Nigeria is sitting on a ticking population bomb and needs to act fast to manage the incredible population growth the country is going to experience in the next few years. At Independence in 1960, Nigeria had a population of 45 million people as against Britain’s 52 million. In 2021, Britain’s population is 62 million while Nigeria’s has crossed 200 million, even without the commensurate development.
The alarm bells were sounded as far back as 2017 when the United Nations Department of Public Information announced that by 2050, Nigeria’s population, currently at 206.1 million, will double to over 400 million. “Among the 10 largest countries worldwide, Nigeria is growing the most rapidly. Consequently, the population of Nigeria, currently the world’s 7th largest, is projected to surpass that of the United States and become the third-largest country in the world shortly before 2050,” the UN statement said.
All this is projected to happen in a span of 30 years. And with a high fertility rate of an average of six children per woman, and higher in states like Jigawa, Nigeria’s population is projected to reach 791 million by 2100. This means that Nigeria’s current population of just over 200 million people would have multiplied four times by the end of this century alone. This is a serious matter because such a rapid population growth would no doubt put an unbearable strain on the scant infrastructure in the country, especially since the population growth over the years has not correlated with economic and infrastructural growth.
Nigeria has a predominantly unproductive population that is growing faster than its national output. While annual GDP growth rate averages 1.9 per cent, the population growth rate is 2.6 per cent per year resulting in a negative per capita income. Therefore, having 400 million people crammed into the country’s landmass within 30 short years without improved infrastructural and economic development would result in competition for space and resources, which, if not managed properly, will certainly increase the level of internecine violence in the country.
Moreover, of Nigeria’s current population, some 84 million people or 40 per cent of the total are living below the national poverty line of N137,430 per year (about N382 per day), according to data from the National Bureau of Statistics. This has seen Nigeria crowned the World Poverty Capital, overtaking India for this inglorious honour. It is not getting better with at least seven million Nigerians said to have fallen into extreme poverty in 2020 alone. With the increasing insecurity in vast swathes of the country causing farmers in rural areas, where about 50 per cent of the population resides, to lose access to their farms and a significant number of this demographic being forced into displaced persons’ camps as a result, the numbers of those falling into extreme poverty are likely to increase.
The government must therefore do all in its power to address this issue and it must do so urgently and wisely. The National Development Plan must take full cognisance of this projected population growth in structuring the country’s infrastructural growth. Road developments, schools, health facilities and transport systems and the likes being considered at the moment must be designed and developed with this rapid population expansion in mind.
In addition, some social and economic policies have been shown to have a positive impact on population growth and management in many countries. For example, girl-child primary and secondary education tends to correlate with fewer number of children. Economic development too correlates positively with lower population figures. This is why development is often said to be a contraceptive in its own right. Governments could, therefore, seize on such sensible and less controversial policies that nevertheless have positive impacts on population growth by, for example, making education free and compulsory for all females up to secondary level.
But the responsibility for managing Nigeria’s population cannot be left to government alone. Government does not have children; parents do. Therefore, all relevant stakeholders such as traditional and community leaders should encourage parents and the general populace to plan their families in ways that are more socially and economically realistic. The practise whereby parents have more children than they can cater for should be discouraged.
The government must realise that this challenge is not a problem for the future alone, but a problem for the here and now. It must, as a matter of urgency, lay the foundations for a major revamp and development of infrastructure.
Government should learn from the experience of countries with such huge populations, learn from their mistakes and experiences managing such a huge population and make necessary development plans in line with these projections. To be forewarned is to be forearmed. We must not allow this impending explosion to befall us unprepared.