The Speaker of the House of Representatives, Rep. Femi Gbajabiamila, has said that Nigeria needs to urgently harness and maximise the advantages of its changing population structure.
He said governments at all levels must identify and be deliberate in taking actions that must be sustained to do this.
Gbajabiamila spoke in Abuja on Monday at an event, themed: “Parliamentary Summit on Fast-Tracking Nigeria’s Demographic Transition,” organised by his office in collaboration with the National Population Commission with support from the World Bank.
Stakeholders at the summit included members of the House of Representatives; Minister of Women Affairs, Dame Pauline Tallen; Minister of State for Finance, Budget and National Planning, Clement Agba, who was represented; Emir of Shonga, His Royal Highness Dr. Haliru Yahaya; Director General, Budget Office of the Federation, Ben Akabueze; World Bank Country Director, Shubham Chaudhuri; Executive Director, Legislative Initiative for Sustainable Development; Development Director, Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office; Country Representative, United Nations Population Fund, Ulla Mueller, who was represented; as well as Deputy for Training, Research and Development, NPFPB BKKBN, Indonesia, Prof. Rizal Damanik, who shared the Indonesian experience on demographic transition virtually.
Notwithstanding, Gbajabiamila noted that Nigeria could not afford to be complacent about the issue of demographic transition as that could be fatal in future if action was not taken now.
The Speaker stated: “It has been sixteen years since Nigeria’s last population and housing census.
“Our data about our population today is mainly based on projections and estimates rather than actual census data.
“What we do know for sure is that Nigeria has a significant and growing youth bulge in our population.
“And we also know that whether this fact turns out to be a good thing or a tragedy for our nation depends on the policy choices we make today and the actions we take now.
“Specifically, we are here to discuss the demographic dividend, that is, the growth in an economy that accrues as a result of a change in the age structure of a country’s population.
“To achieve this growth, we must consider deliberate, immediate and sustained action to drive a demographic transition that makes economic growth more attainable.
“This summit is an opportunity for policymakers and stakeholders to become acquainted with the twin ideas of demographic dividend and demographic transition.
“It is expected that participants in this summit will emerge from this summit with greater clarity about the facts of our nation’s population size, the challenges of unmanaged growth and the opportunities that can arise from implementing a sensible national population management policy.”
The Speaker also called on stakeholders and policymakers to be mindful of people’s diverse socio-cultural leanings while deliberating on actionable steps to be taken to address the issue, adding: “Conversations about population management can quickly become controversial when cultural and religious beliefs appear to conflict with the policy choices being proposed and considered.
“History is replete with instances of bad actors offering and, in some cases, implementing population management methods that appall the mind and offend the conscience of all.
“It is of the utmost importance that our conversations here consider these concerns and make commensurate plans to ensure they remain unfounded.”
The stakeholders, including CSOs and development partners, in their goodwill messages were all in agreement on the urgent need to fast-track all steps being taken and to be taken to ensure that the movement of the Nigerian population from an ageing to a vibrant youthful one should not be handled with levity.
It was advised that Nigeria could emulate Indonesia’s model of addressing the issue since the Nigerian population as currently structured was bound to be on the increase.
According to the stakeholders, since the emerging youth population is an asset that can drive the dividends of demographic transition, the government must pay special attention to empowering the girl-child by making her stay in school and acquire the necessary skills beneficial to her immediate community.
They also called for a national framework on population demographics, appropriate legislation and adequate funding of the NPC to fully carry out its mandate periodically.
Dr. Eyitayo Oyetunji of the NPC in his presentation: “Milestones in DD agenda in Nigeria,” noted that Nigeria started addressing the issue of population growth and movement early being one of the first countries to launch a road map as early as 2017.
However, Oyetunji warned that complacency should be avoided as that may prove fatal considering that signs of a miscarriage of the steps being taken are getting ominous.
Dr. Yahaya, who said the girl child must be given focus, urged that the traditional institution, with its influence at the grassroots, should be fully involved in the implementation of actions to be taken towards deriving maximum dividends from demographic transition.
The development partners pledged their readiness to continue to assist Nigeria in addressing the issue at stake.