The debate about Nigeria’s bourgeoning population has attracted comments from a cross-section of citizens, following job losses of over nine million as authenticated by the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS), under the three-and- half years of the All Progressives Congress (APC), casting a gloomy future. The statistics reeled out by the NBS on job losses have led to discordant tunes, with the Minister of Budget and National Planning, Senator Udoma Udo Udoma, debunking claims that the current administration headed by President Muhammadu Buhari is yet to leave indelible footprints in job creation. Clarifying the current unemployment crisis that has engulfed the country, the minister noted that the increase in the nation’s unemployment rate during the period under review is “not because jobs have not been created by the Buhari Administration but is as a result of the rate of new job creation lagging behind the rate of new entrants into the job market.”
These new entrants into the job market, Udoma explained, is a direct fallout of increasing population growth. Simply put, Nigerians are experiencing unemployment crisis because job opportunities cannot meet the present increasing birth rates in the country. With the nation still not yet out of throes of recession that has left many of its citizens stranded in the hope for economic resuscitation, not a few are convinced that the road to economic buoyancy remains a dreamland. Not even Nigerian optimists are sure of what would happen in the coming months or years. The new medal won by Nigeria as the new world’s poverty capital has thrown the nation down the valley of threatening pain that may take a long while to be removed.
With a population that is swelling in leaps and bounds, Nigerians’ capacity for procreation is becoming a crushing minus in attaining development. Our woes in getting the realistic figures of how many we are has not been helped by censuses conducted by the National Population Commission (NPC). The census figures, since the military era, have been deployed as a powerful weapon for political domination. A low census figure means a subjugated political entity, while big figure means more political goodies and capacity to dominate others. It is upon the basis of these bigger census figures that more local government areas were created in the past under the military regime, just as additional states came into being.
In a world where population plays a crucial role in determining the prospects for development and increasing a nation’s influence in the comity of nations, it is expected that those with the greatest numbers of persons would have advantage over other countries that have less, as long as the right policies are put in place. With bigger population, nation states are able to exert considerable influence and create potential markets to drive economic indices for the welfare of the overall majority. It is not so with Nigeria, a nation once described by one of the founding editors of Newswatch, Dele Giwa, as a place of “God’s creation in the impossibility.” Both India and China are countries of great population growth who have deployed their numbers for economic development. Why is it that Nigeria is yet to use its population as the much needed plank for development? Why is China’s 1.7 billion census not a burden but a platform for development within and outside of that country? Why is India, the second most populous nation, thriving in various sectors of human endeavours and exporting expertise to various countries?
Besides agreeing to the fact that Nigeria’s population figures have been captured by political elite to perpetuate their self- serving hold on power, why has the Nigerian government not insisted on having the exact census figures with relevant demographic information for proper planning? Our nation’s population is nothing other than a platform seized by politicians to truncate our march to greatness. Our nation’s crude oil has become our greatest national impediment and turned us into a nation whose vision has not gone beyond the pockets of our selfish leaders.
That is the reason we run a rental economy that is manipulated by multi-national oil companies that are now our neo-colonial behemoths. Never wanting to get their hands dirty in the real business of developing the country, our leaders are at ease recruiting white skins to run the oil business in order to pay for their expensive life styles in foreign lands. That’s how it was during the military era and it’s the same with the present democracy that has failed to emancipate us from these economic predators that have pillaged our nation and turned our country into a flourishing farmland of prosperity for the few.
Our mushrooming population is now a feverish nightmare for the country, with most of our street kids becoming cannon fodder for politicians whose families are ensconced in the warm and comfortable embrace of the economies of Western countries, Dubai, among others. The population we boast of is not for growth but mainly made up of angry citizens who have been abandoned by the faulty economic system.
First, we need a population that is enlightened to work for the development of the country. For an economy that is closed to many of its citizens, Nigeria’s population growth is grossly retrogressive and does not stand to exert any positive impact on the citizens. Those who control the levers of power are strategically placed to defend only their interest and not that of the majority. We cannot agree to the erroneous assumption that our population hovers between 150 and 180 million. The pervasive poverty in the land is due to our leaders’ inability to plan for the country’s emerging growth in numbers. While the old men and women continue to hold onto power without giving opportunity to an active generation of new leaders, the country is left cascading down the precipice of despair and hopelessness.
The absence of visionary leadership in fashioning the path to genuine growth has led to no fewer than 13 million children roaming the nation’s streets. These homeless kids represent a frightened future that stares us in the face. The inability of government to clear these children from the streets and provide them with vocational skills portend grave dangers in the years ahead. If our politicians refuse to smell the coffee and take quick decision to avert danger, the coming future may turn into fiery slide into catastrophe. Those responsible for ascertaining the true census of our nation must shake off the sleep in their eyes and do the needful by providing accurate census figures. We cannot continue to have a population that only exists to serve as veritable market for the consumption of foreign goods.
A population that only serves as cannon fodder for politicians is no good for a nation that prides itself as Africa’s giant. If we continue to insist on federal character and quota system in our polity for effective representation, we are simply raising altars to defend mediocrity. A nation that defends its slow-paced development in the hope of carrying everyone along in the nation-building process is bound to fail. Political leadership must throw away mediocrity and enthrone merit so that all citizens can compete for laurels. The world is moving fast and past criteria for national integration and unity as adopted by our founding fathers may have grown atrophied for national development.
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