The current population index is frightening. Unless these demographic trends are reversed, benchmarks for sustainability will remain in doldrums.
Nigeria’s rising population is a clear indication of flaws in the national template for birth control. Decades of humongous investments in several reproductive health projects, by successive governments and international organizations failed to meet benchmarks.
Consequently, Nigeria’s population has escalated to 198 million, with United Nations (UN), projecting that it would be the world’s third most populous country by 2050, thus replacing the United States (US), as the third largest country globally.
The apex global agency also rated its birth rate, as the fastest among the world’s top 10 largest nations. “At the current annual growth rate of 3.2 percent, Nigeria’s population will double by the year 2030,” due to high fertility levels and unplanned parenthood. The reasons for this gloomy forecast are myriad. Several legislative efforts to tackle the issue were marred by religious and ethnic controversies.
Many citizens do not view family planning, as a human right critical to optimal life, but a preposterous western agenda to limit family size. Hence many sexually active persons avoid contraceptives, thus leading to high birth rates and inherent risks to women and girls, particularly in poor and rural communities. Cultural inhibitions, religious considerations, patriarchal family systems and gender-based discriminatory practices are also major causes of rejection of family planning, particularly in some northern states bedevilled by terrorism, Fulani herdsmen banditry, poverty, illiteracy, polygamy, early and forced marriage.
These factors were addressed last week at a forum organized by United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) for about 200 Islamic leaders on “Harnessing Demographic Dividend (DD) for Sustainable Development of Nigeria: The Role of Muslim Religious Leaders”. A statement from Dr. Eugene Kongnyuy said “the agency organized the forum to enhance the capacity of religious leaders to advocate for policies towards harnessing demographic dividends in Nigeria. Obviously a well executed road map will accelerate changes in the age distribution structure for enhanced productivity, through a more enlightened and pragmatic approach to issues of gender inequality, maternal health, child spacing and fertility transition. Primarily demographic transition demands a reduction in fertility rates, often influenced affected by traditions and religious beliefs.
The agency stressed the need for massive involvement of traditional and religious gatekeepers in demographic issues such as dependency ratio arising from high youth unemployment and poverty levels. Stakeholders have also stressed the need to increase funding for family planning services for better outcomes. Mr Kenneth Ehouzou, UNFPA official said the country needs to invest about 652 million dollars, in the next five years in family planning, to curb current population levels.
“Nigeria, in 2017, committed to disbursing 56 million dollars between 2017 and 2020 to ensure basic health care provision and family planning in communities, but this is not enough.”
“UNFPA alone provides about five million dollars annually to Nigeria for family planning information and services. There is a gap of about 70 million dollars investment in the sector of family planning.” Sadly without a functional public health sector, these investments will be wasted.
Computer magnate Bill Gates recently advised this administration to revamp the health system because of its centrality to quality of life and productivity. “The Nigerian primary health system is not adequately funded and doesn’t get the most out of its current funding, due to lack of transparency and accountability.” Federal Government recently launched new policy guidelines to enhance family planning services across the country. The latest action is a follow-up to the 2014 Scale-Up plan, designed to raise the contraceptive prevalence rate (CPR) among married women from 15 percent to 36 percent. Unfortunately, targets of the 603 million dollars four-year project to avert about 1.6 million unintended pregnancies and millions of infant deaths were not reached.
With reproductive health, generally designated as a human right, the onus is on government and relevant bodies to ensure that women and adolescent girls gain more access to modern family planning methods including condoms, intrauterine devices (IUDs), as well as long-term surgical methods tubal ligation and vasectomy. Government’s latest plan to meet 13.5 million users and boost access to family planning services across the country by 2020, should be executed within a transparent multi-sectoral network.
The current population index is frightening, as there is no corresponding economic structure to support it. Apparently this situation is not just a national burden of immense proportions but also a global challenge. Unless these demographic trends are reversed, benchmarks for sustainability across all spheres will remain in doldrums. Infrastructural decay, corruption, economic vulnerabilities and social crises across various sectors are all traceable to this unnecessary birth multiplication, amidst dwindling economic resources. The nation’s latest poverty profile is quite alarming. Brookings report said: “Nigeria has already outpaced India, as the country with the largest number of extreme poor in early 2018. Our trajectories suggest that Nigeria had about 87 million people in extreme poverty in May, compared with India’s 73 million. Extreme poverty in Nigeria is growing by six people every minute.”
Evidently, Nigeria’s vacillating economy and decrepit infrastructure are disproportionate to its bloated size, with serious implications for urban migrations and slum settlements, spurring incidences of drug abuse, human trafficking and violent crimes across major cities. Recently National Population Commission (NPC) said “urban population grows at an average annual growth rate of about 6.5 per cent.”