BusinessDay

High fertility rate should not be Nigeria’s current focus

Nigeria ranks as the most populous nation on the African continent with a large array of the youthful population that has not been put to advantage to enhance growth and sustainable development.

In the absence of a credible population census but according to estimates garnered from the World Bank and the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), an estimated 43 percent of the total population in the country is between the ages of 0-14 while 32 percent of the total population is between the ages of 10-24. In total, the UNFPA estimates Nigeria’s population to be 211.4 million as of 2021.

The direct consequences of the large population of youths in the country would mean that Nigeria invariably has a high fertility rate with a high propensity for a geometric increase in her population which could burgeon into a demographic crisis given the current limited resources available to her howbeit in the midst of plenty.

If $300 is used as a gauge, then 71 percent of Nigerians are poor.

According to a compilation of demographic statistics by the Nigerian Bureau of Statistics (NBS), in Nigeria, most married women (83.4 percent) were not using any contraceptive method to prevent unwanted pregnancy. Yobe state had the highest proportion (98.1 percent) of women who are married without using any contraceptive methods while Lagos state had the least (50.6 percent).

The palpable fear of the potential ‘time bomb’ of the high fertility and dependency rates has not come unnoticed by the government.

Recently, President Muhammadu Buhari launched the Revised National Policy on Population aimed at reducing the fertility rate in the country with a wide adoption of contraceptives. He also inaugurated the National Council on Population Management to be chaired by him, with the Vice President – Professor Yemi Osinbajo as the deputy chairman with Heads of relevant Ministries, Departments, and Agencies as members.

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“The policy emphasizes the urgency to address Nigeria’s sustained high fertility rate, through expanding access to modern family planning, counselling, and commodities as well as promote births spacing.

This will enable Nigeria to achieve rapid fertility control, improve the health of women, adolescents, newborns and children, and other population groups.”

These levels have implications for sustained population growth and narrowed prospects to achieving population management, facilitating sufficient demographic transition, harnessing our demographic endowment and eventually realizing sustainable development,”

“The Revised Population Policy is rich with all necessary information that will guide the implementation of Nigeria’s Mid-term and Perspective Development Plan.

“It will further address concerns of the large population of young people who are our pride, our future, and assets to drive our development efforts.”

Recently, a neurologist Prof. Philip Njemanze has disagreed with the purpose of the National fertility Policy,

“This population policy is the greatest threat to the health of Nigerian women. This could be prevented by implementing Natural Family Planning which is more effective and has no debilitating health effects. Outright, the population reduction is counter-productive to economic development. Population is the main engine driving economic growth worldwide. The most important index is population density,” He said.

The argument of Prof Njemanze bares the question why there are concerns for the increasing population in the country. Ideally, the focus should be geared towards deploying this unique phenomenon to advantage.

The world over, it is a well-known fact that nations like China have been able to navigate a large population – g the largest in the world – to economic advantage.

Lauren Johnston, a China economics and demography expert at SOAS University of London says advocates for a change in strategy from labour-intensive to capital intensive as has been the norm in recent decades.

He says that “China’s younger people are much, much more educated than older people,” she said. “Whereas in Japan the elderly are professionals, in China, they are not losing the level of human capital that the “old after rich” countries are.”

This is a far cry from what obtains in Nigeria – Africa’s most populous nation.

It is more advantageous for Nigeria to deploy itslarge base of youthful population to economic activities like manufacturing and agriculture to increase the productivity level of the economy.

A focus on human resources is the surest way to achieve this. Unfortunately, the allocation of spending to education has ever been plummeting.

Also, according to official data from the Budget office, in the year 2016, 6.7 percent (N369.6 billion) of the total budget of N6.06 trillion was allocated to the education sector. In 2017, the percentage allocation to the sector rose to 7.38 percent (representing an estimate of N550 billion) out of a total budget of N7.29 trillion. In 2018, the percentage allocation again dropped to 7.04 % with N605.8 billion allocated to education of a total budget worth N9.2 trillion. A slight rise was recorded in the year 2019 when N620 billion representing 7.05 percent of a reduced total budget of N8.92 trillion was recorded. In 2020, N671.07 billion or 6.7% was allocated to education out of the N10.33 trillion budget.

In 2021, 5.6 percent (N742.5 billion) of a budget of N13.6 trillion was apportioned to the sector and finally in the current fiscal year, of Nigeria’s 2022 total budget of N17.13 trillion, only a paltry 7.2 percent has been allocated to the education sector, a rise from the previous year.

Thus more attention should be paid to the utilization of a high youthful population and the parallel enforcement of diverse birth control methods to assure healthy and prosperous people in Nigeria.