A population of people
A crowd of people at a market in Lagos, Nigeria (Source: cable.ng)

World population is growing, and it is growing very fast. Now at around 7.6 billion, it is expected to reach 8.5 billion by 2030 and 9.7 billion in 2050. A cause for concern for many.

However, a close look at the details reveals a worrying trend. Population is not growing evenly around the world. The multitude of the growth figures are coming from the less developed parts of the world (mainly Africa and Asia). Between 2015 and 2050 half of world population growth will occur in nine countries; five in Africa, three in Asia with the United States the only developed country on the list.

Clearly, Africa is leading the charge in world population growth. And guess what, even among the lots, one country stands out based on the rapid rate at which its population is growing; Nigeria. You guessed right.

Nigeria’s population, seventh largest in the world (at 198million), is the fastest growing on earth. The UN project the country’s population to surpass that of the United States by 2050. At that point, Nigeria would become the third most populous country in the world. In fact, this might even happen earlier. A recent projection estimates that the country’s population may hit 235 million in 2022. This is due to the average growth rates in the 36 states of the federation.

Now, away from the figures for just a moment. You might want to agree with me that Nigeria’s population with its growth rate, is having negative impacts on the country. Many experts have said; that our population is a determining factor in our continuing underdevelopment as a nation. And it is true.

‘jostle for limited available resources’

An assessment of the basic human development indicators of the United Nations regarding Nigeria tells a lot (i.e. life expectancy, education, and standard of living).

Life expectancy, though estimated to be a bit over the 2016 age of 56, is still less than the global average. Infant and under-five mortality in Nigeria are among the highest in the world (third only behind India and Pakistan). This means 74 out of every thousand newborn babies die while 177 out of every thousand die before the age of five (pdf).

Also, on education, things are quite similar. The most recent data suggest, well over 10.5 million children are out of school. For most that manage to enroll in school, the quality of education they get is poor. Many finish primary school without being able to construct a simple sentence or solve basic arithmetic. Overall between 65 and 75 million Nigerians are illiterates.

Going by the first two development indicators, you get the idea of what standard of living in the country looks like. The GNI per capita in purchasing power parity (PPP) was $2,080 in 2017. In fact, nearly 80% of Nigerians live under $2 a day, 90 million of those have no electricity. Another 60 million do not have access to safe drinking water while 120 million lack good sanitation.

Unsurprisingly, the country’s HDI ranked an embarrassing 152 out of 188 countries, placing the country in the low human development category.

This goes without even considering the high rate of environmental degradation, crime, and other social vices. The incessant ethnic and religious conflicts and the fact that Nigerians still die from diseases almost forgotten in some other parts of the world.

Above all, these facts and figures reveal one very important underlying factor bedeviling Nigeria; that numerous people have to jostle for limited available resources, consequently restricting our development as a nation.

‘a way out’

Just like many societal problems, there is a way out. A way out of Nigeria’s high population growth rate and the challenges it poses. And it is embodied in the term ‘family planning’.

To many of us, family planning is nothing new. It is simply the practice of allowing people to attain their desired number of children and determine the intervals between pregnancies. This is done particularly through contraceptive methods and voluntary sterilization.

Family planning is essential to securing the well-being and autonomy of women while supporting the health and development of communities.

However, most women especially in our part of the world can’t access contraception. According to WHO, 214 million women of reproductive age in developing countries, lack access to modern contraceptive methods.

In Nigeria, just like most other developing countries, the situation is caused by a lack of effective family planning policy. Most times this is due to religious, cultural and political opposition to contraception and the possibility of population decline.

Yet fertility trends over time suggest, interest in the safe and effective management of pregnancy and childbirth is nearly universal among women. Lack of freedom, education, and access to contraception are the major obstacles.

‘effective family planning policy’

Moving forward, we must understand that effective family planning policy should not involve coercion. Rather individual reproductive freedom, which allows women and girls to prevent unwanted pregnancies and conceive only when they want.

Two important factors that help in this regard are female educational attainment and women empowerment. Most times education helps women and girls make informed decisions about pregnancy and childbearing. Research has revealed that the level of a woman’s education is mostly inverse in proportion to the total number of children she will have. It shows highly educated women tend to delay childbearing. This coupled with time spent chasing their careers are likely to reduce their desire for multiple births.

This brings us to the issue of access. Access to contraception especially in suburban and rural communities is very important. In fact, it should be a right afforded to every woman without sentiment or bias. Contraceptives should be made available even in the most remote primary health care facilities.

With guaranteed freedom, adequate education, and access to family planning, decision making on childbearing tend to occur in the context of current personal and socio-economic circumstances.

For instance, a couple may wish to have up to a certain number of children. However, due to circumstances, this may threaten the finances and wellbeing of such a family. Therefore, the cost of catering for each child will probably overwhelm the wish to have more children.

In the end, an effective family planning policy provides an avenue for people most especially women, to make the right choices regarding childbirth. And by extension, this helps in the long-term reduction in population growth.

After all, a population that will make adequate use of resources with the best returns, to sustain a decent standard of living is what Nigeria needs.

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