By jerry Uwah
Th is year’s World Population Day threw up sad reminders about the population time bomb ticking away leisurely in Nigeria. At the current annual population growth rate of 3.2 per cent, Nigeria would have more than 220 million mouths to feed by the year 2030. By 2050, Nigeria’s population will be larger than that of the United States of America. Th e U.S has a population of 324 million while Nigeria’s current population stands at 182 million. By 2050 Nigeria would probably have the world’s fourth largest population.
Nigeria’s population was a scant 55 million in 1963. By 1973 it surged to 81 million. In the last 44 years it has more than doubled. Th at is a sharp contrast with developments in advanced economies like Germany and Japan. Th e population of Germany was 60 million in 1939. In the last 78 years, the population of the world’s fourth largest economy has only inched up to 82 million. Many see Nigeria’s population boom as a huge economic incentive. Th ey argue that it provides a huge market that no foreign investor could aff ord to ignore. But foreign investors are interested in population that can back up demand with purchasing power. Ironically, a chunk of Nigeria’s population has no purchasing power. In a population of 182 million, more than 110 million live below poverty line. Nigeria’s population boom is a ticking time bomb because it is growing faster than the economy. Th at creates a debilitating infrastructure defi cit. Last year the economy receded by 1.5 per cent but population surged by 3.2 per cent. Normally, an economy must grow at twice the rate of the population to provide adequate infrastructure for the new arrivals. Germany’s population is less than half of Nigeria’s, but foreign investors fl ock there because the population is fi nancially empowered.
Nigeria has a rather peculiar situation imposed on it by decades of unmitigated corruption. For more than fi ve years, Nigeria’s economy was growing at annual average rate of six per cent. Th at is almost twice the population growth rate. Unfortunately, a weird income distribution system diverted the income into the pockets of corrupt politicians, crooked top civil servants and fraudulent businessmen. Statistics suggest that less than 200 former governors, deputy governors, presidents and vice presidents collect well over N1 trillion annually as pensions and fringe benefi ts. A corrupt banking system lent money to fraudulent businessmen without collaterals and ended up imposing bad loans of N3 trillion that had to be inherited by the Assets Management Corporation of Nigeria (AMCON) at the expense of tax payers.
Th at explains why thousands of primary and secondary school pupils receive lessons under trees or at best, leaking roofs. It equally explains why there are so few hospitals and doctors that thousands of Nigerians die daily in their homes as there are no hospital beds to admit them. Th e unhealthy concentration of land transportation modes on dilapidated roads in the face of a comatose rail system is the product of the weird income distribution system and unmitigated population growth that has over-stretched the system.
Th e rulers of Nigeria have a dangerous situation in their hands. Nigeria’s population time bomb is perilously close to a calamitous explosion. It needs drastic control while economic growth has to be accelerated. Th e income distribution system itself must be overhauled to free resources for investments that would lift 110 million people out of poverty. Th at is an enormous task given the faltering campaign against corruption which is currently being inhibited by a compromised judiciary and vested interests in the legislative arm of government. Even the lack-lustre eff ort at applying the brakes on population growth is meeting a stiff resistance from an uninformed populace and an ill-equipped family planning system.
Statistics suggest that only one in fi ve women of child-bearing age have access to family planning services. Government has to work harder to reach those longing for family planning services. Th ere is a huge resistance against population control. Muhammadu Sanusi II, the revered emir of Kano and former governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) was almost dethroned some months ago for his strident campaign against the al-majiri system which he blamed on the greedy poor men who marry more wives than they could aff ord and breed children just for the streets.