An idle and largely illiterate population is a disaster waiting to happen

As Nigerian population continues to rise amid decay in infrastructure and social services, it is unfortunate that there are no policy measures to address a looming demographic danger. However, this year’s World Population Day, which incidentally coincided with the Family Planning Summit, provided a good opportunity for the authorities in Nigeria as well as other critical stakeholders to begin to address the dire consequences of an uncontrolled population growth.

It is indeed instructive that the theme for this year’s World Population Day was “Family Planning: Empowering People, Developing Nations” with access to safe, voluntary family planning considered a human right and a key factor in reducing poverty. “Yet around the world, some 214 million women in developing countries who want to avoid pregnancy are not using safe and effective family planning methods, for reasons ranging from lack of access to information or services to lack of support from their partners or communities,” said the statement to mark today’s global event. “Many of those with an unmet demand for contraceptives live in the poorest countries on earth”.

The need for the Nigerian authorities to take population issue more seriously was underscored by the recent release of the latest United Nations global population projection report. According to the report, Nigeria’s population is expected to surpass that of the United States by 2050. Against the background that our country cannot even boast of five per cent of the resources available to the US, the challenge of taking care of such a population can only be imagined.

We understand that some people are wont to dismissing the issue of population control as mere Western propaganda aimed at keeping developing countries from having large population both for defence in times of war and as a future workforce. They could point to China and India as countries harvesting the “demographic dividends” of huge populations. Yet we should not fail to realise the fact that even China kept its population at bay with its one-child per couple policy until recently, while the Indian state encourages some form of family planning. In any case, an idle (and largely illiterate population) such as we breed in Nigeria today is a disaster waiting to happen.

We are also not oblivious to religious practices and beliefs that frown at any talk of over population and therefore regard any suggestion that hints at birth control as heresy. But much as we do not wish to engage the nation’s two major religions on the issue of population and birth control, it is nevertheless appropriate to warn of the danger ahead. It is a simple economic fact that population growth that is not matched with commensurate development in the socio-economic sector and education for the citizenry can only breed chaos. Therefore, unless policymakers begin now to focus their attention on how to avert this ticking time bomb the consequences could be devastating and difficult to reverse.

On a positive note, however, we also understand that at a time when the population of many countries in Europe and Asia is ageing, Nigeria’s young population could be a demographic advantage but only if the policymakers can design appropriate policies in that direction. There is therefore the need to invest massively in education which is critical for the future. There is also the need for development in infrastructure so as to ensure sustainable support for the bulging size of our population. For instance, clean water is a finite resource everywhere in the world and moreso in our country where access is not guaranteed for the vast majority, especially in the rural areas.

All said, Nigerians need to be reminded that a sustainable society is the one with moderate population growth that enables its members to achieve a high quality of life in ways that are ecologically sustainable.