Sunday, July 11, was World Population Day, a day set aside by the Governing Council of the United Nations Development Programme to raise awareness of global population issues. Nigeria’s population at independence in 1960 was estimated to be 45,138,458. But currently it is estimated at about 211,400,708, growing at between 2.52 and 2.73 per cent per annum over the last 67 years.
This is among the highest growth rates in the world over this period. Nigeria was the 13th most populous country in the world by 1960; now we are number nine and projected to be third with a population of 401,314,997 by 2050. Only China and India will have more people by then. This growth is not sustainable.
I completely forgot the 2021 World Population Day until my wife drew my attention to a news item. About 17,053 babies were born in 18 internally displaced persons camps in Borno State between 2019 and May 31, 2021. Am I surprised? Not at all. She actually drew my attention to the news item to remind me of something I told her long ago. I told her that the poor have more tendency to breed like rabbits because sex is the only pleasure within their reach.
They cannot afford holidays, outings in expensive restaurants, go to movies, etc. The only pleasure they can easily afford is sex. So there is a tendency to over indulge in sex without the discipline (for natural birth control) or resources (for artificial birth control) to control reproduction. Let me hasten to add that my mention of artificial birth control, notwithstanding, I belong to the school of natural family planning and practice natural birth control.
When sex is within marriage, it is the couple’s entitlement. When it is outside marriage, but by consenting adults, there are no legal constraints. But problems arise when people give birth to the number of children they do not have the capacity to cater for. A law enforcement agent on N60,000 salary has over 26 children. He was asked the number of his children and he lost count after mentioning 26 children. Na life be that? With a salary of N60,000, how does he adequately cater for them financially. As a result of frequent transfer of law enforcement agents, his family is based in his hometown because he cannot move the large number. He is, therefore, not involved in the daily lives of his children.
But uncontrolled breeding is not the problem of the poor alone. In Nigeria, besides poverty, our rapid population growth is fueled by ignorance, culture and religion. I have seen many educated women claim ignorance of their safe period, ovulation and unsafe period. So what happened to the biology (reproduction) they learnt in secondary school? They studied it just to pass exams. If the educated do not know the basics of family planning, you can imagine the fate of the larger population that is uneducated.
I respect our culture and religious practices that encourage large families and allow polygamy, but these should be practiced responsibly and with modern realities in mind. The old African societies were communal, so bringing up of children was also communal. A man could bring up 20 children and they would all turn out well because he had the communal support system to help him in his parenting. The communal system is fast eroding, especially in the urban areas. Everybody must now choose the size of cross he can bear; there are no more Simon of Cyrene to help out.
It is very difficult to raise 20 children effectively in today’s world. Even if the financial resources are there, the time resource is not. I spent six hours over two days helping one of my children to review his school work, how can you do that with 20 children? Where do you find time to go for PTA meetings and their other school activities? On the material side, what size of house will accommodate 20 children comfortably? How do you manage with their transportation? With the increasing cost of living, how do you adequately cater for them? Large families do not make sense with our current realities.
I advise my marriage class participants and young people: “After your first two children, pause; look at your finances, your age, your time, dwelling, means of transportation, etc. Do some hard thinking and analysis before you go for number three.” Though I have five children, I advise them not to have more than three. When I had my first child in the late 90s, the hospital bill was N13,800. When I had my last child 10 years later, the hospital had risen to over N100,000. A younger friend, whose wife gave birth via caesarian last year coughed out N2.7m! Need I do analysis of feeding, rent, cost of building your own home, school fees, etc.?
I also advise young people to marry early and have their children early, if possible. The official retirement age is between 55 and 60 years. If possible, by then, you should have trained all your children to a minimum of first degree. Ideally, your retirement money should be spent on yourself, not children’s education or upbringing. You need to give yourself a treat.
Besides, from age 50, men, especially, begin to battle with all kinds of health challenges: high blood pressure, stroke, diabetes, cancer, etc. These ailments cost money to manage and have indeed pauperized many men, including those who thought they saved enough for retirement. To add children’s upkeep and education at this age only adds to the pressure. Is it not scary the rate at which men between 50 and 60 years are dying? The younger generation must learn from the challenges of those ahead.
We must take definitive action on our population growth individually and collectively. Couples should go for smaller family units that they can cater for. Government has to acknowledge and face the problem. A large population can only be an asset if it is educated, skilled and has high purchasing power. Nigeria’s population is a liability.
We have too many poor, uneducated and ignorant people. Millions are either unemployed or unemployable. We need to apply the brakes on our population. I think education of the girl child, especially in educationally backward areas will help. We also need to carry out heavy and sustained enlightenment and suasion across board: churches, mosques, offices and other public spaces. We need to catch children young by teaching them family planning and smaller family units in school.
I do not believe family planning is something we can legislate on in Nigeria because it will not see the light of the day. The government of Gen. Ibrahim Babangida came up with four children per woman, but it did not work.
The birth control effort of Goodluck Jonathan’s government was stillbirth. Too many people in government are culpable. Did you see the drama in the House of Representatives in January 2020, when the majority leader, Alhassan Ado Daguwa, brought his four wives to the full-house plenary and revealed that he has 27 children from the four wives and he was not done with baby making? How can you rely on such a man to make laws on population control?