By Franccccis Eweherido
“Population is only a strength if it is well educated, healthy, the economy has the capacity to provide them with employment and households have enough income to buy goods and services produced by businesses”—Mr. Bode Augusto, at the Vanguard Newspaper Economic Forum in April this year. since 1989 to raise awareness on global population issues.
Population control is a no go area in Nigeria. Successive governments in Nigeria have not had the courage to introduce any laws on family planning or birth control even in the face of runaway population growth. The closest I can remember is Gen. Ibrahim Babangida’s tame and half-hearted effort of four children per family or (is it per woman, which raised a red flag then).
Religious and cultural beliefs continue to be major hindrances, but we cannot play the ostrich any more; we must take the bull by the horns. The statistics Augusto reeled out in April are scary. Quoting www.populationpyramids.net, he said Nigeria’s projected population by 2070 is 550 million people! We are talking of just 52 years from now and there is no concrete government policy to avert this looming disaster. Yeah, that is what it is, considering the way we have managed ourselves since independence from the British.
Nigeria’s population is currently estimated to be 198m. All things being equal, this should be a great advantage, but all things are not equal. Let us dissect the quote from Augusto. Is our population well educated? The Minister of Education, Alhaji Adamu Adamu, said between 65 and 70 million Nigerians are illiterates. Nigeria´s literate adult figure is put at about 60 per cent. Here we are just talking about those who are able to read and write. If you raise the bar to the number of Nigerians who are functionally literate, the figure will plummet. Look at the state of our public schools from where most Nigerian children get their education. Many Nigerian graduates today are functionally illiterate. They cannot even write a good and coherent application letter, so how do they get the jobs? And if they do get the job through family connections or “bottom power,” how do they cope? So in terms of education, we are not there.
Next, are Nigerians healthy physically and mentally? How can, with N18,000 minimum wage? How can we be healthy with the funeral homes we call hospitals or teaching hospitals? How is that possible when medical personnel are more interested in collecting money than saving human lives? How can we be mentally healthy when parents are helpless seeing their children go to bed on empty stomachs and not knowing when they will be able to provide the next meal? How can we be mentally healthy when human life has become so cheap? How can a woman whose entire family (husband and children) is wiped out before her very eyes be normal in life again? Even countries at war are not losing the number of civilians Nigeria loses every day.
In those days, I used to joke that “Nigerians too like life, dem no dey commit suicide.” Not any more, beyond the indoctrinated suicide bombers, many Nigerians are taking to suicide, appalling and defeatist as the act is, to free themselves from whatever burden they are carrying. Experts are warning of increased rate of mental disorder among Nigerians.
Still on Augusto’s criteria for a population to be considered an asset, our economy is not providing jobs for its teeming population. About a third of our youths are unemployed, many others are underemployed. Today, many working class Nigerians have the qualification, requisite skills, cognate experience and platforms to earn a decent living, but it is a daily struggle to eke out a living. Our economy, even with its obvious potentials, is currently strangulating and unforgiving to small and medium scale businesses, which are supposed to provide the bulk of employment to our teeming population.
Finally on Augusto’s criteria, do households have enough money to buy goods and services produced by companies? Of course not; not with N18,000 as minimum wage, not with the spiralling inflation and shrinking income of many Nigerians. The recently released World Poverty Index says 44 per cent (87.1million) Nigerians live on less than two dollars a day and that is below poverty line. If you travel to any Nigerian village, the level of poverty and hunger is numbing.
I am no economist and do not intend to go deep into unfamiliar waters, but the growth rate of Nigeria’s Gross Domestic Product in 2017 was 0.8 per cent, which was mainly due to increasing oil production and sales, not the work of our hands. Compare this to our population growth of 2.63 per cent in 2017. Even for a non economist, these figures portend danger in the future. Our population growth is simply not sustainable and government needs to take urgent action.
In my view, part of what is fuelling this population growth is our pattern of representation in the legislature and some government set ups. Let us scrap representation or quotas based on population. Like the Senate, let the number of representatives from each state be uniform. Also this unitary system of resource allocation in a federal system of government should stop. Let the resources devolve to the sources where they come from. Some states seem to be using population to corner more resources and it is not even used for the benefit of the people.
But it is not just government; individuals also need to help themselves. A couple with a combined income of N20m per annum has three children. Their driver and his wife with a combined income of N2m per annum have six children! You give birth to eight children in these tough times and expect your “rich” brother, who restricted himself to only three children, to help you train your battalion! And when he does not meet your expectations, you bear a grudge. Maiguard has three wives and 10 children and his oga has only one wife and three children! We must begin to persuade, encourage and ultimately coerce our people to have only the number of children they can adequately cater for. We are breeding too many potential vagabonds and it is not healthy for our society.