Nigeria’s Population Bomb: Where is The Baby Bomb Squad?

By Neo Sithole

A country’s greatest wealth is its people but, in a case, where the country cannot maintain or provide for its people the people then become its greatest burden. 

In trying to understand Nigeria’s population, how the Nigerian government plans to adequately deal with the ballooning population and how it impacts on the continent we first need to unpack what the number means. 

Conventionally a growing population has been and can be beneficial for any country, in the context of Africa where a large population provides easy access to labour and in the cases of agriculturally based communities and economies many hands for lighter and faster work. A large population also diversifies the demand for products and services and promotes the tendency to increasing returns to scale, thereby raising economic development  However, the crimson red flag starts to furiously wave when there are more mouths to feed then there are slices of bread on the table not to mention an undiversified economy with limited capacity of public infrastructure and overall development. 

Currently, the Nigerian population is estimated at 201,324,216 by the United Nations making it the most populous country in Africa, 7th most populated globally and constituting roughly about 2.6% of the world’s total population.  Growth of the Nigerian population set as 3% yearly Nigeria may hit the 300 million mark within a possible ten years with the country holding an estimate of 400 million by the year 2050. 

When looking at Nigeria’s growth in population there exists an interconnected number of causes that then give birth (see what I did there?) to a litter of just as interconnected impacts on the country and invariably the African continent. 

First off, let’s take a crack at understanding what the triggers are, the main triggers for the spike in the population are cultural-religious which spur on early marriages, high birth rates and create disapproval of contraceptives leading to lack of family planning. Other fuelling factors include unemployment, outdated gender norms and archaic social attitudes and beliefs that pin the number of children born in a family as status symbol or preference of male children leading to constant attempts through childbirth. Arguably these factors are more prevalent in the less urban areas of Nigeria, the sizes of families in Nigeria are also larger in the northern region when polygamy is more common. 

One Core concern over Nigeria’s rapid population growth have largely to do with the limitation of the Nigerian economy to support so many people. As it stands Nigeria’s first-quarter growth has slowed down to 2.0%, with a population growing faster than its economy Nigeria’s economy will not be able to carry the increase of people.  Nigeria being an oil-dependent economy the recent slump in oil revenue has maimed the Nigerian economy’s chance to growth resulting in slow first-quarter growth for ‘Africa’s biggest economy’ which if not handled correctly may result in Nigeria falling into worsened Malthusian Trap-a theory that as population growth is faster than resources there will be a stage where resources are inadequate for the population. 
Slow economic growth is only one side of the dice another is the impact it has on Nigeria’s development seeing as economic activity feeds into and affects how a state develops. An important aspect of the conversation is that Nigeria, although the continent largest economy, is still a country in development. It must be recognized and admitted that in its development is being hampered by stagnating economic growth. It goes a step further; in the interests of proper financial planning and sustained growth, a developing country cannot risk having a runaway population that far exceeds the development rate. The reason being is without an economy able to support growth in people poverty levels rise and access to resources plummet (sounds familiar) 

A major trigger and enabler for Nigeria’s unchecked population boom is a lack of political will and poor policy implementation according to Quartz Africa. It is without question also a serious point of interest if there is to be an active effort in slowing down the ‘people printing press’ 

Nigeria’s first population policy was put together in 1988 but it failed to deliver on its targets which included reducing the fertility rate, the rate of early marriages and the population growth rate. In 2005, the National Policy on Population for Sustainable Development (NPP), another population policy was launched, but like the one before it, NPP fell short of all its targets, according to a 2015 report. 

"Indeed, Nigeria’s population increased by nearly 50 million between 2005, when the policy was launched, and 2015, when the report was authored. Nigeria’s total fertility rate (average number of births per woman) dipped only slightly from 5.7 to 5.5 children per woman, notably higher than the target of 4.38 children per woman for 2015. Just as crucially, the modern contraceptive prevalence rate among married women increased to 9.8%—far less than the 30.2% policy target” 

Lacking policy implementation extends beyond the provided shortfalls. Nigeria’s state resources and basic infrastructure are under unbearable to efficiently provide services. Sectors like education and healthcare are over-subscribed and further hampered by stagnant economic growth limiting the ability of the Nigerian government to provide the needed resources to either improve or fill the gaps. Until basic yet fundamental social structures like education and healthcare facilities have improved the chances that Nigeria’s population growth will be slowed down are extremely slim. 

Spatial implications also come to the fore when limited policy implementation and government are discussed. An estimated 51% of Nigeria’s population is in urban areas and cities where space is less than scare, the capital city of Lagos is home to 9 million people. 

At this point, there are, for me, two solutions. Both are somewhat unrealistic but worth considering. 

The first is almost instantaneous diversification allowing the Nigerian economy faster growth that could, with enough help and simultaneous state-led development, cushion the baby booming blow. This is much more than a dream considering the uneven distribution of infrastructure in Nigeria, the amount of till it will take to upgrade infrastructure along with the persistent terrorist activity. 

A second solution, not as unrealistic but a sensitive spot for religious communities, is a crude imitation of the one-child policy implemented by China in 1980. While I do not mean the actual policy or limiting facilities to one child it may be beneficial to try and limit the amounts of children as a means of population control in line with economic growth. Interesting to note that a similar sentiment had been voiced by former President Goodluck Jonathan aid Nigerians should only have as many children as they could afford but it received almost immediate blowback from both Christian and Muslim communities. 

In what seems to be the Nigerian governments only plan in stagnating population growth the government is trying to encourage smaller family-sized, but a massive challenge is a fierce resistance from the broader population enforced by cultural and religious moral principles. In tandem, various originations like the non-profit Planned Parenthood Federation of Nigeria have started running family planning projects through the country. 


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