This is a time bomb, unless policy makers design appropriate policies that will improve the productive capacities of our people
If the recently released world population figures are anything to go by, Nigeria has a lot to worry about. By all projections, the population of our country is estimated to hit 200 million in the next three years, from an estimated 178.5 million as at July last year. Currently, Nigeria ranks 7th in the list of countries by population with a density of 193 persons per kilometre while 51 per cent of that population is urban and the median age is 17.8 years. According to the United Nations in its new population prediction, by the year 2050, three of the 10 most populous countries in the world will be in Africa.
Today, as our country's population continues to bulge exponentially, Nigerians continue to be ranked among the poorest people in the world due to high incidence of unemployment, predominant production of primary goods over finished products, aging public infrastructure, the insurgency in a section of the country and opaque systems of governance. The high rate of out-of-school children and poor output in the education sector also contribute negatively to deepening this problem as the nation churns out a crop of uncompetitive youth in a new world driven by technology, skills and knowledge.
As it would happen, Nigeria is today rated among the fastest growing countries of the world. Ordinarily this should be a plus for us, but it is not. Experts therefore warn of the dire consequences of this uncontrolled population growth. The prognosis is that there may come a time when it would be difficult for us to feed and make other necessary provisions for the ever increasing number of people, hence the need to avoid the type of crises witnessed over the years in some African countries.
Against the background that uncontrolled population growth is already stretching to the limits the few infrastructural facilities in the country and contributing in large measure to the poor standards of living, there is indeed an urgent need to address the dire consequences of this uncontrolled population growth.
Of course, we are not unmindful of the fact that some people may dismiss the latest projections as mere Western propaganda aimed at keeping developing countries from having large population. They could also point to China and India as countries with huge populations harvesting their "demographic dividends". Yet the fact being ignored is that China controls its population with its one-child per couple policy while the Indian state encourages some form of family planning. In any case, an idle (and largely illiterate population) such as we breed in Nigeria today can only be a disaster waiting to happen.
However, we are not oblivious of religious practices and beliefs that frown at any talk of over population and therefore regard any suggestion that hints at birth control as heresy. But it is a simple economic fact that population growth that is not matched with commensurate socio-economic development can only breed chaos. On a positive note, however, we also understand that at a time when the population of many countries in Europe and Asia is ageing, Nigeria's young population could be a demographic advantage but only if the policy makers can design appropriate policies that will improve the productive capacities of our people and put our people to work. To the extent that there is no such thing, then there is the need to worry.
There is no doubt that a sustainable society is the one with moderate population growth that enables its members to achieve a high quality of life in ways that are ecologically sustainable. Unless policy makers begin now to focus their attention on how to avert this ticking time bomb the consequences could be devastating and very difficult to reverse.