There is heavy unease among experts that Nigeria’s galloping population has the effect of overshadowing its economic gains and undermining the nation’s capacity to cater for its citizens now and in the future.
It is reported that while the country has trumpeted its recovery from a recession, economists say that its economic growth is lower than population growth, which amounts to negative growth, a signal that another recession may not be too faraway.
Recently, two top federal government officials, Vice President Yemi Osinbajo and Finance Minister Zainab Ahmed, had expressed concern over this country’s fast-growing population.
Both spoke at the recently held Nigeria Economic Summit (NES) where they stressed the need for the country to manage the country’s population growth.
The vice president noted that poverty and attendant deficits in human development indices become more pronounced because the country’s population continues to grow at three percent annually.
He, however, added that the federal government was working to reduce the country’s population growth rate by half, but did not disclose how.
Affirming that Nigeria could become the worlds third most populous nation by 2050 with an estimated 400 million people, 60 per cent which would be youths, Osinbajo warned that Nigeria was facing a demographic time-bomb.
The minister of finance, on her part, said government was not limiting the number of children per mother to four as some news media alleged, but that families are advised to embrace child spacing. She referred to governments Economic Recovery and Growth Plan (ERGP) which stated that the management of population growth is vital to the development of any nation.
Our correspondence has it that with an estimated population of between 190 million to 195 million, Nigeria’s population is projected to exceed 230 million by 2022, and almost 400 million by 2050. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) had put Nigeria’s population growth at around 3.5 per cent. Growing at this rate, Nigeria is thus projected to be the third most populous country in the world in about 30 years.
An economist and chief executive officer of Augusto and Co, Mr Olabode Auguto, described the nation’s population growth as its biggest problem and averred that time had come for the country to embrace population control measures.
He said: “It is a myth to say that our population is strength. I believe that our population is only strength if it is well educated, if it is healthy, if the economy in which they reside has the capacity to provide them with jobs and the people living in the households earn good income and are able to afford the goods and services provided by businesses.
“In my opinion, the biggest problem we have in Nigeria is our population – uncontrolled population growth. That’s my own personal view and I will explain why by putting things into context. When we got independence in 1960, the population of Nigeria was 46 million, the UK of Great Britain and Northern Ireland was 52 million, six million people more than us. By 2015, the UK moved from 52 million to 62 million, Nigeria moved from 46 million to 185 million.
“That’s not the end of the story. In another 55 years, by 2070, the UK will be 80 million while Nigeria will be 550 million. This projection is by Population Pyramid, these are not my numbers. My younger brother who is a mathematician said it is possible, because it is 2.2 percent compounded, and we are already doing 2.5 percent.
“This means demand for primary schools would be much bigger, the number of teachers we have to pay would be more, the number of schools and classrooms we need to build will increase, the number of vaccines we need to buy to inoculate these children will be more. We need to send them to secondary schools, keep them healthy and after they finish school, we need to find work for them. Otherwise, they’ll become non-earning assets and because we will feed them and clothe them, they are liabilities to the nation.”
According to Agusto, the wealth of a nation is measured by the output of the nation, “that is, the number of tubers of yam produced divided by the number of people going to eat yam.
“Today, we are growing the number of people going to eat yam faster than we are producing tubers of yam. The distribution of these tubers of yam or wealth is also heavily skewed in favour of the rich,” he explained.
On the way out, Agusto asserted that the nation’s political agenda must of necessity incorporate population control.
“Population control must enter our political agenda irrespective of religious beliefs. Before we enact policies, we should study what China, India and Singapore have done in this respect and tweak to reflect the realities of our environment. The least we must do is to encourage families to just replace themselves by having a maximum of two children. There must also be incentives to encourage people to comply and penalties for those who fail to comply.
Weighing in on the matter, the director-general, Lagos Chamber of Commerce and Industry (LCCI), Muda Yusuf, posited that the country needs to boost its investment in human capital, “because if you look at the biggest economies of the world today, most of them have big population. Look at the United States of America, China, Brazil, and in Africa, Ethiopia and all of that. We need to worry about the quality of the population, which has to do with investment in human capital. That, we need to underscore.”
On his part, the managing director and chief executive of Cowry Assets Management, Johnson Chukwu, noted that although the economy currently growing at 1.5 per cent according to the 2018 second quarter data released by the National Bureau of Statistics, it is not enough to have a meaningful impact on the citizens. For people to feel that the economy is growing, Nigeria must be recording a growth of nothing less than five per cent which will be higher than the three per cent population growth.
Managing director, Development Bank of Nigeria (DBN), Tony Okpanachi, noted that population could be an asset or a liability.
“The prescription of population control is just being simplistic because we are already in there. So if you talk just replacing yourself, no matter the way you look at it, the population is still going to grow.
“So if you look at the demography and the composition of the population, you will discover that most of them are youths. So, if you want to talk about increase in government revenues, increasing taxes to be able to fund some of these projects, you also have to make them productive in such a way that they are able to contribute in their own way to be able to pay their taxes.
“That is why I think we should be able to look at which areas of the economy will be able to create employment more and that is where the micro and small scale enterprises come to bear,” he said.Leadership