opinionBy Safiya I. Dantiye
The dust had not yet settled after President Jonathan's infamous, "I don't give a damn," statement, when asked about publicly declaring his assets during the Presidential media chat on Sunday, June 24, when he came out with yet another controversial statement on Tuesday, saying that Nigerians should brace up for birth control legislation in order to check population explosion.
Making the remark at the swearing-in of the newly appointed chairman, Chief Festus Odumegwu and commissioners of the National Population Commission (NPC), the president said, "For us to plan properly we must manage our population; but it is extremely sensitive; we are extremely religious people; either you are a Christian or Muslim. Both Christians and Muslims and even traditionalists and all the other religions believe that children are God's gifts to man, so it is difficult for you to tell any Nigerian to number his children because they are gifts of God and it is not expected to reject God's gifts.
"It is a very sensitive thing but we must begin to think about it. We must begin to think about how we'll manage it," as reported by Daily Trust, June 27.
Jonathan went ahead to give examples of where the wealthy have very few children, like two or three, because they are educated, and the poor ones have many children, such as in the barracks, where the Generals and other big guys have few children, while those with no rank have eight or 12. Another example he cited is where you go to a duplex and the owners may have only two, three or four children while the security (Mai gadi) has nine children.
However, even as Nigeria's population stands at approximately 150 million people, the real problem is corruption and lack of good planning, this is what is suppressing development rather than our high population. It is quite unfortunate that rather than our high population to be seen as an asset, our leaders see it as a liability. If we had national planning that works in education, housing, health among other things, Nigerians would not be in such a dicey situation, with most wallowing in abject poverty.
For example, if our public schools are good enough that top government officials take their children there; our hospitals well-equipped that top government officials go there for their healthcare needs instead of jetting out on health tourism abroad; and we have good roads, electricity and water, even those poor people with many children will not be too stressed up nor pose a liability; as the government has provided these necessities to them.
But no, the poor are left to contrive how to live in the midst of plenty, where the so-called representatives of the people get millions of naira ( or is it dollars) in jumbo salaries. Still, some top government officials who are not in the public glare like the politicians steal staggering sums, such as in the pension scam.
And some of the people with few children the president gave as example, may not actually have got their money legitimately, some get theirs through corrupt means and live lavishly with their few children at the expense of the Mai gadi with nine children, who is also a citizen of Nigeria and has a right to basic things that should be provided by government.
The president should worry more about the power sector, so that our moribund industries would be revived and the people can get employment and bring an end to, or reduce youth restiveness. The situation where Nigeria becomes a dumping ground, so to say, of sub-standard goods, empowering other countries that produce them, while we consume them is unfortunate.
In addition, if government makes agriculture attractive, the teeming graduates of agriculture would go into it and become employers of labour themselves. Nigeria with vast and fertile land should be able to feed itself and export to other countries, but we have abandoned farming while we import expired rice, among others.
Has the government tackled the above and other problems facing Nigerians and seen that population 'explosion' is more than it can bear? Pray, what does the government do to the people, does it provide food, shelter, education, health care, to the poor or the jobless, like the benefit system in the United Kingdom?
It is a common feature to read or watch on TV, people with different ailments seeking for monetary assistance from the general public, what provision does government have for them?
Few have cornered the public wealth entrusted in their care, every day you read about fraud involving government officials in billions of naira. It seems millions are going out of fashion for the greedy people. Just imagine what those stolen billions and trillions of fuel subsidy scam can do in many sectors. Since the president has directed the NPC team to commence advocacy on birth control, which is a misplaced priority, let's wait and see.