Should Nigerians Have Fewer Babies?

by Max Siollun

What is the biggest danger facing Nigeria? Corruption? Kidnapping? Armed insurgency? Religious extremism? Nigeria’s ticking time bomb might be in its mothers’ wombs…

“The Giant of Africa”
Nigeria is Africa’s most populous nation, the world’s eighth most populous country, and is the most heavily populated black nation on Earth. Although Nigerians shout with chest thumping pride about their large population, it is nothing to be proud of and is actually a grave danger to the country.

Nigeria’s population is currently growing by over 3% every year and has doubled every 35 years or so. There were 55 million Nigerians in 1963, 88 million in 1991, and current estimates place the population at nearly 150 million. The modus operandi of censuses in Nigeria has changed. The censuses of the 1960s and 1970s were marred by accusations of inflation. The most recent census in 2006 may have been an undercount. Official figures from the 2006 census placed Nigeria’s population at 140 million. However in 2007 the United Nations estimated that Nigeria had 148 million people.

Nigeria’s Society for Reproductive and Family Health says that five million Nigerian babies are born every year. That means 5 million additional bodies to feed, clothe, educate, and provide electricity to. If current trends continue, by 2020 the population of Lagos alone will exceed the combined population of the eastern seaboard of America. Lagos might become the most densely populated city on Earth

Large Population = Poverty
The economy cannot grow fast enough to provide for the millions of additional people born each year. The irony is that having more children is directly linked to poverty and lack of education. The educated urban classes tend to have less children and live relatively comfortably. Many poor and uneducated rural dwellers tend to have children throughout their reproductive lifespan, with their poverty being increased with each additional child born. In days gone by, large families were seen by our ancestors as an insurance policy against poverty. Children were expected to farm the land, and provide for their aged parents. Nowadays each additional child equals one additional mouth to feed and additional person to educate.

Our African extended family culture where one is literally his/her brother’s keeper also perpetuates poverty in large families. This extended family culture condemns not just parents, but the entire family to the risk of poverty as the entire family bears the responsibility of raising large numbers of children.

Idle Children
Another frightening demographic image is that about half of Nigeria’s population are children. In a generation these children will become job seeking adults. If they are unable to find jobs, a young, angry and idle population means only one thing: big trouble. For those who think an overpopulated Judge Dread apocalyptic scenario is far fetched, the problems of Nigeria’s rapidly growing population are already being felt. Urban migratory trends are placing intolerable pressure on Nigeria’s infrastructure. The erratic electricity supply you complain about is not ONLY because of government inefficiency. It is extremely difficult to generate enough electricity to cope with an additional 10 million humans being added to the grid every 2 years.

As Nigeria’s population rose, free public amenities were cancelled. When Universal Primary Education (UPE) was first introduced, school enrolment doubled in two years – leading to the scheme’s collapse. When UPE was resuscitated by the federal government, there was a massive explosion in enrolment, causing a quadrupling in enrolment over a period of 20 years. The massive strain on educational facilities caused a degradation in the quality of education, overcrowded classrooms, enrolment of poor quality teachers, and degraded graduate aptitude.

Ever wonder why there are a lot more “Area Boys” today than there were in 1980? Legions of unemployed graduates turn to crime and kidnapping as a result of there not being enough jobs to go around for the large young population. Ever wonder why in Nigeria, there is always a gang of idle youths ready to spark violence and commit murder for little or no reason? Symptoms of social breakdown such as the Boko Haram violence, Zogon Kataf, Sharia riots, Niger Delta militants, Area Boys and armed robbers are all from the same demographic: unemployed youths.

The Family Planning Taboo
The dangers of a large population are apparent. What can be done? Other countries with large populations have tried various methods to reduce population growth. These range from crude methods such as India’s 1970s offer of free radios to men who underwent sterilisations and China’s one child policy.

Can Family Planning Work in Nigeria?
Family planning and contraception is regarded by some as a direct assault on Nigerian traditional and religious values. The desire for large numbers of children is deeply rooted in the Nigerian psyche, and the celebration of fertility and birth is ingrained in many customs. For many Nigerians, children are blessings from God, and the more children one has, the more (s)he is blessed. The ability to reproduce generously is regarded as the essence of womanhood, and a source of pride to the Nigerian man. Many Nigerians subscribe to religious and/or cultural beliefs that reject birth control on moral grounds. Contraception is viewed in some quarters as an immoral Western affront to African values.

Traditional family planning methods will be up against these formidable cultural barriers. Only a gradual educational grassroots program aimed at inculcating into the Nigerian psyche, the dangers of overpopulation, will work.

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