Closing his argument in one of our population study classes in the university, a colleague said, “we had enough seats to accommodate all students until more students started signing up for this class — more people na more wahala (problems)“. His argument clearly portrayed the dangers of population growth without adequate resources to sustain the growth.
China’s population story in brief
While the danger certainly exists, a large population can turn around to become an advantage if well harnessed. In the 1950s China, population growth outpaced food supply under Mao Zedong and his policies further exacerbated the issue, leading to the deaths of about 15 million people. It was not until the Deng Xiaoping era that the country started to harness its population.
A large, healthy and educated population provides competent manpower that can enhance national productivity, driving manufacturing sector and also creating a large market for products and services, just like China.
Despite the progress made in manufacturing and market expansion, China’s growing population still offered setbacks, resulting in degradation of land and resources, pollution, and poverty. To tackle that challenge, the Chinese government in 1979 started the one child per family policy (based on an incentive and punitive measures).
A lot of China’s growth, looking back 30 years can be attributed to the population control policy. Strict enforcement of the policy reduced government spending on children per capita, and that in turn helped with savings, investment and economic growth. With families investing on only one child’s education, China successfully nurtured the most educated generation in its history.
Nigeria population figures as it is today: We don’t know Nigeria’s true population and our census figures are not generally acclaimed as credible. However, it is believed that Nigeria is presently, the 7th most populous country in the world with a population of almost 200 million. A UN report in 2017 forecasts that Nigeria’s population will exceed 390 million by 2050 to become the third most populous country in the world.
Implications of Nigeria’s bulging population: Nigeria’s population figures are evidently detrimental as it greatly outweighs the social, physical and economic infrastructure of the country. The population bulge negatively affects the country, depletes natural resources and threatens the welfare of citizens. Already, the rates of crime including banditry, kidnappings and violence are on the rise.
Poverty: Almost half (46.5%) of Nigerians are poor and over 2000 more Nigerians are becoming extremely poor on a daily basis. This means that about half of Nigeria’s population lives below N450 daily.
Deng understood the need to ensure that population is kept below the rate of economic development and available natural and environmental resources in order to fully succeed at his reforms.
A reduction in population will greatly reduce the poverty growth rate in Nigeria. It is basically a low hanging fruit. The Nigerian Government needs a policy framework to incentivize population control. This also has its own impact on the labour market. While Nigeria’s unemployment rate presently stands at 23.10%, the youth unemployment rate stands at 36%. These figures means more young people are being thrown into the labour market without opportunities.
Furthermore, a study titled Youth Bulges and Unemployment, reveals that a 10% reduction in the youth ratio is associated with a 3% reduction in the unemployment rate. It appears to also support the idea that population reduction could noticeably impact on unemployment.
The search for ‘greener’ pastures
With limited opportunities, it is likely that Nigerians will become more ruthless in their quest for survival. Those who simply cannot cope in this jungle would try to opt out.
A study carried out by the Lagos non-profit, CLEEN Foundation revealed that more Nigerians emigrate out of the country legally and illegally to find work (35%) and escape economic hardship (24%). A number of those who tried to escape illegally do not make it – a major reason why Nigeria constitutes a majority among the over 1500 Africa migrants who died while seeking better opportunities in Europe through illegal routes in 2017, according to the Nigerians in Diaspora Organisation. About 2,778 Nigerians were also identified in Libyan detention camps while about 1,594 illegal Nigerian emigrants returned to the country between January and May 2018.
Rapid growth of cities
Rural areas are getting depopulated with increasing rural-urban migration. According to a World Bank report, 85% of Nigerians lived in rural areas in 1960s but less than 50% today. The rise in population increases the competition in the urban centers and contribute to the deterioration of both the rural economies and urban infrastructure.
The effect of this rural-urban migration is that it ends up increasing inequality and reduces the quality of livelihoods in general. This is the reason for the existence of slums in many big cities as many of these economic migrants are unable to afford the city life–where housing, transport and feeding are relatively expensive.
In Lagos state for example, the state government’s megacity dreams appears to be centered around destroying slums. However, no alternative housing has been provided for slum dwellers. It means that people migrate from slum to slum: moving away from poverty but plunging into deeper poverty.
Beyond this population explosion in our cities. The other consequences include environmental pollution and degradation as well as pressure on public infrastructure. Life gets harder.
In Lagos where I live, research shows that every Lagosian spends three years in traffic out of every 10 years they live in the city. This is not far fetched. Everybody is trying to survive and end up moving to Lagos, thereby overpopulating it. and overcrowding it with their Wahala.
Ironically, there are more registered vehicles (estimated 5,000,000 million private vehicles and 200,000 commuters vehicles) in Lagos than there are people in Liberia, a neighboring country with about 4,977,720 people.
Nigeria’s unbridled population growth constitutes a present and imminent danger to our country. We need to figure out a sustainable solution out of this problem. It must be done sooner, not later.