There is need to invest massively in education
According to the latest figures from the United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF), Nigeria currently accounts for 20 per cent of all the births in Africa and five per cent of the global total. In a report titled, “Generation 2030 Africa 2.0: Prioritising investments in children to reap the demographic dividend,” UNICEF projects that one in every 13 births globally would take place in Nigeria by 2050. “Nigeria currently accounts for nearly 20 per cent of all of Africa’s births and 5 per cent of the global total. Between 2016 and 2030, 120 million births will take place in Nigeria alone – more than all the births in Europe – accounting for 6 per cent of the global total for that period.”
To underscore the challenge, UNICEF stated: “In 1950, Africa had just above 10 per cent of the world’s children. By 2100, if current trends persist, around 50 per cent of all the world’s children will be African. By 2030, the end year for achieving the 2030 Agenda for Development, Africa’s under-18 population is projected to increase by around 170 million, reaching a total of 750 million. By mid-century, around 42 per cent of the world’s births, 41 per cent of all under-fives, 38 per cent of all under-18s, and 36 per cent of all adolescents will be African.”
In stressing the need to invest in the potential of the projected one billion children in Africa, Marie-Pierre Poirier, UNICEF’s Regional Director for West and Central Africa, said if leaders on the continent can step up “investments in children and youth now, transforms its education systems and empowers women and girls to participate fully in community, workplace and political life, it will be able to reap faster, deeper and longer dividends from its demographic transition”. However, she also added that “if investments do not occur in Africa’s youth and children, the once-in-a-generation opportunity of a demographic dividend may be replaced by a demographic disaster, characterised by unemployment and instability.”
The authorities can take the positive in that report. 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 government can design appropriate policies in that direction. There is therefore the need to invest massively in education as prescribed by the UNICEF report. There is also the need for development in infrastructure so as to ensure sustainable support for the bulging size of our national population. For instance, clean water is a finite resource everywhere in the world and more so in our country where access is not guaranteed for the vast majority, especially in the rural areas.
Against the background that Nigeria is not showing any sign of achieving the set goals in such critical areas as job creation, food security, universal basic education, provision of shelter for all and poverty eradication, we should be concerned about a population growth that cannot be matched with a sustainable infrastructure and social services. It is a scary scenario. 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.
With experts warning of the dire consequences of our uncontrolled population growth, the prognosis is that there may come a time when it would be difficult for us to feed the ever increasing number of citizens. Given that an idle (and largely illiterate population) such as we breed in Nigeria is a disaster waiting to happen, policymakers should begin to focus their attention on how to avert this ticking time bomb.