Thomas Robert Malthus, in An Essay on the Principle of Population, elevated the discourse on population and political economy when he raised concerns about the negative consequences that may emerge if population growth increases at geometric proportions and food production rates only grows arithmetically. Ever since then, it has become fashionable for different reasons to consider population increase or a large population as a negative trend. Malthus was, however, more worried over a rising population that is not matched with sufficient subsistence resources.
But large population can generate either dividend or disaster. It can either be an asset or a liability. If its potentials are properly harnessed by a visionary leader, it can provide a veritable platform for growth. If not, it can become a source of confusion for clueless leaders.
Nigeria’s current population is estimated to be slightly over 160 million. With a growth rate of 2.8 percent, the United Nations predicts that the country’s population may increase to 440 million by 2050.
The popular perception of Nigeria’s huge population is that it poses a hindrance to development and that for Nigeria to develop, it has to cut its population size drastically. This viewpoint mouthed by international organisations, celebrated by western-sponsored organisations and western donors is not supported by development history or even the economic history of these western nations that pump in so much funds into reducing fertility rates in Africa.
No remarkable industrial growth can be recorded in any economy that has no substantial captive consumer market either within its territory or overseas. Industrial growth in Britain and France, major colonial powers, was spurred not just by the creation of factories in these countries but by the large markets created for their products across colonial and captive markets in Africa, Asia and the New World. The search for markets was no doubt the driving force behind colonisation.
In the United States, rising immigrant population in the 19th and early 20th centuries was a major driver of rapid industrial growth. It can be recalled that cheap Asian labour was notoriously used in breaking labour strikes in the US.
One major reason for the evolution of the European Union was the need to create a large market of workers and consumers. It is not surprising why across Europe today increasing low fertility rates are a challenge. China’s industrial prowess is no doubt a force to reckon with today. This is because it commands a huge local population, a ready market for its industrial products and a substantial labour force that can be galvanised to run its factories. It is common knowledge that many western brands across product lines are churned out massively at low costs in China owing essentially to cheaper cost of labour in the country.
Indeed, after more than 50 years of national development experience, time is really ripe for us to scrutinise a few development theses foisted on us by imperialists who take delight in distracting so-called Third World leaders from their strength. For instance, if rising population is really a disincentive to real development, why have the US, Britain, Canada and Australia been vigorously pursuing diversity immigration programmes?
We therefore believe that what should really worry Nigeria is not a rising population but the seeming absence of visionary leadership – a leadership that sees the strength in our population and uses it to turn around our fortunes. No doubt, Nigeria’s bustling population provided a huge market for the telecommunications industry. With over 136 million active mobile phone subscribers today, Nigeria is surely the dream market for any telecommunications operator.
Nigeria’s population, those at home and in the diaspora, is a veritable source for true industrial take-off. All we need is the right kind of leadership to tap into this huge potential and convert it into an asset rather than a liability. And the time is now.