OUTSIDE THE BOX
BY ALEX OTTI
â€œA s for you, be fruitful and multiply; populate the earth abundantly and multiply in itâ€ Genesis 9:7(AMP).
A good friend of mine called to share the â€œgood newsâ€ of the arrival of his bouncing baby boy. Congratulations Aminu; by the way how many children do you now have, I asked? It is not usual to count our children but since it is you, I will go out of my way to tell you. This is the eleventh one. I will probably do two or three more and reluctantly stop. Aminu, what has come over you? What point are you trying to make? Do you want to have up to 14 children? I queried in quick succession. But as a Christian, you should know better, Aminu retorts. God directed that we should have many children. Aminu ends up with the above Bible quote, reciting it perfectly. As I protested that as a devout Muslim, I had expected him to justify his unbridled child rearing expertise with the Quran, Aminu pointed my attention to the Hadith which says â€œmarry and propagate to make Rasulallah(sallallaahu alayhi wa sallam) proud on the day of quiyamah. A Hadith is a report describing the words, actions, and habits of Prophet Muhammed (PBUH). From both an Islamic and Christian point of view, it appeared I had lost the argument about population and therefore birth control.
Before we delve deeper into the issue of population and birth control, it may not be out of place to set the stage properly. There is still a big debate about how many we are in Nigeria. This debate continues to rage because there hasnâ€™t been any credible population census in Nigeria in the recent times. The first census was done in 1863 and it covered the Lagos colony only. A second one was held in 1871 and subsequently, the colonialists held a census every 10 years. It was not until 1911, that a nationwide census exercise was conducted which put the population at 16.1m. By the 1921 census, the population had grown to 18.7m. A few more head counts held in 1931, 1953, 1963 and 1973. Two more were conducted in 1991 and 2006. One recurring feature in the head count exercises held in Nigeria is that they yielded results that were disputed by large sections of the populace. The 1953 census, for instance, put the population at 31.6m. This result was greeted with widespread controversy as it was said to have understated the population of the country. In 1962, a census was done that produced a figure of 45m. An allegation of over-counting led to the cancellation of the entire exercise and a repeat in 1963. The figure produced in the 1963 exercise was 55.6m. This was accepted in spite of the unrealistic annual growth rate of close to 6% from the 1953 figures. The 1973 census was canceled outrightly by the government for not being transparent.
The 1991 census, which was not without its own share of controversy, produced a figure of 88.9m with an annual growth rate of 2.9%. The last one that was held in 2006 generated so much dispute that it was almost aborted. The South East insisted that the questionnaire must include two parameters of ethnic group and religion while the North opposed that. Both sides threatened to boycott the census if their recommendations were not adopted. Eventually, the Northern position prevailed and the census was conducted returning a figure of 140m people. It is instructive that our head counts have always been marked with controversy. If one group did not claim that it was undercounted, it would claim that another group was over counted. The reason for this is political. Politicians are always positioned to take an undue advantage of headcounts. It is understood that the allocation of resources, the creation of states and local governments and other sharing formulae are based on the number of people in the different parts of the country. I can remember people from one section of the country alleging that those from another section counted both animals and humans to make up the huge number reported in the 1991 census. It is important to point out that the word â€˜censusâ€™ actually means counting everything, as opposed to taking samples. It is therefore strange that key elements like tribe and religion should be excluded from Nigerian census exercises and I am not aware of anywhere else where such key statistics are excluded.
The 2006 census was one of the most disputed, with Lagos State conducting a parallel census along with the Federal Government. At the end of the exercise, the National Census produced 9m as the population of Lagos. The parallel census by the Lagos state government produced a population of 17.77m.This dispute ended in the Census tribunal which gave judgement in favour of Lagos and ordered a recount in some Local government areas in Lagos. Even though the recount was not done, Lagos insisted that it was useful to prove that the National Population Commission did not have reliable figures.
A lot of people were excited when the erudite chemist and former MD of Nigerian Breweries, Festus Odimegwu was appointed the Chairman of the National Population Commission by the Jonathan government. This was because, given his brilliance and superlative performance in the private sector, Odimegwu was going to do a thorough job. Before he could settle down, he was removed under controversial circumstances. Shortly after his appointment, he had commented that the country had not had a credible census for decades owing to falsification by politicians for selfish reasons. This comment which, by the way, is very true, upset some high ranking politicians who worked for his removal. Bingo! He was shown the way out.
The next census which was to be conducted in 2016 has now been deferred to 2018. As 2018 approaches and as funds donâ€™t seem to be available for the successful conduct of the exercise, it is very unlikely that it will hold. Again, the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Yakubu Dogara has reportedly advised that 2018 is unrealistic in view of the General elections coming up in 2019. This is without prejudice to the demarcation of enumeration areas embarked on by the National Population Commission last year.
The United Nations recommends that Census should be done every ten years to account for changes in demographics and population dynamics. Because we lack reliable data emanating from a credible census, we have had to rely on projections and rough estimates for planning and indeed everything else. According to the National Population Commission, Nigeriaâ€™s population is about 183m. On the basis of United Nationâ€™s estimates, the population of Nigeria has been put at about 192.8m as at yesterday, Sunday, September 3, 2017. This means that about 2.55% of the total world population are Nigerians and we are the 7th most populous country in the world. With this kind of growth rate, it is estimated that we would be nearing 400m people by the year 2050, becoming the third most populous nation in the world with over 4% of the worldâ€™s population as Nigerians. A few people are up in arms, disputing these numbers, insisting that our population is grossly overstated. The sad news, however, is that the agitators are unable to come up with a different estimate since no census has been held in the last decade or more.
