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Sustainable Development: Does Nigeria Have a Population Challenge? - Sustainable Conversations
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Sustainable Development: Does Nigeria Have a Population Challenge?

In July 2019, the population of Nigeria was estimated at 200,963,599 by the United Nations, ranking it the 7thmost populated nation in the worldand the largest in Africa.  The entire population of Nigeria accounts for about 2.35% of the entire world population. This means that about 1 out of every 43 people in the world is a citizen of Nigeria(National Bureau of Statistics).

In Nigeria, Lagos State ranks the highest, with a population of around 17.5 million. This is as a result of rural-urban migration into the state due to its conceived status as an economically viable state. The other four cities ranked high in population are Kano, Ibadan, Benin City, and Port Harcourt.

The life expectancy in Nigeria is, unfortunately, the lowest in the whole of West Africa. The average life expectancy is around 54.5 years of age according to WHO data, with men living an average of 53.7 years and women living an average of 55.4 years. This very low number can be attributed to the fact that the country has a lot of health issues, which no doubt stems from the level of poverty in the country. The United Nations project that the overall population of Nigeria will reach about 398 million by the end of the year 2050.

Year  Population Population Rank Growth Rate
2019 200,963,599 7 2.60%
2018 195,874,683 7 2.62%
2017 190,873,244 7 2.64%
2016 185,960,241 7 2.66%
2015 181,137,448 7 2.71%

Nigeria Population by Year (Historical)                 Source: World Population Prospects (2019 Revision)

Some positive results have been attributed to high population rates in some economies. They include unprecedented opportunity for foreign investments and economic and social development through innovations. Nigeria has always relied on its population size as a means of attracting investors into the country but the increase in population has led to high population density and air pollution in most cities.

High population canresult inreduction of average econmic output, low and stagnant average income, pressure on agricultural land, food, employment creation, urban housing, space, standard of living, access to quality education, health facilities and other infrastructures, scarcities and economic hardship, malnutrition and high death rate, when not properly managed.

Other basic necessities such as safe drinking water, good housing and constant electricity supply have become luxuries in Nigeria because as efforts are made to satisfy some communities, larger numbers elsewhere seek for attention, thereby thwartingtheefforts that are being made in the attainment of sustainable development.The overall effects of this pressure on the living standards, resources use and the environment will continue to change the Nigerian landscape for a very long period of time if proactive measures are not taken to curb the rapid population growth.

In 2004, Nigeria adopted the National Policy on Population for Sustainable Development (NPP), with an end date of 2015 for most of its targets. The policy wasaimed at improving the standards of living and quality of life for Nigeriancitizens whileaddressing the complex interrelationships between population and development. Specific interventions for nine thematic areas,which include: health, environment, education, communication, population dynamics, youth and adolescents, socio-cultural barriers and legal support, population and development planning, and population statistics  were identified as key to Nigeria’s sustainable development.

Considering the recent reports that shows Nigeria’s level of poverty, it is obvious thatthe targets of the NPP have not been successfully met. This might be connected with the same factors that always mitigate against other development plans and policies ranging from lack of commitment, lack of political will, corruption, poor attitude from the populace, funding etc.

It would be worthwhile to learn a few useful lessons from developing countries that have achieved commendable milestones in dealing with population issues.

China’s Population Reform

China had to deal with its population challenges in the 1970s when its population was approaching the one-billion mark. The country’s leadersbegan to considerthoughts on how to curb a population situation that was slowly becoming a menace.They initially suffered from the inevitable situations surrounding population explosion, but were able to manage and check this problem by adopting apopulation control policy that places a limitation on the birth rate.

The government of China restricted child birth to one child birth per family and this resulted in a population pattern characterised by a rapid increase in the working-age population and a decrease in the dependency ratio (the ratio of dependants to the working-age population) and also reduced high infant mortality, old-age social security, lack of population control education; which is often experienced in countries with uncontrolled population growth.

In the time that followed, the country has been able to raise the standards of living by keeping growth rates down. Also, access to natural resources have increased drastically. According to the State Family Planning Commission, access to tap water has increased from eighty-four percent to ninety-four percent in the last fifteen years. Furthermore, access to natural gas has risen from sixteen percent to seventy-three percent.

The policy ensured that investment in education was properly executed by building a more educated future workforce. The huge population also forced a large number of the Chinese people to invest in other countries bybringing back the profits made from trade in other countries to their country, thereby increasing China’s GDP. The country focused on a command economy that was centrally planned. Agricultural activities by individual familieswere abolished and communal agriculture was encouraged. This was an agricultural system initially referred to as “agricultural producer cooperatives” butlater became the “rural people’s Communes”. The planning state commission developed a plan of allocating industrial inputs and outputs using administrative means. This industry caused the elimination of market forces and large-scale commerce. Unlike in other economies where the labour market allocated jobs to the skilled workers, here the government did the job allocation and setting of wages. There was rationalization of consumer goods and farmers’ prices were not a major determinant of agricultural products procurement by the government. Every action taken by the government ensured the welfare of all so that the country could move forward as one entity.

From the foregoing, Nigeria can take some proactive steps to achieve sustainable development in the face of current population explosion. Recent technological innovations in food and agricultural production offer the opportunity to combat the threat of food insecurity posed by growing population. Conservation practices such as no-till farming which can reduce soil erosion and chemical runoff, precision farming which allows more exact applications of chemical fertilizers and pesticides reducing the quantities required, and other environmentally benign management practices have been widely adopted around the world without significant sacrifices in total food production.

A high population always provides a nation with a large and affordable labour force, while at the same time being a basis for a wide market for its products. The private sector can take advantage of the opportunities presented by the country’s population density by engaging more people in manufacturing and agricultural ventures for local and international market, making use of the large and affordable labour force, thereby reducing the level of unemployment.

Population variables play an important role in the development of a country. Key stakeholders should come to terms with the linkages between population factors and the broader developmental issues like housing, education, health, agriculture, energy, environmental, gender concerns, food security and the security of life and properties.Public awareness programmes regarding family planning is key in raising awareness among citizens about effects of overpopulation and this can go a long way to control the rate of population growth. The positive indications of high population need to be leveraged on, whilst implementing measures to curtail the negative impacts, in order to achieve sustainable development in the country.

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