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Our population time bomb

The National Population Commission (NPC) has put Nigeria’s current population at 198 million people, with the urban population growing at the rate of 6.5% every year. Chairman of NPC Mr. Eze Duruiheoma said this while delivering an address in New York on ‘Sustainable Cities, Human Mobility and International Migration’ at the 51st Session of the Commission on Population and Development. According to him, “Nigeria remains the most populous nation in Africa, the seventh globally with an estimated population of 198 million”.

Duruiheoma said, “Over the last fifty years Nigeria’s urban population has grown at an average annual rate of 6.5% without a commensurate increase in social amenities and infrastructure.” the county’s urban population, he said, grew “substantially” from 17.3% in 1967 to 49.4% in 2017 and as other experts project, by 2050 the population will hit 440 million with about 70% of Nigerians living in cities. Also projected is that Nigeria which presently is the 7th most populous country in the world would be the third most populous country in the world with 550 million by 2070. 

Incidentally the picture painted by the NPC Chairman is not new to the government nor concerned Nigerians, except that it further captures the deepening dilemma of the country with respect to its state of preparedness for the looming crisis a grand mismatch between population and the capacity of the country to sustain such.  Yet for the umpteenth year this mismatch has been trending without commensurate response by succeeding governments to act decisively by stepping up the development of relevant infrastructure and associated social conditions that will progressively address the ever increasing number of Nigerians.  That is why the population scenario is a bomb ticking away with its explosion just a matter of time.

Ordinarily human beings constitute the greatest and most potent assets of any country, even as their value lies in the utility they can muster. For the Nigerian situation the prevailing social conditions have predisposed the bulk of the society to less than optimal productivity that would facilitate a higher growth rate for the economy and thereby the productive base of the country. That is why the government needs to act with urgency to change the status quo with respect to ensuring that the country does not end up in a quandary in the coming years as the population crisis cannot be wished away but must be addressed. 

A starting point is a more robust approach to repositioning the Nigerian economy with a view to achieving to a growth rate that is not lower than the 6.5% per annum, much higher than the population growth rate. This will entail a new economic model that will prove novel, and translate into the deployment of all idle resources: put in another way a revolutionary economic agenda. Incidentally the Constitution envisaged this situation and in its prescience provides that State governments should collaborate with local government councils to develop economic development plans that would determine and define progressive development tempo of the rural areas. 

Before that however we must slow down the population growth rate in order to give room for careful and considerate economic and social planning. The present galloping rate of population growth makes it difficult to achieve success because educational, health care and other facilities are overwhelmed even before we finish building them. In the long run, it is higher educational levels, higher urbanization and higher standards of living that will make Nigerians to slow down on procreation and adopt the system of slimmer family structures, which will also contribute to maintaining higher living standards.

Admonishing alone might not achieve the goal of slowing down our explosive population growth rate. Government must adopt more stringent measures to achieve this. It is difficult and could be unpopular but if government does not start the process now, it will be forced in the future to adopt even more drastic and more painful measures such as happened in India and in China.

 

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