Thursday, 7th December 2023

Population explosion: Separating asset from liability

By Editorial Board
17 May 2023   |   3:03 am
International concerns about Nigeria’s high fertility rate calls for a deeper reflection on our national demography and its implications. Clearly, Nigeria’s bourgeoning young population is a potential national asset and the envy of the developed nations.

Population Explosion. Pix:Twitter

International concerns about Nigeria’s high fertility rate calls for a deeper reflection on our national demography and its implications. Clearly, Nigeria’s bourgeoning young population is a potential national asset and the envy of the developed nations.

But without a clear-cut plan for their general well-being, especially quality education and job opportunities, the future is bleak and a reason to rue high fertility.

Globally, population is one of those indices through which nations are measured for their strength or the lack of it. Population strength is as potent as the economic power of a country, its political influence and military might in the comity of nations. And closely tied to population is the average fertility rate that obtains from one country to the other.

Given the significance, a recent global ranking placed Nigeria as the 8th most fertile country in the world, and in an odd category crowded by fellow African countries. Notably, Nigeria and the likes have continued to increase global population at a time the world is slowing down and has recorded a 50 per cent drop in fertility. According to the report published by Daily Mail UK, the global average number of children born to each woman is now 2.3, compared to 4.7 in 1970.

While swathes of Europe and North America are recording less than two births per woman on the average, Africa is leading with Somalia (6.4), Chad (6.4), The Democratic Republic of the Congo (6.2), Mali (6.0), the Central African Republic (6.0), Angola (5.4), Nigeria (5.3), Burundi (5.2) and Benin (5.1). The case of Nigeria already stands out for analysts, given the estimated population (without an actual headcount though) in excess of 206 million people – and the seventh most populous country in the world.

Indeed, the debate on values of a large population is not new. In fact, there are two broad schools of thought regarding population and development. Population might be a demographic dividend or a demographic disaster.  That is, it could be a great economic, political and social asset, if well harnessed. Otherwise, it is a liability and time bomb of incalculable destruction waiting to happen.

The Malthusian argument of finite resources already forewarned the negative impact of overpopulation, which includes high-level unemployment, hunger, food crisis, and crime rates – and other social ills that are now self-evident in Nigeria and part of the African continent. Again, an unwieldy and poorly managed population increases the number of out-of-school children, which the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) already pegs at 18.5 million in Nigeria alone.

In addition, is fiery competition for scarce resources and seething social tension, coupled with poor access to healthcare, education and general sense of despondency. Not far-fetched in that setting is overcrowding, depletion of natural resources, and environmental degradation.

Population, vis-à-vis available resources, already places Nigeria in a dire strait. Hence, the need to be wary of unbridled population spikes. Because the socio-political and economic structures prevalent in a society are usually the deciding factor of population policy, concerned stakeholders have consistently said that the very low level of Nigeria’s utilisation of available resources has set the country up for minimal population growth rate – if it must avert disaster.

So, population growth must slow down until Nigeria gets the socioeconomic parameters right. Therefore, at present, the political office holders need to stabilise the political economy, come up and enforce a policy that will keep the population within manageable limits; not discounting civic education to show down the birth rate.

On the flip side of the narrative, however, the population positivists argue that a large demography is not the problem per se, but for the poor management of its potential. They argued that declining fertility rates could lead to a stagnant population, which is crippling many advanced economies and overwhelming public support systems.

Currently, falling fertility rates mean nearly every country could have shrinking populations by the end of the century. No fewer than 23 nations – including Spain and Japan – are expected to see their populations halve by 2100. Researchers at the University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation also showed the global fertility rate nearly halved to 2.4 in 2017 – and their study projects it will fall below 1.7 by the turn of this century. The implication is that countries will also age dramatically, with as many people turning 80 as there are being born.

On the contrary, Nigeria’s rapidly growing population is giving life to the baby food market and industries. 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 rate and fertility rate. While the multinational companies (MNCs) are already enjoying steady patronage from the Nigerian baby food market, the market remains an untapped opportunity for Nigerians.