A Disaster Waiting to Happen? Nigeria’s Unchecked Population Growth

It is often said that a nation’s true wealth lies in its people. This is because the innovations and processes that generate wealth and spur a country’s development can be championed only by its workforce and human capital. This alone places demography as one of the strongest determinants in the economic development and growth of a nation.

In its World Population Prospects report, the United Nations estimates the world population to have reached 7.7 billion, and projects that by 2050 the world will grow by 2 billion additional people. The UN expects the bulk of additional world population growth to come from sub-Saharan Africa. Presently, sub-Saharan Africa has witnessed the highest increase in population growth and is expected to surpass Central and South East Asia in size to become the most populous of the geographic regions around the world.

Undoubtedly, Nigeria will be responsible for the bulk of the population growth in the Sub-Saharan African region. Currently the most populous country in Africa and the seventh most populous in the world, Nigeria is projected to double its current size by growing from 201 million to 401 million by 2050. Nigeria is also expected to overtake the United States as the third most populous country in the world within the same time frame.

For a country where more than half of the citizens live below the poverty line, Nigeria’s expected population growth can only spell doom. A report by the National Bureau of Statistics puts the 2018 Q3 unemployment rate at 23.1 per cent (up from 18.1 per cent the previous year) and the combined unemployment and underemployment rate set at 43.3 per cent. In the same vein, the Q2 GDP slowed to 1.94 per cent from 2.1 per cent in the first quarter of 2019. Compared with an annual population growth rate of 3.2 per cent, Nigeria’s GDP has neither been able to surpass nor meet its population growth rate. Nigeria, this suggests, may not be able to cater to its burgeoning population.

The effect of this inability is the myriad of economic problems facing Nigeria, ranging from an ailing manufacturing sector, increased unemployment, and crippling poverty to stagnated economic growth. The social issues arising from these problems are even worse.

One of the most glaring social problems arising from mismanaged population growth in Nigeria is evident in the North’s Almajiri system of education. Derived from the root word Al Muhajirun, an Arabic term for Emigrants, the Almajiri system of education dates back to pre-colonial times in Nigeria and is a system of education where young boys leave their homes for distant schools in the pursuit of Islamic education. A well-funded program in the past, it has now become an avenue for parents to dump children whom they cannot cater for or whom they feel are too problematic, leaving them at the mercy of harsh and illiterate ‘mallams’.

With a predominant number of its population as adherents of the Islamic faith, polygamy is widely practised in the North. A consequence of this is a fast-growing population, which proves useful for the elites during elections. After elections, however, the reality for these families is hardship and tough living conditions. With little to no resources and more children than they can fend for, the illegal schools appear like a safe haven to dump the excess baggage. These schools, nevertheless, come with their own perils. A recent exposé by the BBC has shown the squalid and dehumanizing conditions under which the schools are run.

The Islamic militant group known as Boko Haram was originally a Salafist group called Jama’atu Ahlis Sunna Lidda’awati wal-Jihad, an Arabic term meaning ‘People Committed to the Propagation of the Prophet’s Teachings and Jihad.’ The group is believed to have started out as an Islamic school in 2002—much like the Almajiri schools. Its founder, Mohammed Yusuf, was a Muslim cleric who sought to denounce Western education and its influences on lifestyle while promoting strict Islamic leanings in its stead. It is unclear at what point the group turned violent but a few skirmishes with Nigerian authorities, ultimately leading to the death of Yusuf in 2009, is believed to be pivotal in radicalizing the group and turning it to the full-fledged terrorist organization it has become today.

One thing is clear, though. The crippling poverty in the North, overpopulation, and the Almajiri system of education played an important role in birthing the terrorist group as well as sustaining it till today.

It was not long ago that an epidemic of codeine abuse was exposed in Nigeria, together with tramadol abuse and other over the counter painkillers. The use of marijuana and illegal drugs still remain rife. One social vice that has remained in the news, perhaps, for a long while now has been that of human trafficking. Cases abound and still get uncovered daily. There has also been a spike in cybercrime, kidnapping, rape and child labour.

It goes without saying that a highly impoverished and unequal country will likely find an increase in crime and antisocial activities. It has been the nature of man to adapt and try to survive by any means possible. The theory of natural selection and the survival of the fittest comes into play here. Which is why the absurd and inane practice of miracle baby centres, (where teenage girls are forced to produce babies) still thrives in a country currently grappling with overpopulation.

With functioning systems, adopting babies through proper channels ought to be easy. Likewise getting quality education and acquiring the technical skills needed to drive economic activities. Studies have shown a causal relationship between inequality and crime, with improved prospects in the former leading to a significant decrease in the latter. In the same vein, increased economic prosperity has been shown to slow population growth. Women who are educated or economically empowered have more access to contraceptives while households with high income show a propensity for smaller sized families.

A nation’s wealth are its people; but only if they are productively harnessed and provided with the sufficient tools and necessities of life. Turning around a weakened economy is possible. But it is a feat that requires careful planning. With our population size rapidly outpacing our available resources, the time to act is now⎈