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Population, education and Nigeria’s cycle of poverty 

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Nigeria’s population today is ranked seventh in the world at over 192 million and is projected to grow exponentially to over 233 million by 2025. This should be of grave concern to everyone, especially in view of the absence of national economic plans that could provide jobs for the new addition especially when we are already confronted with a large numbers of idle hands.  Basic knowledge of population growth teaches that population increase is only desirable when accompanied with increase in human capital development, economic activity and good governance. Frankly speaking, Nigeria’s population is already creating a myriad of social issues. Taking development indicators such as literacy rate, poverty rates, quality environment, social justice, gender equality and so on into account, one cannot but conclude that our population growth is presently more of a liability than an asset.

Contrary to China’s population which manufactures and sells its products to every other part of the world, ours is a consuming population that lacks the will to adjust structurally for the better. Thus, our increasing population is a liability if we look at it from the mirror of pervasive poverty, illiteracy rate, unemployment and insecurity in the country. Except sincere national planning that adequately addresses the country’s population explosion and education sector that can groom entrepreneurs and inventors is urgently activated and implemented, poverty and various crimes currently plaguing the country will continue to be a major impediment to socio-economic growth.

Among the many assumptions as to why people commit crimes, the one that really stands out is the connection that crime shares with uncontrolled population growth, education and poverty. With our huge population, a lack of education is driving poverty rates; thus, causing those same impoverished and uneducated people to commit crimes. Unfortunately, what various tiers of governments are doing in education sector is not dominating our headlines as much as corruption does.  Now in the light of recently released statistics of numbers of out-of-school children in the country, there is no convincing indication that changes would come as regard issue of poverty-induced-crimes. In addition to 54 million illiterates which put Nigeria at the bottom in the global literacy index ranking, Children-out-of-school is today a ticking time bomb that must not be allowed to explode.

In what is clearly a national scandal for a country that is the world’s eighth largest oil producer, the UNESCO Education for All Global Monitoring Report (EAGMR) says Nigeria holds the world record of having the highest number of its young people out of school. According to the shocking report, approximately 10.5 million kids which translate to one out of every five Nigerian children are out of school. Though this issue has been a prominent one for a long while, it is now about time adverse cultural practices including forced/misguided early marriages, Almajiris phenomenon, poverty and child labour are accorded urgent national attention.

UNESCO says Nigeria is among the four nations that have experienced the highest increase of out-of-school children since 1999. The situation is, therefore, deeply worrying taking into cognizance that the country returned to democratic governance in 1999. The situation equally provides an answer to why people are easily manipulated by ethnic and religious bigots for selfish agenda. It explains why people sheepishly get into the recruitment net of Boko Haram.

With the current economic challenges in the country, children who lack basic education will struggle to live a decent life as most will still not have informal education and subsequently enter the cycle of poverty. When people descend into poverty in that way, they naturally turn to criminal activities in an attempt to make ends meet.  Such criminal tendencies can take many forms. It can be something as simple as petty theft or it can escalate into money rituals and other severe crimes such as armed robbery and kidnapping etc. sadly, when people find themselves in such situations, they are rarely able to get out of it which is why it becomes a menacing cycle.

The difficulty or inability of the average Nigerian parent to cope with the  requirements of basic education of the child is at  variance with Article 2 of the United Nation’s Convention on the Rights of the Child which stipulates that no child, irrespective of the parentage, circumstance or status should be discriminated against with respect to access to education. In addition, Article 4 of the Convention states that governments should make every effort to ensure that all children have access to education.  Having raised the problems, the next is to address the way forward. To break the cycle of poverty and crimes in the country, the large number of illiterates, out-of-school children and joblessness should be viewed by all Nigerians as an indictment of our collective humanism more than the failure of government alone. We must accept that all of us are duty bearers (as individuals, religious bodies, media, NGOs) who must accept to play role to ensure that future of many more children are not put at the risk of illiteracy and social esteem.

Having assented to and ratified the recommendations of the Convention in addition to affirming such right in Chapter 2; Section 18 of Nigeria’s Constitution, the onus therefore is on the government at all levels to review existing policies and funding towards reversing the ugly trend of growing population of out-of-school-children and illiterate adults.

As this is national imperative, a series of Federal initiatives must emerge as the country might not be able to actualise its change agenda without making literacy a fundamental right of its citizens. This becomes imperative as research has clearly shown that the higher the rate of literacy, the better the potential to succeed and the easier for government to fight poverty, crime as well as reducing social injustice.

Indeed, poverty not only lies at the heart of the factors that hinder access to education but continues to be the main obstacle to achieving the goal of universal education in the country. For government to successfully enforce compulsory elementary education, there must be assurances that access to educational facilities as well as provisions of the basic needs, most especially feeding, clothing and educational materials of the children at that level are guaranteed. It is, thus, important that state governments where there is large number of out of school children brace up to the challenges by committing substantial part of their respective annual budgets into improving education. The time for warm words is over; the time for action is now!

• Musbau works for the Lagos State government.


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