Regine Hess, deputy head of mission in the German embassy in Nigeria recently kicked up a storm that would send shivers down the spines of the rulers of Nigeria, and even the rich and the poor in the land. The German diplomat wondered why young Nigerians were fleeing the country in droves and raised several rhetorical questions about the catalogue of woes plaguing Nigeria.
The diplomat who shares the same surname with Rudolf Hess, Adolf Hitler’s deputy, eventually provided answers to the rhetorical questions.
Drawing attention to Nigeria’s 2019 budget of less than $29 billion for the services of 201 million people, Hess said the budget was too little to fund the education and healthcare needs of Nigeria’s teeming population.
“It (Nigerian government) should make sure that the Nigerian youths find a future in their nation. (The budget) does not fit the growth of the nation; it is too small to cope with the number of Nigerians coming into this world. Birth rate is far too big compared to the economic growth of this country. This is an enormous mismatch which has to be addressed”, said the German diplomat.
Hess drew attention of the rulers of Nigeria to the yawning gap between population and economic growth rates and concluded that Nigeria was making more babies and less money.
That explains why Nigeria now makes news for the wrong reasons in the entire globe. Nigeria is now the global headquarters of abject poverty. With 91 million people toiling in abject poverty, Nigeria has beaten India, the world’s second most populous nation, to the shameful position of the country with the highest number of people in abject poverty.
The African Development Bank (AfDB) puts Nigeria’s poverty rate at 80 per cent. With a population of 201 million Nigeria has 160.8 million people toiling below poverty line. It has the world’s fourth highest maternal and infant mortality rates. It is one of the most dangerous places in the world to give birth. One in every four Nigerian child is malnourished. More than 13 million Nigerian children of school age are out of school. Nigeria’s doctor-to-patient ratio stands at one doctor to 5, 025 patients. The World Health Organisation (WHO) standard demands a doctor-to-patient ratio of one to 600.
Regine Hess analysis blames the catalogue of woes befalling Nigeria on a population growing faster than economic growth rate.
The United Nations Fund for Population Activities (UNFPA) data puts Nigeria’s fertility rate at a whooping 5.3 children per woman. The world’s average is 2.9 children per woman. So Nigeria is procreating at almost twice the world’s average rate.
Nigeria’s population was a scant 55 million in 1963. By 1973 it surged to 81 million. Two weeks ago the UNFPA announced that Nigeria now has 201 million mouths to feed.
Nigeria’s population is a sharp contrast with the development in advanced economies like Germany and Japan. Germany’s fertility rate is a scant 1.3 children per woman. The population of Germany was 60 million in 1939. Some 80 years after that the population of the world’s fourth largest economy, has only inched up to 82 million. It has only grown by 22 million in 80 years. Nigeria’s population grew by 146 million 56 years.
Nigeria’s population explosion is a tragic phenomenon with daring consequences. The senseless slaughter of humans in northern Nigeria which is gradually engulfing the whole federation is one of the consequences of the calamitous mismatch between population and economic growth. Millions of youths who were deprived of education by the senseless population growth are now being recruited into the growing ranks of armed bandits, kidnappers and robbers terrorizing the land.
The population explosion is the product of a primitive culture that stupidly believes that fruits cannot break the branch of a tree. People just deliver children without planning for them. Besides, religion plays a key role in Nigeria’s population explosion. Religious leaders promote polygamy and condemn family planning.
Over the years successive governments in Nigeria have cowered under pressures from religious and primitive cultural believes when it comes to enforcing strict population control. Now with dwindling resources and population explosion tearing society apart at the seams with herdsmen killings, banditry, kidnappings and robbery, government has no option than to draw the breaks on population growth.
Since years of persuasion has failed to taming the population, the federal government must take firm steps to show Nigerians that unplanned parenthood is a sentence to permanent abject poverty.
No amount of persuasion can convince an ignorant people to reduce the alarming fertility rate. The federal government has to fix Nigeria’s fertility rate at three children per woman.
Those who raise less number of children should be rewarded with attractive incentives that would make population explosion protagonists shudder in disbelieve.
Since Nigeria’s rulers cannot grow the economy, they should control the population. If we cannot defuse the ticking population time-bomb, very soon the rich themselves would join the deprived youth of the country in the demeaning flight to Europe and North America.
The time to act is now. China delayed its population control measures for too long and was only compelled to take the drastic measure of pegging fertility rate at one child per woman after the damage had been done. Decades of that policy has imposed an ageing population on China. Nigeria may face that situation if it fails to act now.