When population growth becomes a burden

Nigeria has worked itself into double tragedy. The country’s revenue has taken a precarious nosedive.

Nigeria’s population is advancing menacingly as revenue executes a disorderly retreat. No one in Nigeria knows the country’s exact population.

Last month the United Nations Fund for Population Activities (UNFPA) dropped the bomb shell. Nigeria’s population was 201, 829, 541 in May 2019. It must be sailing pretty close to 202 million now.

Those who doubt the UNFPA figure should hazard a drive on the crater-riddled Lagos-Badagry road.

In 1984 once you pass Agbara Industrial Estate, you are heading through several kilometers of swamp until you got to Badagry. There were very few settlements along the road. Today, Badagry has practically merged with Lagos. There are houses everywhere on that road even as Nigeria battles a housing deficit of 16 million units.

Nigeria’s population explosion is stultifying. The population of Britain, the world’s fifth largest economy, was 61 million in 1971.  Today, Britain has a population of 65 million. It has only inched up by a scant four million in 48 years.

Nigeria’s population was 81 million in 1973. Today we are 201.8 million. We have added 120 million in 46 years.

Ironically, the rulers of Nigeria cannot control revenue or population. Revenue rises and tumbles at the dictates of developments in the international oil market.

Nigeria has no population policy. Babies are churned out with the primitive believe that fruits cannot break the branch of a tree. 

The late Shehu Shagari, Nigeria’s former president had 21 children. Even as a rich man, he has imposed a huge burden on Nigeria. In the next 20 years, his offspring alone could occupy a medium size town.

Most Nigerians reason like the late president. A female medical practitioner in Niger state has nine children. One of her daughters, a graduate, has already churned out six children. She plans to have more. A young woman in Lagos has 11 children because her church forbids the use of family planning devices.

Unfortunately, there is a direct relationship between population and standard of living where income remains fixed. Two permanent secretaries with the same income cannot enjoy the same standard of living if one has three children and the other raises 20. The man with 20 children would just be living slightly above poverty line.

Two months ago, I met a skilled man who is very hard working but wallows in population-imposed poverty. His income can give a family of two children and a wife a comfortable standard of living, but the man has six children. He blames everyone except himself for the poverty plaguing him.  He even blames God for not answering his prayers. The man’s predicament is the miniature picture of Nigeria as a nation without policy on population control.

The signs of cracks engendered by population explosion is everywhere in the economy. More than 20 million people are jobless. Some 13.5 million children of school age are out of school. Their parents cannot afford the high fees in private schools and there are no seats for them in public schools because government has no money to build enough schools.

Nigeria has one of the worst infant and maternal mortality rates in the world.  That is because the few hospitals are poorly staffed and equipped due to paucity of funds. Life expectancy in Nigeria is atrociously low at 55 years when low income countries boast a more tolerable 62 years.

We have got to a point when the rulers of Nigeria must control at least one of the factors that determine the standard of living in civilized societies. They must either control revenue or the population growth. In fact responsible governments control the two.

Nigeria does not control even the little revenue that trickles into its coffers.

The dollar value of import duty revenue collected by the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS) has been in a steep decline since 2014. The NCS made revenue of N977.09 billion in 2014. At the 2014 official exchange rate of N197 to the dollar, that amounted to $4.9 billion.

By January 2019, the NCS rolled out the drums to celebrate a perceived over-shooting of its 2018 revenue target of N770 billion as it netted N1.2 trillion at the end of 2018.  Ironically, N1.2 trillion at the current official exchange rate of N305 to the dollar is a scant $3.6 billion. In other words, government’s import duty revenue has tumbled by something close to 20 per cent.

Population control is probably a more arduous task in Nigeria than revenue generation. There is a stiff resistance against population control. Muhammadu Sanusi 11, the revered emir of Kano and former governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) was almost dethroned two years ago for his strident campaign against a system that allows greedy poor men to marry more wives than they could afford and breed children just for the streets.

Sanusi advocated for a law that would criminalise polygamy by the poor. The system rose against him in an intimidating protest. The emir’s campaign could be resuscitated and executed in a different way. Let the greedy poor men marry as many wives as they want, but a strident family planning system should restrict the number of children each woman in a polygamous home bears to one. Even the rich should be restricted from raising 20 children from the four wives they are entitled to.

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