Nigeria: Address Population Time Bomb

editorial

Newly reappointed Governor of Central Bank of Nigeria [CBN] Godwin Emefiele recently expressed worry over the country's rapid population growth rate. He warned that urgent steps must be taken to put policies that would take care of the projected 425 million Nigerians by the year 2050. Emefiele spoke when he appeared for screening before the Senate Committee on Banking, Insurance and Financial Institutions.

He said the impending population explosion and its economic implications would create tough times for Nigerians. Emefiele said, "We just came back from the IMF/World bank programme in April and in the IMF's/World Bank's World Economic Outlook, Nigeria is positioned as a country whose population will rise to over 425 million people in 2050." That will make Nigeria the third most populous nation after China and India, overtaking the United States of America.

Emefiele painted a gloomy picture of Nigeria in comparison with other countries. He said with the current rapid population growth rate, there was urgent need for development-driven monetary and economic policies. He said, "We from CBN, from the monetary policy side, have come to the realisation that using the instrumentality of the Anchor Borrowers Programme where access to credit is being provided to our masses all over the country would be a way to generate employment and boost economic activities amongst our rural population."

A report published by Daily Trust in October last year shows that Nigeria's population more than tripled since independence from 45.1 million in 1960 to about 200 million in 2018. The report revealed that Nigeria's population is 2.57 percent of the world's total 7.6 billion people while our population density is 215 per square km, with a land area of 910,770 km2.

Vice President Yemi Osinbajo and Minister of Finance Zainab Ahmed both expressed similar worries when they spoke at the Nigeria Economic Summit (NES) in October last year. Osinbajo said the problem of poverty and the attendant deficits in human development indices become more significant because our population continues to grow at about three percent annually with young people accounting for 60 percent of this population. The Finance Minister, on the other hand, explained how the federal government has been engaging critical stakeholders including traditional and religious leaders to advise their members on child spacing.

Owing to the grave consequences that Nigeria stands to suffer if it fails to properly regulate the country's population growth rate, it would be apt to consider the articulation of appropriate strategies that would slow down the current high rate of population growth as a national emergency. One persuasive and easily sellable approach to checking rapid population growth would be to popularize child spacing, which is an indirect way of limiting a couple's number of children.

Instead of using the term 'birth control', which is widely misconstrued to denote depopulation, child spacing appeals more to the religious and cultural feelings of most Nigerians. Increasing girl-child access to education is another strategy for controlling birth rate. Education will help a married woman to appreciate the socio-economic challenges associated with having unspaced children. She would, thus, willingly adopt child spacing policy. Such attendant challenges include exposing a pregnant mother and the un-born child to life-threatening risks, poor quality of life, poverty, destitution and pressure on existing public infrastructure. Government is encouraged to partner with clerics and traditional rulers on child spacing strategy.

Usually, the effects of measures taken to check a socio-economic crisis as critical as demography are only felt after a long period of implementation. This is why it is time for government to intensify advocacy on the child spacing initiative. It would be disastrous to continue to speculate or defer policies needed to control fast-growing population especially one growing exponentially at a rate faster and higher than economic growth. If we do not act now, a time might come when painful measures would be taken such as forced sterilization in India and China's one child per couple policy.

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