You may choose to slice and dice it anyhow; the truth remains that we are a very large country by population. That we continue to grow by frightening proportions becomes even more worrisome. A lot of people have used religion to justify their procreativity. Some have insisted that what is important is the capacity of parents to provide for the well-being and education of their children rather than the number. Unfortunately, it is a well-known fact that most of the culprits of a large number of children are those who cannot afford it. In the past, it was argued that the logic of having many children was for labour to help with farming. That argument holds no water in the current dispensation where farming has become mechanized. In the world of technology, artificial intelligence, robotics and electric and driverless cars, the larger the population, the more the unemployment figures. We must admit that the issue of overpopulation is not absolute. That a country has a very large population does not necessarily condemn it to penury. After all, China, for instance, has over 1.3 billion people, but most of them are productively engaged. The capacity of the country to manage the large population is what is critical. Since it is clear that we are not in a position to productively engage our people, it would be an act of irresponsibility to continue growing at our current rate. At the moment, most facilities, which are inadequate in the first place, are over stretched. Hospitals are in very short supply, education is more of a privilege than right. Housing is in deficit, power is a scourge, transportation is struggling and most importantly, hunger has become a permanent companion of many of our citizens. Unemployment has become our nemesis and the economy continues to wobble. The question, therefore is, why should we continue multiplying when we know we are unable to provide for even the existing population? My position is that it would be a disaster if we double our population within the next three decades. We must, therefore, do something very drastic if we do not want to witness savagery by that time.
Literature links population explosion to several factors. One of them is mortality rate. It is argued that owing to the decline in death rate and the decline in infant mortality rate as a result of rapid improvements in medicine, world population has witnessed an exponential growth. There has also been a sharp rise in birth rates, again attributed to improvements in medicine that have more people being fertile. On this note, some mischievous fellow once quipped that the best form of population control is to replace the first â€˜Pâ€™ in population with a â€˜Câ€™! Migration has also made some parts of the world receive a lot of people that have impacted on the population. Lack of education which has made a few people reject birth control measures is another factor. In the same vein, religious and traditional beliefs have been adduced as reasons why birth control and other measures to reduce procreation are not popular. In our case, the issue of migration and decline in death rate cannot be said to be major reasons why our population is increasing in such an alarming manner.
Literature is also replete with population theories which have either been accepted or discarded. The first attempt to call the attention of the world to the population crises was made by a renowned economist Thomas R. Malthus in 1798. His theory which was later termed pessimistic, simply warned that population was growing in geometric progression while food supply was growing at arithmetic progression. He, therefore, recommended what he called â€œpreventive measuresâ€ to manage population growth. These preventive measures include late marriages, birth control, and celibacy. He added that if the preventive measures were ignored, â€œpositive measuresâ€ will be the consequence which man had no control over. Positive measures would include starvation, hunger, strife, pestilence, civil war and natural disasters. Both of them would achieve the same purpose but one would be more destructive than the other. After roundly condemning Malthus, many other theories had been propounded which were also criticized until the more popular and acceptable â€œtheory of demographic transitionâ€ which is based on the actual population trends of advanced countries. According to this theory, every country passes through three different stages of population growth. In the first stage, the birth rate and the death rate are high and the growth rate of population is low. In the second stage, the birth rate remains stable but the death rate falls rapidly. As a result, the growth rate of population increases very swiftly. In the last stage, the birth rate starts falling and tends to equal the death rate. The growth rate of population is very slow. While this theory is popular with western economists, it has its pitfalls. It assumes that there is a historical trajectory that all the countries of the world must pass through. Science does not support this and the experiences of countries like Singapore that transited from 3rd world to the first world put a lie on that â€œtrajectoryâ€.
Without boring readers with theories, one is of the view that there is some sense in taking a look at the Malthusian theory again. Our experience in Nigeria seems to bear him out. Without preventive and deliberate efforts to check exponential population growth, we may be left with no option than the positive measures which will normally spiral out of our control. We are already witnesses to some positive fallouts as if Malthus saw this day in 1798. We are not strange to starvation, hunger, strife, kidnapping, armed robbery, violence and even war. The immediate fallouts may be different, but if you pause and investigate remote and latent causes, you cannot but agree with Malthus. The few facilities provided are already overstretched and deliberate efforts are not enough, nor are resources enough to make additional provisions to accommodate the many more mouths we have to feed. This explains why in spite of the economic growth of the past, we remained a very poor country. Anytime you translate absolute statistics to average numbers, the country begins to plummet towards the worst social and economic quadrants. Per capita income is one statistic that readily comes to mind. With a GDP of $415b by the end of 2016, Nigeria was the largest economy of the 53 African countries and the 26th largest economy out of 190 in the world. By the time you introduce the law of averages into the equation, Nigeria ends up with GDP Per Capita of $2260 and drops to number 17 in Africa and No. 133 in the world. If somehow, the number of people sharing this same GDP increases by a few more million, your guess should be as good as mine. It is therefore imperative that we seriously begin to look at policies to manage the rate of growth of our population. If we fail to do it, the positive force of nature may have to do it for us and in that case, it would be completely outside our control.
Permit me to use this opportunity to wish my Muslim readers Barkade Sallah. Eid Mubarak.