Today I thought that I would return to Nigeria and its growing population.  The issue is important because of Nigeria’s current size (around 170 million people, making it the seventh largest population in the world) and its growth rate which will see it hitting 700 million by the end of the century.  Although this last figure is from the UN and should be treated with a large shaker of salt as it is so far in the future, it is clear that Nigeria will be growing for a long time yet.  I shared with you all a couple of weeks ago a letter from a reader of the Nigerian Guardian. In it, the author was critical of the Gates Foundation’s emphasis on providing money for birth control rather than trying to deal with Nigeria’s other, more pressing, issues.

The editor of the same newspaper prepared an editorial over the weekend discussing what to do about Nigeria’s population growth. I recommend it as a thoughtful and balanced piece that discusses many aspects of the issue.  Again, it is a useful example of what people in the developing world think about a matter that many, many people in the developed world opine and fret about. (Yours truly not excepted!) So rather than regurgitating what someone from the outside thinks and wants for Nigeria, let’s see what someone in Nigeria wants.

The issue is on the table because of the recent comments of the Nigerian president, Dr Goodluck Jonathan:

“At the present rate, the population of Nigeria is projected by the UNDP to hit 257.8 million by the year 2030. These figures must have alarmed Dr. Jonathan enough to, at the inauguration of the chairman and commissioners of the National Population Commission, hint at a plan to legislate some form of population control.”

As the author recognises, there are huge challenges brought by a swiftly growing population:

“A nation with more mouths than it can feed is condemned to be at the mercy of other nations. Food insecurity is, for individuals as for nations, the most serious form of insecurity. Besides, a large population may overburden health, education, power, transportation and other critical infrastructure that are sine-qua-non for the development of the human resource that, in turn, is the key to national development and progress. A shortage of the basic necessities of life causes social unrest and threatens peace and stability.”

However, to say that to do away with population growth (and perhaps even do away with some of its current population) would solve Nigeria’s problems is wrong:

“For a landmass of  nearly a million square kilometres, blessed with a  large mass of arable  land and  a wide variety  of flora and fauna, as well as  many minerals in commercial  quantities,  Nigeria is most endowed  to support  the  present population and  make the best of it.  And here lies the crux of the matter.

China, with about ten times Nigeria’s population does not import food for its teeming citizens; Nigeria not only does import food but such food items as rice and palm oil that it can perfectly produce.  Nigeria ranks high among the oil producing countries but stands miserably  low on the  human development  scale: Nigeria’s level of unemployment  i.e. putting  citizens  to productive, wealth-creating  work remains intolerably high.”

Like most poverty and hunger in the world, the reason for these evils in Nigeria is not too many people. There is enough food in the world. People starve because we do not distribute that food well enough and because of wastage, war and political instability.  To say we need to cut population to stop people starving misses this point and tries to bring about a “quick fix”.  As I’ve mentioned before, when the population of the world was much lower, there were starving people. Overpopulation is a trite, easy and wrong reason to pick on. But back to the editorial:

“The point is simple and clear: there is enough in the land for every citizen if the resources are equitably shared and opportunities are allowed by those entrusted to manage the affairs of the nation. The problem, therefore, is not so much with a rising population as the misappropriation, nay, the brazen theft of the commonwealth by a cabal in politics, government, business, and other sectors of society.”

Without being an expert on Nigerian (or is it Niger?? I still laugh when I see that video) politics, is blaming population a nice smokescreen to divert focus away from matters that the President would prefer not to discuss? That is an honest question, I am not trying to make dark hints here, perhaps some of our Nigerian readers could help me here? 

“The point needs to be made too that a large population can be an asset or a burden. On the one hand, a large trained, skilled and productive population produces goods and services that meet the needs of the large internal market, and surplus for export. The local economy can only be the better for it. Again China with its billion plus population is a good example. So is the United States that is about twice Nigeria in population. On the other hand, a large poorly educated, unskilled, and unproductive population is unemployable and is a body of unemployed consumers of food and other necessities of life…In sum, the president should concern himself less with the growing population; and more with creating an environment conducive for the people to be productive and useful to themselves and their country.”

Amen to that. Let’s not talk population control before we see what inequities in the world need addressing first. 

Marcus Roberts is a Senior Researcher at the Maxim Institute in Auckland, New Zealand, and was co-editor of the former MercatorNet blog, Demography is Destiny. Marcus has a background in the law, both...