By SOLA OGUNDIPE
LAST year, President Goodluck Jonathan stirred the hornet’s nest when he declared that Nigerians were having too many children.
The President’s accusation was directed at persons unable to properly cater for the needs of their children as those guilty of giving birth too many times and too often. “Uneducated people are having too many children. People should only have as many children as they can afford,” the President remarked.
His declaration that Nigerians ought to learn to limit the number of children they brought into the world did not go down well with a lot of people.
The call, which was essentially for new policies and legislation on family planning in the country towards controlling number of births, was greeted with mixed reactions. Although incisive debate still trails the President’s commentary on the sensitive issue of childbirth, the implications of unchecked population increase and a high fertility rate remain paramount, especially with growing evidence that unchecked population growth is a major trigger of violence in the country.
“There is great wisdom in having only the number of children you can provide for. We need a population moderation and management policy because people should not just be having as many children as they want,” asserts Professor Oladapo Ladipo, the President/CEO, Association for Reproduction and Family Health, ARFH, Abuja.
Anyone who disagrees with this assertion should ask Haruna, the maiguard whose wife just gave birth to her 11th child. Kunle, his employer, who also has one wife, but three children, is already sponsoring Haruna’s first two children in school. Four other children are scattered around, and at least two others are being brought up by relations and guardians.
Ladipo argued that millions of “Harunas” out there, who have failed to moderate the size of their family, and the ones rocking the boat by continually transferring the responsibility of catering for their children to the “Kunles” who have moderated the size of their families and are doing well as a result.
“It is important for Nigerians and indeed Africans generally to recognize the need to have just the number of children we can care for, rather than just reproducing and expecting God to take care of them. There is no reason for having children who are just languishing in abject poverty, roaming around, doing nothing productive,” he remarked.
“What is more painful is to see children unhealthy, malnourished, languishing and dying prematurely. God himself does not support producing children you cannot cater for. God does not tell us to bear
children that we will be seeing die under-nourished and leading unproductive lives.
“We are just being deliberately blind to reality. It has been shown clearly in the Asian countries there is no country classified as developed that has not moderated its population. If one person is telling another to reproduce recklessly, to me, it is a crime to the state. It is a crime to just be reproducing recklessly and transferring the responsibility of looking after the children to somebody else”.
Ladipo’s assertion that having a moderated family size should be the rule and not the option is hinged on the premise that, when a family size is moderated, the husband and wife will have the opportunity of increasing the quality of their own lives.
“That will give the family good quality education; good nutrition and good accommodation and such children will become responsible citizens. Poverty is widespread in Nigeria and people that are having too many children are suffering every day. We see it; we do not need research to see it. The difficulty of survival is glaring – joblessness, frustrations and abysmal poverty, radicalism, extremism. We are beginning to see all these, but we can avoid it if we moderate the family size.”
Over the years, family planning proponents have called for resources to bring up the demographic gains that would lead to extra income so that the average Nigerian family can have better quality of life and to provide more for heath, education, agriculture, roads, and development of the environment.
“There are many qualified persons, but too few jobs. People cannot get jobs, either in the public or private sector. Those who are not highly skilled for jobs that are available are forced to look for another source of income or go abroad. There is no way the public and private sectors can absorb the huge numbers of trained graduates.
“So what do you do? You export them having paid a lot of money to train them. That is the situation we have now. Many people who are highly qualified, they have gone for greener pasture abroad because they have no opportunities for employment here. Ability of government to absorb highly skilled people is minimal. We are exporting manpower to develop other countries of the world,” the professor lamented.
Apart from the issue of having too many children, one of the more pressing concerns is the health risk to the mother. That risk is a combination of maternal death and infant death. Fertility affects health mainly because certain types of births are exceptionally risky.
By SOLA OGUNDIPE
“Risky births” are defined as births that are too closely spaced, or when the mother is too young or too old, or when the mother has too many children – all of these could cause death or injury to the mother and child.
In Nigeria, more than six in 10 births fall in at least one of the high risk categories. High-risk births are usually defined as births that are spaced too close together; births to mothers who are either too young or too old; and births to mothers who have large numbers of previous children.
This equates to more than half the children born having an elevated risk of dying before their fifth birthday – a risk
that could be significantly diminished by using child spacing to avoid births that are too closely spaced or that fall into other high-risk categories.
Currently, Nigeria is Africa’s most populous country, with an estimated population of 168 million, according to the National Population Commission. Estimates by the United Nations show that thepopulation of Nigeria could grow from 160 million to 400 million by 2050. But how did the country get here?
In 1963, Nigeria and its colonial master, Britain, had the same population size of 56 million. By 2011, a space of 48 years, Nigeria’s population had tripled to 167 million while the population of Britain had only risen to 62 million. With a sustained fertility of 5.7 and the growth rate of 3 percent, this population is expected to double inless than 24 years.
International statistics indicate that Nigeria experienced and is still experiencing one of the fastest rates of urbanisation in the world. A recent study by the Nigerian Urban Reproductive Health Initiative, NURHI, revealed that over the last few decades, growth rates of the population of Nigeria’s urban areas had been almost double those of rural areas.
For instance, in 1950, Nigeria had over 30 million rural population but less than four million urban population. After 1990, the rural population has grown more slowly, whereas urban growth became very rapid. In 2005, Nigeria’s rural population numbered over 75 million compared to 65 million urban population.
By 2010, the urban and rural populations were nearly equal. It is projected that by 2015, Nigeria’s urban population will be almost 94 million while the rural population will be around 82 million. More people are living in Nigeria’s cities and the country’s rapid urbanization rate is expected to continue into the future. UN projections estimate that by 2030, Nigeria’s urban population will reach 162 million whereas the rural population will be only about half the number of urban residents.
With all this in mind, already, experts are of the view that no matter what is done, the population of Nigeria will keep growing rapidly, even if the path of low fertility is taken