By Francis Ewherido
Monday, July 11, is World Population Day, a day set aside by the United Nations Development Programme since 1989 to focus on the urgency and importance of population issues globally. In the last 300 years, especially, the world’s population has exploded. According to available records, the world’s population hit the one billion mark for the first time in 1804. It took about 123 years for the world to double its population to two billion. By 1959, however, it increased to three billion, four billion 1974, five billion 1987, six billion 1999 and it hit seven billion by October 2011. It is expected to hit eight billion by 2025.
Africa has contributed its fair share to this population explosion with Nigeria in the forefront as the most populous African country and seventh most populous country in the world. From a population of about 38 million people in 1950, Nigeria has grown to an estimated 188 million people to date. Only if we also grew proportionately in gross domestic product, quality educational institutions, excellent and efficient health care facilities, world class physical infrastructure, adequate energy generation and supply, food sufficiency and security, safety of lives and property and other positive indices of physical and human development.
A huge population is a double edged sword; well organized and developed, it can become a potent force for socioeconomic growth and transformation. But when mismanaged, as in our case, what you get are kidnappers, armed robbers, high unemployment, an army of unskilled labour, educated but unemployable university graduates and other social problems. Since 1950, our population has been growing at a rate of 2.7 to 3.0 per cent, so we knew what was coming, but simply failed to plan. When we planned, implementation was poor or nonexistent. The results stare us in the face. The fathers have eaten sour grapes and the children’s teeth are set on edge.
The problem is two-fold: government and the home front. We said earlier that government over time failed to plan, but the family unit is the cradle of life. Many parents have failed woefully in the task of giving their children a firm foundation. Ultimately, the larger society gets the scrappy end of the stick.
My problem with our population is not the explosion per se, but rascally breeders: people who give birth to children they have no time or/and resources to care for. Everybody is a bundle of talents imbued in us by God from conception. But when these rascally breeders give birth to children and fail to guide them to evolve, manifest and put their talents to good use, what you have are armed drunken sailors. Since the character, training and moral strength to put the talents to good use are not there, they go into the outer society and put their talents to negative use. That is essentially the bane of Nigeria.
On this World Population Day, my message is simple: give birth to only children you have the time and resources to adequately bring up. Family size is no longer a status symbol, neither is it competitive sport. Nigeria has too many people who are not useful to themselves and the larger society. Some people complain that they have not been given the opportunity. When you dig deep, you find out some of them have nothing to offer. They have not even undergone the critical and life-transforming journey of self-discovery. They do not know what they want or what they want do with their lives.
It is very difficult to put a cap on the number of children a couple should have in Nigeria due to cultural and religious reasons, but we are only delaying taking hard decisions. By 2050, Nigeria is projected to have a population of 414 million and 914 million by 2100, the third highest in the world. On a landmass of 923,768 km² and going by the way we have conducted ourselves since independence, you do not need a fortuneteller to know we cannot manage that number of people.
For now, we need to carry out a lot of sensitization and moral suasion on the need for people to have manageable families. Good upbringing of children is both capital and time intensive. Many middle class people have embraced smaller family sizes, but many couples in the lower economic echelon still breed like rabbits. Some couples on a combined monthly income of N50,000 or less live in a single room or two rooms with as many as eight children. That is insanity. I was talking with a beggar in the church. She proudly informed me that the child she is carrying is the seventh. “Dem suppose be eight, but the first one when I born for another man die.”
Our exploding population now means government needs to come up with an urgent and sustainable programme on food production and implement it with utmost vigour. A country with a population of 188 million and so much arable land has no excuse being self-insufficient in food production. We have to meet and exceed our immediate needs to provide for the inevitable population growth in the future.
Another very critical factor is our environment. A few weeks ago, I complained that we treat our environment as if there are no generations coming after us. We need to take issues concerning our environment more serious. Also, we often joke that water everywhere, yet none to drink, but it is true. We need to stem the rate of contamination of our water resources; we need more fresh water. Whatever environmental policies or laws we have are not being strictly enforced and implemented.
Finally, our health care needs to be qualitative, readily available and affordable. Health insurance can play a pivotal role in affordability as it does in America and Europe where health care is very expensive, but affordable to the citizens, courtesy of health insurance. The government should consider enacting a law on compulsory health insurance, something similar to the Pension Reform Act 2014 as amended, which has led to the growth of the pensions sector. Nigerians seem to like force and compulsion a lot. I guess the military stayed in governance for too long.