by Thompson Ayodele and Olusegun Sotola
THE administration of President Goodluck Jonathan wants to make laws that will control population growth in Nigeria. The President said this during the inauguration of the Chairman and Commissioners of the National Population Commission (NPC). According to him the government cannot fold its arms until the country’s population becomes uncontrollable.
This statement is an offshoot of the wrongly held age long notion that increased population retards economic growth. The mindset is that Nigeria is overpopulated or heading towards overpopulation and if nothing is done to deliberately halt the trend, several economic and social consequences could ensure. One of such imagined consequences is that population will outgrow the resources as we were taught in high school economics.
This age-long Malthusian theory is wrong. It is more dangerous for modern day leaders to hold on to such apocalyptic view. The fears that there are too many people in the country are misplaced. Any policy aims to address such imaginary problem will be dangerous. Contrary to this belief, available evidence suggests that policies and programmes that artificially frustrate natural progression in population create demographic problems in the medium to long term, retard overall development and produce hordes of unintended consequences.
Available statistics shows that Nigeria population has quadrupled since independence, and despite the maladministration and chronic bad governance over the years, the only impetus for growth is on the account of the population. For instance, bulk of the Foreign Direct Investments (FDI) attracted into the country was occasioned by the market size. According to World Bank data, Foreign Direct Investment has been persistently rising, hovering between $6 billion and $8.5 billion since 2007. The astronomical growth in the telecom and IT phenomenon in Nigeria are essentially driven by market size, which is a function of the population.
Small countries are unattractive for investment except when they have natural resources such as oil and gas. This is because the size of the markets is often limited and they suffer from diseconomies of scale. What the proponents of population reduction seem to have glossed over is countries with high population tend to have either military or economic power or both. They tend to have influence in world’s affairs. These countries include but not limited to China, United States, India, Malaysia, Brazil, Indonesia and many more. .
There are public policy lessons Nigeria could learn from countries that have promulgated law to control birth. For instance, in China there is a high rate of abandonment and infanticide especially of girl child. Available data shows there are 32 million more male than female under the age of 20. Sex selective abortion accounts for almost all the excess. At a point, the ratio of male to female was 130 to 100 creating a gender crisis. Because of the gender crisis created by the one-child policy, the Chinese government has set a five-year policy plan to bridge the male-female ratio to 113:100 by year 2016. Whatever methods of birth control adopted in Nigeria will create bigger crisis. The strong preference for boys and associated gender crisis, which will be fuelled by corruption for people who want to circumvent the law would be the beginning of the consequences.
Apart from the effects of state intervention in birth planning, the Nigeria population size does not need any state intervention or injecting tax payers’ money. Already birth per thousand is declining. It is now 39.2 per thousand in 2012 down from 43 per thousand in 2008. The population growth rate is now about 2 per cent yearly, down from 3 per cent few years ago. As a matter of fact, the country population is growing at a declining rate. The population increased by over 70 per cent between 1991 and 2008. By a recent estimate, it would increase by 42 per cent by the year 2050. It is pointless to initiate any birth control as a deliberate government policy.
The population problem in Nigeria is a bogeyman. Presently, close to 50 per cent of Nigeria population are between the ages of 1 and 15. The youngest of the age range will be about 40 years old in 2050 and will have fewer children compare to their parents. Unbiased analysis of this trend suggests Nigeria population will stagnate around that time. There will be more adult population. The effects of aged population are severe and this explains why it is illogical to deliberately force birth control on Nigerians.
Practical examples exist on the implications of aged society. Many developed economies are at present promoting population growth. This is particularly noticeable in some Organisation for Economic Cooperation and
Development (OECD) countries where policy makers have designed policies aimed at arresting the ageing population. In Australia for example, since 2004 the government has enacted a Baby Bonus policy, paying women A$3,000 per child. The campaign since 2004 has been tagged: one baby for your husband, one for your wife and one for the country. This campaign is aimed at encouraging families to have more children. Many other developed countries have also enacted immigration policy aimed at enticing young and able adult into their economy.
Julian Simon, in his book, “The Ultimate Resources,” emphasises that less people don’t actually bring about economic growth. He rhetorically asks: “Why are our ancestors not more prosperous when they were just a few thousands on the planet?” According to Simon, while the prices of natural resources have been declining, human beings continue to cost more in term of wages despite our numbers. The facts show that the more the people, the more the prosperity. This is why it is more likely to see highly creative people in China, India, USA and Nigeria than other smaller countries. Across the world, there are more millionaires in big cities than sparsely populated countryside. Conversely, it may interest us to know that famine and starvation mostly occurred in sparsely populated countries.
Considering the challenges faced by investors in Nigeria, the nation’s selling point lies in its market size made possible by population. The belief that high population causes problems is not only wrong, it is also dangerous. It is dangerous because it prevents us from seeing human beings as the ultimate resource without which all other resources are useless. It also instils mindset that people are a burden that are incapable of changing their economic conditions without government help.
Nigeria does not need any birth control law to be rammed through their throats. The decision on the number of kids a family should have is better made by the individual family. Like Chuang tzu said, good order results spontaneously when things are let alone.
*Op-ed pieces and contributions are the opinions of the writers only and do not represent the opinions of Y!/YNaija. This piece was originally printed in Guardian.