Balancing our population and our economy By Emeka Oparah
As someone familiar with the fast-moving consumer good business, I get to see some demographics about Nigeria that are, at the same time, scary and inspiring. Nigeria is today made up of about 60% youth population. This is ordinarily a wonderful position compared to the ageing populations across most of Europe. Nigeria’s population is guesstimated at between 180-200m people. You can do the math and figure out the number of young people in Nigeria and then extrapolate what can happen if they are brought up in the right environment or the wrong one.
Let me tell you a story about my parents. Admittedly, they were a bit reckless, with 10 children (2 females and 8 males). My dad was the only son out of 4 siblings while my mom is the only daughter out of two siblings. To them, those were good excuses to raise a standard football team or a local government, as I choose to call us! Besides they were both teachers, who were home by 2pm on workdays and didn’t have much social life back then in the village to occupy their spare time.
So, they had time to make babies, you would imagine. My Dad once confessed to me they had planned 5 children but the other 5 were “mistakes”. Being practicing Roman Catholics, they could not but accept the children as gifts from God!
During the 2nd Republic, by the time the 2nd Republic ended in 1983, teachers in Imo State were owed 13 months salaries and things got really rough for my parents and us, the children. They spent all their savings and even borrowed for us to survive. The lessons were harsh making them turn to Family Planning advocates.
I can never forget one of my father’s younger friends, who they summoned after his wife had the 7th child. My dad recounted what they were going through and warned the man to avoid his mistakes. Unfortunately, the fellow could not understand how my parents would have 10 and then turn around to advise him to stop at a miserly 7! Though he thanked my father for the counsel, word came back almost immediately after how mad and disappointed the man was for my father’s “useless and unsolicited advice”.
To cut the story short, today he lives a life full of regrets because, unlike my parents, who managed to train all of us to the university level, none of his own went beyond secondary school. In fact most of them dropped out at primary school level-in spite of my father’s best effort to support them in spite of everything.
I need not here dilate on the excellencies of a planned family or the lessons embedded in the story I just shared. It is what it is: a manageable family size is always better. At the family or micro level, children are better catered for-feeding, clothing, education, and even character formation.
At the society or macro level, it is easier to provide healthcare, education and other infrastructure for a manageable population. What is manageable can be gleaned from the wealth of the society. There was a time when having a large harem and many children was in vogue mostly amongst big farmers, who were the envy of others in the villages, but that era is gone. Besides, bearing many children medically put the women at risk. My mother, I believe, was lucky.
Back to the hard facts about population. One out of every 10 African is a Nigerian. 2.6% of total world population is Nigeria meaning 1 out of every 43 people on earth is Nigeria. And more than 50% of this number are made up of youths (people under 30)! It is projected by the United Nations that Nigeria will reach 398m by 2050 (in 30 years). By 2100, if current population growth trends subsists, Nigeria will be over 750m making Nigeria the 3rd most populated country in the entire world surpassing the United States and others.
At independence in 1960, Nigeria was roughly 45m people compared to the UK’s 52m. Today, the UK is 67m while Nigeria has almost quadrupled its population. If that is NOT scary, I don’t know what is. These and other sobering statistics mentioned elsewhere in this write up are most unfortunate and portend grave danger given the level of development of the country. If developmental issues like Education, healthcare, youth empowerment, technological advancement, job creation, etc, etc, do not start dominating our priorities, then we are well and truly snookered. I think we are already in trouble given the collapse of the international oil market now compounded by the Covid-19 pandemic.
Nigeria and indeed Africa cannot afford to grow their population at the current 2-3.5%. Some of the security challenges Nigeria is facing in the North East can be traced to the region’s high population of uneducated and unemployed young people. Unfortunately, the phenomenon is no longer restricted to the North, the Southern parts are grappling with a huge number of unemployed and unemployable poorly educated youngsters. An unplanned population is a veritable breeding ground for insurgency and criminality (armed robbery and kidnapping), which are sweeping across the country.
Now, you see why the issue of population control is important and should begin to cause our leaders-political, religious and business-sleepless nights. This is why the work the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is doing should be commended rather than demonized or castigated.
It is disheartening to see the amount of disinformation around the population control initiatives of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. What is even more unfortunate is the effort to link the great idea to the Covid-19 pandemic.
Perhaps, the most ludicrous is the allegation that Gates is the brain behind the pandemic and is also the brain behind the search for a vaccine, which is intended to achieve his population control agenda. As the fake news goes, once the Covid-19 vaccine is given a chip is then implanted in the person’s arm or something to that effect. It’s all confusing how these things are interlinked with population control. From time immemorial, some women have had a patch or chip implanted in their arms for birth control purposes. It’s nothing new. So, what are these fellows really talking about?
The questions I want to ask here are: One, if we are serious-minded people, do we need Bill and Melinda Gates to remind us to put our loins in check? Two, do we need anybody to tell us that our population is growing faster than our resources and infrastructure? Three, do we need to consult an oracle to know we need to start considering a variant of China’s one-child policy in order to survive the drastic global changes? Four, what really is wrong with us as a people and the fixation with superstition and conspiracy theories? Five, shouldn’t we really be grateful someone is thinking of helping us resolve such a knotty issue even after helping us with fighting Polio, HIV-AIDS, Malaria and so on and so forth?
The reality is we do not seem able to help ourselves yet we demonstrate so much gracelessness towards people who, in their philanthropy, have elected to help us out. That is very tragic. The looming socio-economic, political and security calamities an unplanned population portends are even more tragic. We’ve got to start thinking of tomorrow today, if we haven’t started since yesterday!
Emeka Oparah, a corporate communications & crisis management expert, wrote this piece from Lagos.