Few days ago, I threw up an issue on social media waiting for Nigerians to take it up. The torrents of reactions that poured few hours after that simply confirmed that there are so many issues that border on our daily existence, which we prefer not to talk about. We “carry” our faces, as they would say in local parlance, and forget our sorrow.
“When are we going to raise population control to the level of a national discourse?” was the poser I posted on the social media. In the responses that followed, I saw anger. I saw frustrations. I saw sentiments. I saw despair. I saw desperation and I saw determination.
Population looks simple an issue that we all gloss over everyday. And everyday that we sermonise, agonise and scrutinise issues that touch on our daily lives, we carefully pass them by as if they do not form the core of the complications that define us.
“You cannot raise this in Nigeria, please. It will be sacrilege,” retorted one of Nigeria’s well-read columnists, Lasisi Olagunju. But why, I demanded.
Another reaction came from a former Commissioner in Lagos State, Steve Ayorinde, who captured it this way: “This is one of the deadliest time-bombs we are sitting on. We are unwittingly breeding a legion of ‘over-populated’ families who blame not their parents, but uncles, aunties in Abuja, Lagos, Europe for not coming to their aid.”
And yet another volunteer, Sanya Adejokun, said: “When Zainab Ahmed was first appointed into the Finance Ministry, she told an international audience at the Hilton Hotel Abuja that the government would engage religious and traditional leaders on how to bring population under control. Few hours after, she issued a disclaimer.”
And yet one vital response I cannot dismiss in the piece was that offered by Kurtis Adigba, a lawyer, who said, population control is “the most important issue after the unity of the country. We are not talking about it because we don’t see a problem until it explodes in our faces.”
That last contribution is my very worry in this whole hair-splitting matter. This is because I am in a quandary if this matter has indeed not exploded in our faces and we are already roasting in the heat of our indiscretions.
The “sacrilege” as touted by Olagunju directly reminds us of the sentimental attachments bordering on religions. And once religion is involved, everyone avoids like a plague.
However, the plague we avoid with the obvious criminal silence on population control hurts us through the evils of malnutrition, lack of shelter, disease, squalor, crimes, drugs abuse, arson and all that you can imagine in their very tragic and most monstrous dimensions.
The choice is therefore ours to make. Do we talk about this by keeping our religious sentiments and save ourselves the clear and present dangers? Or do we keep our lips sealed and watch ourselves drowned by the overwhelming impacts of this “time-bomb”?
If we can rely on the data provided by the National Population Commission, the country’s head count stood at 208,006,474 as at November 15, 2020. Other indicators show that Nigeria’s population represents 2.64 per cent of the entire world population, while it ranks seventh in the list of countries by population. And one point that must never be ignored in the entire statistics is that 52.0 per cent of the Nigerian population occupies the major urban centres, meaning that the entire mass of the rural locations take care of the 48 per cent.
Sadly, the projections using scientific methods do not look good. Exactly 30 years from now, Nigeria is projected to have about 773 million people. That sounds frightening given the tension that our current 208 million people have created.
Look around you, especially in the urban areas. The pictures that confront you over shelter, food, transportation, education, health, environmental sanity, security, are all too depressing.
With over 13 million out-of-school population, there is even a more worrisome certainty that must be arrested. The poor education facilities have bred for us a legion of unskilled young men and women who wallow further in their circumstances with the sure propensities for mindless procreations.
A year ago, the deposed Emir of Kano, Sanusi Lamido Sanusi, reminded us all (even if we did not listen) that Nigeria’s over 200 million population, rather than being a blessing, is indeed a curse. Sanusi said: “People talk that our population is an asset but we are yet to get there. Nigeria’s population is currently a liability because most of the root causes of problems such as kidnapping armed robbery, Boko Haram, drug addiction are all tied to the population that we have and the question is how do you turn that into a productive one.”
Views such as those expressed by Sanusi from the Northern part of Nigeria are not likely to be applauded by the mass of the people in the region. But can we establish a nexus between the intensity of the aforementioned crimes such as kidnapping, drug addictions, armed robbery in the North and the boom in its population? The probability is very high.
A member of the National Assembly used the floor of the Lower Chamber last year to “celebrate” his 27 children and four wives whom he came to showcase as a mark of honour in front of national televisions. The almajiri system, which has been condemned as outdated even by the Northern elites, remains a significant illustration of the culture of neglect inherent in parenting.
Other parts of Nigeria have not fared better. There is a disturbing statistics in under-aged pregnancy and marriages in other parts of southern Nigeria. Coupled with worsening educational infrastructure culminating in mass failure in examinations, inadequate spaces in tertiary institutions for those who even manage to scale the WAEC/NECO/JAMB hurdles, Nigeria is buffeted in all fronts by an angry and hungry population that won’t just make anything work. The seam is bursting!
And that leads me to the much touted megacity status of Lagos State and other states of Nigeria investing in infrastructure to meet the megacity status. Is it really possible to achieve the goals of a megacity in the face of exploding population? I am not optimistic. I have taken some time to examine the current state of Lagos and the verdict is saddening.
It is fast becoming impossible to enforce traffic rules in Lagos. Attempts by the Lagos Government to instill discipline on the roads, enforce traffic rules, maintain environmental sanity have all be rebuffed by the army of unruly roads users with their “Keke Marwa” (tricycles), “Okada”, motorbikes, wheelbarrow pushers, street hawkers, street beggars, street urchins and many others. It is simply becoming overwhelming.
The last one week has witnessed clashes between the Task Force Men and Okada and Marwa riders simply because they consider traffic rules too “draconian” to cope with. Which society thrives on mishmash? All these, with the rickety means of mass transportation, have created an ugly mélange of metro-disorderliness that make jungles now somewhat more attractive.
I align with Sanusi who said huge population could be a huge advantage. But not here for now! Those who are not ready to listen to the population control sermon are simply busy stoking a conflagration that will be too explosive to handle.
Even in the North, which prides itself as the food basket of Nigeria, the problems have become so hydra-headed that even farmlands are now going empty. The twin evils of kidnapping and insurgency have sent most farmers off their fields and the pang is already being felt across the country in the soaring prices of common foodstuff.
Currently, the World Food Programme lists 8.6 million people in the North East of Nigeria to be insecure food-wise. After the #EndSARS mayhem that rocked some parts of the South-West, residents are yet to overcome the prohibitive prices of food items. Sure, a 100 per cent hike in prices of food has been recorded and the end is not anywhere near.
Some 10 years ago, there were still some audible songs about family planning across Nigeria. Today, it does not appear agencies, ministries of health in states and other relevant bodies “waste” their times preaching this gospel to the obviously deaf again. How can a country’s population be growing in such frighteningly geometric proportion at the same time its economic resources are drying up?
This is where leadership, stripped of all sentiments, comes in.
· Okanlawon, journalists, author, CEO of Proumou Media Consulting, writes through [email protected]; Twitter: @sokanlawon; Instagram – @sok_okanlawon.