By Cosmas Omegoh
Nigeria’s population has maintained a steady but frightening climb up the ladder.
Towards the coming of 2020, for instance, it emerged that “the current population of Nigeria is 208,861,189, based on projections of the latest United Nations data.”
Nigerian population figure as shown by the 2006 census stands at 140,431,790 million people, made up of 71,345,488 males and 69,086,302 females.
According to the UN, “in 2020, the population grew by 2.58 per cent compared to the previous year,” while as at last year, “Nigeria is the most populous country in Africa.”
Also UN data showed that “Nigeria’s population is predicted to hit 264 million by 2030 – crossing the 300 million threshold around 2036,” adding that “the overall population of Nigeria will reach about 401.31 million by the end of the year 2050.”
An expert in demography, Prof Felicia Oyekanmi, has been speaking on the implication of this trend for Nigeria and Nigerians.
Prof Oyekanmi, who retired from the University of Lagos recently, is an external examiner at the Regional Institute for Population Studies, the University of Ghana.
Her perspective on the burgeoning Nigerian population figure is insightful. She wants individual Nigerians and government agencies to work to stem the tide.
What sort of news is it as Nigerian population goes beyond 200 million
After the last population census in 2006, we should have had another one in 2016, but it never took place. Now, they are saying that they are conducting demarcation for the forthcoming census whose date has not been announced.
For now, the UN is making a statistical projection based on the figure it got from the 2006 census. Everything depends on the assumption made from the models that were used to make the projection. The figure quoted depends also on the margin of error for whichever projection is made.
However, telling me to comment on the 200 million projection (whether it is high) is like asking me to forecast whether there will be sunrise tomorrow. Of course, there will be a sunrise!
But we have to bear in mind that what we have is just a statistical figure. Recall that the projection is based on the annual growth rate which is about 3.0 per cent. Based on that, it is easy to say that the country’s population is so, so and so and next year it is going to be so, so and so.
But given the situation on the ground right now in Nigeria – all the killings, bombing, cancelling of villages, moving people to IDP camps etc, because all these will have their effects on the rate of population growth. They will affect the growth, birth, and death rates; of course, the difference between birth rate and the death rate is what we call population growth.
So, one has to, first of all, go and look at the underlying assumptions for the estimate that has been made.
Until we have another real census, we will only say well, the UN made a projection and hope as it is said, all other things remain equal, although all other things are never equal.
Burgeoning population figure strength or weakness for country
You have to compare the population to the available resources. So, if our national income or Gross Domestic Product (GDP) is not growing as fast as the population, then it means that we have a decline in the welfare of the people. And that is why we are having a rising proportion of people in Nigerian falling below the poverty line. That is because the GDP is not growing fast enough at the rate at which the population is growing. And secondly, there is growing inequality in the distribution of income, whether you call it inequality or inequity, this has to be considered.
When some state governments are saying that they cannot pay N30,000 as minimum monthly salary to their workers, and our National Assembly members are earning millions of naira monthly, for instance, where do you place this? Yet, each and every one of us is buying from the same market.
For us to say this ‘over 200 million figure is a plus or minus for the country, we have to, first of all, look at the age structure of the population. If, for instance, about 49 per cent of the population is under 15 years, that means almost half of the population is dependent. They are either going to school or they are training. They are not earning any income. Those who have graduated – that is even when you want to move the figure up to 24 years – how many of them in Nigeria of today are gainfully employed? So, you have to look at the broad age group – those that are children and are undergoing training, those that are adults – between let’s say 18-65 years, who should normally be in the workforce. What proportion of them is gainfully employed? When you look at the age structure of the population, then you will be able to say well if a significant proportion of the population is within the working-age group, then the figure is a plus for the country. But if a large chunk of the population is either below or above the retirement age, that will be a drag on society.
The unemployment perspective
There is also an underemployment angle to the population figure quoted. Someone is working and is not able to feed himself – all the able-bodied persons who are selling handkerchiefs, toilet roll on the road, they are all underemployed, but of course, they are doing something and some of them will tell you that they are hustling.
If the country has many underemployed and unemployable people, that is an indication that the population is a drag on society.
Usually, if one working person has one dependant, we can say well we are breaking even. But if one person in a family is struggling to sustain six or more persons as it is happening now in Nigeria, you cannot say that that is a positive indicator for the population. Because if you look at our population policy which says every woman should have four children if a man has one wife and four kids, and he is the only one working, it means the money he earns is to maintain six people. Obviously, his standard of living will not be equal to that of one person maintaining himself and his wife and one child – all things being equal.
Even the population policy is not being adhered to because many women are having more than four kids. And usually, the excuse is because of the high infant and child mortality. Since some people believe that some of the children born might die, they seek to have more than the required number that will sustain them till old age. That is one problem. The second one is the quality of life of those that are alive.
Projection based on recession impact on Nigeria’s growing population
Tighten your belts. That is the only projection one will be able to make. If more money is not coming into the hands of the individuals, then their standard of living is bound to fall. Unless – and that is a big unless – the government is able to give out food to supplement what individual families can buy.
But we all know that given our experience during the first wave of COVID-19, the government is not willing to distribute anything tangible to anybody.
How to contain spiraling population
First, we have to convince individuals that their fertility is impacting the overall population of the country.
The individual has to make a link between the number of children they are having and the overall population of the country. And right now, that link is not strongly given out to the people to listen to.
Our national agencies such as the National Orientation Agency (NOA), the National Population Commission, Ministry of Health, Ministries of Women Affairs, Youths etc, all have population desks. They can produce jingles to create awareness about our bourgeoning population.
They should not only hammer on the people’s fertility alone; they should tell them that more of their children are surviving now than before and so they do not need to have many children to replace those they fear might die. We have different organs of government that can make the messaging.
Then we need to improve on the existing medical facilities – maternal facilities so that pregnant women don’t die during childbirth – and the infant and child health facilities too. These will boost their confidence that they will produce healthy children. They need a lot of talking to enable them to space out their children and also to limit the number that they have.
We also need to talk to people to be aware of the cost of their individual actions that will impact the population. Here, NGOs can help create awareness of the existing situation.