is a huge economic strength, especially if put to productive use.
However, the other day, the British High Commissioner to Nigeria, Paul Arkwright, said the nation’s population growth could pose a security risk if it is unchecked.
The envoy argued that the number of persons living in the country before the end of the century might be as high as 900 million if the growth rate is not checked.
Although, he recognises that people talk about demographic dividend, the explosive growth in Nigeria’s population might turn out a demographic disaster. According to him, “the biggest threat for Nigeria is around the demographic.”
He is worried that poor management of the huge human capital could increase the number of out-of-school children, more competition for scarce resources, hunger, poor access to health care and education, and high rate of unemployment.
In addition, excessive population could lead to overcrowding, depletion of natural resources and environmental deterioration.
The envoy’s view, perhaps, derives from the Malthusian argument of finite resources, but most recent studies see population as a positive thing.
It is argued that population is not a problem per se, but its poor management is!
An example of a country that skilfully and productively manages her high population density is Singapore, which is reputed to have 25 times greater population density than even India.
Others countries like The Netherlands, South Korea, Bahrain, Israel and Taiwan have also done well with their large number of citizens.
A large population increases the demand for goods and services in the economy, which stimulates investment and production, leading to creation of more jobs and better incomes.
With more taxes from a large population that is productively engaged, enough money can be sourced to improve 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.
It may also increase a country’s international prestige when looked at in terms of manpower available. It is a guarantor of a respectable voice in the international community and could improve a nation’s standing in shaping global opinion.
A large population, when properly managed or built as productive capital, is sure to be a source of security against external aggression.
In addition, given that Nigeria has a large expanse of rich land, channelling the human resource to agriculture to improve the nation’s food security is one benefit of its huge population.
With the right environment for investors, a large pool of workforce is already guaranteed for inexpensive labour and large-scale production for export at competitive prices.
Specifically, a large youth population means that a maximum number is in the working age, with dynamic and innovative qualities.
This generally implies a better workforce. Another associated benefit is a lower dependent population, that is, the number of people dependent on other citizens’ income would be less, leading to comparatively better living standards.
So, good management of the nations’ human capital, especially the youth population is the way to go!
There will be overall improvement in the quality of life in the long-term, as things would change for good with participation of large population in economic activities, in industrial growth, in agriculture and the spread of technology.
Therefore, a large population is not a problem. How it is managed or mismanaged as economic resource is. It is therefore imperative that Nigerian manages her population and other resources well, and reap the demographic dividend of having a large citizens base.
In this regard, Nigeria has role models in countries such as Israel and Singapore that have proven that large population is indeed an asset, not a liability!
As such, Nigeria should embark on ‘making’ her population an asset by using it to produce things and create wealth. At the moment, the nation has a ‘deficit’ in the quality of population and should therefore invest massively in capacity building.
The country should implement the Universal Basic Education fully and invest in manpower development in order to maximise its human resource.
Also, particular attention should be paid to those leaving school with no or poor qualifications. Even those leaving with top grades should be trained to fit into the labour market. As such, school curricula must be revised for technical and entrepreneurial skills.
Industrial training must be encouraged for as many courses as possible and corporate Nigerian should be made to buy into this initiative to ensure that their tomorrow’s labour force is skilled.
The introduction of a compulsory industrial training component into programmes is to improve the employment prospects of young graduates, especially in entrepreneurship development.
The National Universities Commission (NUC), Small and Medium Enterprise Development Agency of Nigeria (SMEDAN), Industrial Training Fund (ITF), Nigerian Employers Consultative Association (NECA), regulatory bodies in various professions, and the Federal Ministry of Employment, Labour and Productivity should embark on critical review of different skills or knowledge being acquired in Nigeria’s schools at all levels to make them industry- focused such that graduates would be packaged to respond to the needs of employers.
Furthermore, the Central Industrial Liaison and Job Placement Unit (CILPU) in various universities in-charge of Student’s Industrial Work Experience Scheme (SIWES) should be strengthened for the effective co-ordination, operation and management of the nation’s future labour force.
On its part, Britain as well as all other friends of Nigeria should concentrate on supporting the country to maximise her huge human resource. Britain especially has been a huge beneficiary of Nigeria’s human resource and it has a moral responsibility to assist the country further.
Collectively developing and managing Nigerian human resource will help advance the course of humanity.