A look at the Nigerian Population clock can be quite alarming. At 12:45 pm on June 19, 2019, the data reeled out on the live clock was 202,282,333 with 50.6 per cent being male and 49.4 per cent female. The clock gave 3,743, 670 as births so far this year and placed deaths at 1,233, 980. It announced that 14,485 babies were born by that time, that day. My response was one of shock at this uniquely fecund people.
At independence in 1960, there were 45.2 million Nigerians “living in the country.” By 2015, the number had ballooned to more than 180 million persons. It is estimated that by 2050, the population of Nigeria would have reached about 400 million and the number would have trumped that of the United States of America.
With talks that India is set to overtake China as the most populous country in the world, Nigerians can assume they are in good company, although the two countries are miles apart when it comes to indices such as hunger, poverty and life expectancy.
Until recently, life expectancy in Nigeria stood at about 56 years for women and a notch less for men. Today, life expectancy is estimated at an average of 47.6 years – with women having 48.4 years and men having 46.8 years. This is very disturbing piece of statistics, especially when we consider what this means for the Niger Delta where life expectancy has hovered around 41 years. If the national average has collapsed to 47.6 years, it means that in the oil belt, life expectancy has diminished to less than 40 years.
On the global scale, world population is expected to reach 9.7 billion by 2050 and
10.9 billion by end of century, obviously with a lot of help from Nigeria. With such low life expectancy, it is not surprising that the population figures keep ballooning. This is both the paradox as well as the logic of life. Nature appears to ramp up reproductive propensities in situations of high mortality so as to ensure the survival of the threatened species. In more stable and protected situations, Nature pulls the reproductive brakes to avoid overcrowding with the possibility of people literally stepping on each other’s toes or eating each other up at the other extreme.
If the above hypothesis is correct, Nigerians can be sure that the lower the life expectancy, the higher the population shoots and since people don’t live to get old, governments can more or less lapse into indolence and the survivors can all hoist flags declaring that they are not too old to run.
Nigeria’s population figures have been largely based on guesstimates. Many factors have conspired to make it impossible for us to figure out how many we are. One of the factors is that we have a propensity to always want to have a higher population figure than our neighbours.
This fixation on high figures has been encouraged by the fact that population has been a factor in revenue sharing in the quasi-centrist system foisted in the nation by decades of military rule. Other factors include the poor birth and death registration systems. We are still having children that are born without any form of registration and when we die, our families are happy to announce that we spent our lives well and passed on “after a brief illness”. This way, brief illnesses should count as the most deadly illnesses in the land. In short, those who wish to live long should pray against having brief illnesses.
Although many insist that their estimates are impeccable, some of us will still argue that those guesstimates are way off the mark. Population figures for the nation cannot be validated by visual examination of the number of people in a Lagos or Port Harcourt rush hour traffic. There are a number of indicators that we can use to gauge our population and one of them is the unified banking system with the famous Bank Verification Numbers (BVN). Mobile phone numbers may not give a good record since a lot of Nigerians have multiple telephone numbers, with some topping four. Indeed, some people have special carryon bags for their mobile phones. Indeed, the tribe of Nigerians with only one phone number must be minuscule.
Alarm bells are beginning to go off with the ever expanding population figures. Many can swear that the state of insecurity coupled with the poor power situation may contribute to the high fertility rate as many are forced to go to bed early. And we never bother to look at our neighbouring countries and ask what is so peculiar about the geographic enclave called Nigeria that sets off the population bomb in a manner that is not approximately comparable to them.
Let us assume that the population figure has a bearing to reality. How long will it take before we become the most populous nation in the world? Not so long, obviously.
Whatever is the case, we cannot ignore the population question. If the figures are wrong, they certainly mess up all our statistics and indices of wellbeing. It is time for us to wake up to the fact that we are embarrassing ourselves with the bogus population figure. It is time to decide to have an accurate census and forget about maintaining numerical supremacy by hook or by crook. It is time to decide that every Nigerian under the age of 60 has a minimum number of years of education. I pick 60 since living ancestors like yours truly have crossed that line. Provide education, employment and social services and let us see if the figure will continue to burst the ceiling.
We need to invest in securing national environmental health as the state of our environment affects the state of our mind and capacity to care for one another. An environment that eats its people also harms the mindset.