By Dele Sobowale
“Numbers can be deadly.” TIME MAGAZINE 1970s.
President Buhari must have shocked some of his listeners in London penultimate week when he said that Nigeria’s population is estimated at 180 million. The President of Nigeria was telling Britons stale (or was it fake?) news because his own National Population Commission, NPC, must have sent him a report through the office of the Minister for Budget and National Planning. Senator Udo Udoma must be unhappy to watch helplessly as with approaching May the budget is a hostage to hostile politics despite the brave and nerve-wrecking efforts of his Ministry to get the budget passed on time this year. For him, too, Buhari’s statement in London must be totally embarrassing.
Certainly, the President would have been briefed about the latest figures from the NPC which proclaimed that Nigeria’s population is now 198 million. Before the President’s increasingly daft defenders inside the Rock send their usual asinine rejoinders, Nigerians must understand why the error made in London is monumental because of the consequences it will entail for all of us.
The issue in dispute comes under a branch of study generally called Demographics which can be briefly defined as the “science of vital and social statistics…of populations.” The reader should take special note of the word “vital” whose synonyms “essential” and “dangerous”. Every new millennium President or Prime Minister is keenly aware of not only how many souls he leads; he watches closely how many more are on the way the next year and every succeeding year.
No Head of State can possibly make the mistake of under-estimating the population of his country by as much as ten per cent. That is precisely what Buhari had just done. He leads 198 million Nigerians and assumes that we are only 180 million. Obviously, his government has not taken into account the additional 18 million Nigerians who are very much alive needing food, water, housing, health services and even security.
Again, before the “Know-Nothings” inside the Rock muddle the waters with their puerile defences of Buhari, it is vital to point out a few things that might be escaping their minds by putting the 18 million “lost souls” into African and global perspective.
If the 18 million Nigerians not recognized by Buhari were to form a country in Africa, the nation will be larger in population than half of all the members of the African Union. Indeed, that country would be larger than the Benin Republic, Cote D’Ivoire and Gambia combined. It would also be among the top fifty nations in the United Nations Organisation, UNO. So, what Buhari had discarded in this usually carefree manner is a whole nation within a nation!!!
One obvious repercussion of this mistaken notion of our population size is the fact that the federal and state governments collectively are not taking these millions into account in their planning. Since charity begins at home, permit me to use Lagos State as an example. Governor Akin Ambode of Lagos State is the only one of the existing thirty six governors who repeatedly draws attention to the burgeoning population of a state which can be described as a state bursting at the seams.
It is simply mind-boggling for anyone to imagine how any government – state or federal in whose domain the population increases more close to a million every year if the estimates are based on 180 million. But, as it is, even Ambode might be greatly underestimating the challenges Lagos state faces. For Lagos, the average three (3) per cent growth of national population does not hold. The state has become the destination for all the loose elements in other states – especially those with nothing to live for or nothing to lose.
“There are only two families in the world; the Haves and the Have-nots.” Miguel de Cervantes, 1547-1616.
The author of DON QUIXOTE, the fictional character chasing after fake monsters and battling windmills, must have had Nigerian leaders of 2018 in mind when he wrote one of the world’s oldest and most famous classics. The “hero” of the book, Don Quixote, has some resemblance to our current leader. He was tall, lean and lacking in 20-20 vision. He easily mistook windmills for giants and because he wrongly defined problems, he introduces measures which not only failed to address the problem(s); they make matters worse.
Years ago, I wrote an article for a national daily titled “THE SURVIVAL OF THE UNFITTEST”. As Nigeria increasingly produces more people with no visible means of survival we are also multiplying the number of the “unfit” who have now constituted themselves to the social menaces with whom we do battle. We are fighting a losing battle against crime because the number of Have-nots keeps rising faster than our collective ability to provide security for the Haves whose population is underestimated.
Permit me to briefly touch on one of the repercussions of government’s wrong estimates of our population by drawing our collective attention to the situation with rice production, consumption and imports including smuggling. Has the reader ever wondered why despite all the claims about attaining near self-sufficiency in rice production imports keep rising? Let me provide a major part of the answer by using the figures available to us. When a provider of food plans for 180, and 198 show up to eat, we all know what would happen? It is called mini-chaos…..