Today is World Population Day, an event observed on July 11 every year since 1989 to raise awareness of global population issues. Nigeria is the most populous country in Africa by a distance. It is often said that out of every three blacks in the world, one is a Nigerian.
According to official post-independence census figures, Nigeria's population was 56.6 million in 1963, 88.9 million in 1991 and 140 million in 2006. The latest estimate by the National Population Commission (NPC) put the figure at 198 million in 2018, making it the seventh most populous nation, accounting for 2.5 percent of the world's population. It is also a youthful population, with over 50 per cent below the age of 30. And going by projections, by 2050 Nigeria will be the third most populous country in the world with about 450 million people, behind only India and China.
For an industralising society, a huge youthful population is an advantage as such bountiful manpower is needed to drive and sustain economic productivity and growth, but that is not the case with Nigeria. The country has remained a largely mono-product economy, dependent on oil and gas, leaving most of the youthful population unemployed, underemployed or dependent.
With such a galloping population and limited economy, the country already faces a big challenge catering for its citizens. According to data from the IMF, UN, World Bank and Nigerian authorities, Nigeria has overtaken India as the poverty capital of the world, harbouring the largest number of people living in extreme poverty, with over 82 million, or 42.4 percent of the population, living below the poverty line of $2 a day. A report by the Africa Development Bank (AfDB) paints a gloomier picture, putting poor Nigerians at 152 million. The above figures should cause every patriotic Nigerian sleepless nights. Already the country is grappling with a lot of security problems largely due to the failure to plan for upcoming generations, seen in the near total absence of social protection.
Unchecked continuous rise in population results in human congestion, high unemployment rate, environmental degradation, depletion of resources, unhygienic living conditions, elevated crime rate, conflicts, political instability, struggle for scarce resources, hunger and high rates of disease spread. Inevitably, the struggle for limited resources will become more intense and push more people towards adopting extreme measures to survive. Many young Nigerians, seeing no hope in the horizon, are fleeing the country to other parts of the world in suicidal journeys across the Sahara Desert and the Mediterranean Sea. According to the Nigeria Immigration Service, no fewer than 10,000 Nigerians died between January and May 2017 while trying to illegally migrate through the Mediterranean Sea and the deserts in their bid to cross to Europe. Thousands of others have been repatriated from Libya with heart-rending stories of inhuman treatment in the hands of their slave masters.
This kind of desperation has led other youths into all kinds of crimes and bloodletting which could worsen with rising population if nothing is done about it now.
First of all, the federal government needs to correctly determine the country's actual population. In this wise, a national census should be held as quickly as practicable, after missing the 10-year benchmark for the conduct of a new census in 2016. Also, the authorities must ensure accurate documentation of entrances into the country. The agencies concerned should be empowered with the necessary resources to curtail unchecked immigration into the country.
As a newspaper, we hold that periodically shutting down the economy for a few days to carry out a headcount is no longer in tune with modern trends. Government can update the nation's population figures through a conscientious recording of births and deaths in every community and collating the figures nationally using available technology. Consequently, the registration offices, infrastructure and logistics should be set up using the present political wards as registration units and involving community leaders. To encourage concerned families to make entries, socio-economic incentives should be attached to the exercise, along with adequate sensitisation.
Also, the federal government should restart the campaign to educate families about the wisdom of limiting the number of children they have according to their income.
Finally, our leaders must turn a new leaf, shed their propensity for selfishness and wastefulness, and rise to the challenge of enunciating strategic plans to pull the country out of its present slide. In the last 15 years, China successfully lifted 600 million of its citizens out of poverty through economic reforms and a genuine fight against corruption and waste. Nigeria should do same.