“Preview of an overcrowded planet” – The New York Times takes on Nigeria’s population growth

by Lekan Olanrewaju

Photo Credit: NY Times

You know all that talk about Lagos supposedly being the largest African city in the world and Nigeria the 6th most populous nation on the planet? Turns out there might be some serious downsides to that, something that Y! has discussed before.

A new report by the New York Times uses Nigeria as a case study in population growth around the world, stating that at the current growth rate, the country will have a population of 300 million people in only a quarter of a century.

“The pace of growth in Africa is unlike anything else ever in history and a critical problem,” Joel E. Cohen, a professor of population at Rockefeller University in New York City says. “What is effective in the context of these countries may not be what worked in Latin America or Bangladesh.”

Peter Ogunjuyigbe, a demographer at Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife said: “Population is key. If you don’t take care of population, schools can’t cope, hospitals can’t cope, there’s not enough housing — there’s nothing you can do to have economic development.”

See excerpts from the Times article:

Lifelong residents like Peju Taofika and her three granddaughters inhabit a room in a typical apartment block known as a “Face Me, Face You” because whole families squeeze into 7-by-11-foot rooms along a narrow corridor. Up to 50 people share a kitchen, toilet and sink — though the pipes in the neighborhood often no longer carry water.

At Alapere Primary School, more than 100 students cram into most classrooms, two to a desk.

As graduates pour out of high schools and universities, Nigeria’s unemployment rate is nearly 50 percent for people in urban areas ages 15 to 24 — driving crime and discontent.

The growing upper-middle class also feels the squeeze, as commutes from even nearby suburbs can run two to three hours.

Last October, the United Nations announced the global population had breached seven billion and would expand rapidly for decades, taxing natural resources if countries cannot better manage the growth.

Nearly all of the increase is in sub-Saharan Africa, where the population rise far outstrips economic expansion. Of the roughly 20 countries where women average more than five children, almost all are in the region.

Nigeria, already the world’s sixth most populous nation with 167 million people, is a crucial test case, since its success or failure at bringing down birthrates will have outsize influence on the world’s population. If this large nation rich with oil cannot control its growth, what hope is there for the many smaller, poorer countries?

“Population is key,” said Peter Ogunjuyigbe, a demographer at Obafemi Awolowo University in the small central city of Ile-Ife. “If you don’t take care of population, schools can’t cope, hospitals can’t cope, there’s not enough housing — there’s nothing you can do to have economic development.”

The Nigerian government is rapidly building infrastructure but cannot keep up, and some experts worry that it, and other African nations, will not act forcefully enough to rein in population growth. For two decades, the Nigerian government has recommended that families limit themselves to four children, with little effect.

The article also points to the fact that with growth in infrastructure being far outpaced by population increase, unemployment rates would only continue to increase. They also linked this to the growth of the Boko Haram sect.

Although he acknowledged that more countries were trying to control population, Parfait M. Eloundou-Enyegue, a professor of development sociology at Cornell University, said, “Many countries only get religion when faced with food riots or being told they have the highest fertility rate in the world or start worrying about political unrest.”

In Nigeria, experts say, the swelling ranks of unemployed youths with little hope have fed the growth of the radical Islamist group Boko Haram, which has bombed or burned more than a dozen churches and schools this year.

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