Aint We Too Many By Alex Otti

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“As for you, be fruitful and multiply; populate the earth abundantly and multiply in it” Genesis 9:7(AMP).

A good friend of mine called to share the “good news” of the arrival
of his bouncing baby boy. Congratulations Aminu; by the way how many
children do you now have, I asked? It is not usual to count our children
but since it is you, I will go out of my way to tell you. This is the
eleventh one. I will probably do two or three more and reluctantly stop.
Aminu, what has come over you? What point are you trying to make? You
want to have up to 14 children? I queried in quick succession. But as a
Christian, you should know better, Aminu retorts. God directed that we
should have many children. Aminu ends up with the above Bible quote,
reciting it perfectly. As I protested that as a devout Muslim, I had
expected him to justify his unbridled child rearing expertise with the
Quran, Aminu pointed my attention to the Hadith which says “marry and
propagate to make Rasulallah (sallallaahu alayhi wa sallam) proud on the
day of quiyamah. A Hadith is a report describing the words, actions and
habits of Prophet Muhammed (PBUH). From both an Islamic and Christian
point of view, it appeared I had lost the argument about population and
therefore birth control.

Before we delve deeper into the issue of population and birth
control, it may not be out of place to set the stage properly. There is
still a big debate about how many we are in Nigeria. This debate
continues to rage because there hasn’t been any credible population
census in Nigeria in the recent times. The first census was done in 1863
and it covered the Lagos colony only. A second one was held in 1871 and
subsequently, the colonialists held a census every 10 years. It was not
until 1911, that a nationwide census exercise was conducted which put
the population at 16.1m. By the 1921 census, the population had grown to
18.7m. A few more head counts held in 1931, 1953, 1963 and 1973. Two
more were conducted in 1991 and 2006. One recurring feature in the head
count exercises held in Nigeria is that they yielded results that were
disputed by large sections of the populace.  The 1953 census, for
instance, put the population at 31.6m. This result was greeted with
widespread controversy as it was said to have understated the population
of the country. In 1962, a census was done that produced a figure of
45m. An allegation of over-counting led to the cancellation of the
entire exercise and a repeat in 1963. The figure produced in the 1963
exercise was 55.6m. This was accepted in spite of the unrealistic annual
growth rate of close to 6% from the 1953 figures.  The 1973 census was
cancelled outrightly by the government for not being transparent.

The 1991 census, which was not without its own share of controversy,
produced a figure of 88.9m with an annual growth rate of 2.9%. The last
one that was held in 2006 generated so much dispute that it was almost
aborted. The South East insisted that the questionnaire must include two
parameters of ethnic group and religion while the North opposed that.
Both sides threatened to boycott the census if their recommendations
were not adopted. Eventually, the Northern position prevailed and the
census was conducted returning a figure of 140m people. It is
instructive that our head counts have always been marked with
controversy. If one group did not claim that it was undercounted, it
would claim that another group was over counted. The reason for this is
political. Politicians are always positioned to take an undue advantage
of headcounts. It is understood that the allocation of resources,
creation of states and local governments and other sharing formulae are
based on the number of people in the different parts of the country. I
can remember people from one section of the country alleging that those
from another section counted both animals and humans to make up the huge
number reported in the 1991 census. It is important to point out that
the word ‘census’ actually means counting everything, as opposed to
taking samples. It is therefore strange that key elements like tribe and
religion should be excluded from Nigerian census exercises and I am not
aware of anywhere else where such key statistics are excluded.

The 2006 census was one of the most disputed, with Lagos State
conducting a parallel census along with the Federal Government. At the
end of the exercise, the National Census produced 9m as the population
of Lagos. The parallel census by the Lagos state government produced a
population of 17.77m. This dispute ended in the Census tribunal which
gave judgement in favour of Lagos and ordered a recount in some Local
government areas in Lagos. Even though the recount was not done, Lagos
insisted that it was useful to prove that the National Population
Commission did not have reliable figures.

A lot of people were excited when the erudite chemist and former MD
of Nigerian Breweries, Festus Odimegwu was appointed the Chairman of the
National Population Commission by the Jonathan government. This was
because given his brilliance and superlative performance in the private
sector, Odimegwu was going to do a thorough job.  Before he could settle
down, he was removed under controversial circumstances. Shortly after
his appointment, he had commented that the country had not had credible
census for decades owing to falsification by politicians for selfish
reasons. This comment which, by the way is very true, upset some high
ranking politicians who worked for his removal. Bingo! He was shown the
way out.

The next census which was to be conducted in 2016 has now been
deferred to 2018. As 2018 approaches and as funds don’t seem to be
available for the successful conduct of the exercise, it is very
unlikely that it will hold. Again, the Speaker of the House of
Representatives, Yakubu Dogara has reportedly advised that 2018 is
unrealistic in view of the General elections coming up in 2019. This is
without prejudice to the demarcation of enumeration areas embarked on by
the National Population Commission last year.

The United Nations recommends that Census should be done every ten
years to account for changes in demographics and population dynamics.
Because we lack reliable data emanating from a credible census, we have
had to rely on projections and rough estimates for planning and indeed
everything else. According to the National Population Commission,
Nigeria’s population is about 183m. On the basis of United Nation’s
estimates, the population of Nigeria has been put at about 192.8m as at
yesterday, Sunday, September 3, 2017. This means that about 2.55% of the
total world population are Nigerians and we are the 7th most populous
country in the world. With this kind of growth rate it is estimated that
we would be nearing 400m people by the year 2050, becoming the third
most populous nation in the world with over 4% of the world’s population
as Nigerians. A few people are up in arms, disputing these numbers,
insisting that our population is grossly overstated. The sad news,
however, is that the agitators are unable to come up with a different
estimate since no census has been held in the last decade or more.

Alex Otti

You may choose to slice and dice it anyhow; the truth remains that we
are a very large country by population. That we continue to grow by
frightening proportions becomes even more worrisome. A lot of people
have used religion to justify their procrativity. Some have insisted
that what is important is the capacity of parents to provide for the
well-being and education of their children rather than the number.
Unfortunately, it is a well-known fact that most of the culprits of
large number of children are those who cannot afford it. In the past, it
was argued that the logic of having many children was for labor to help
with farming. That argument holds no water in the current dispensation
where farming has become mechanized. In the world of technology,
artificial intelligence, robotics and electric and driverless cars, the
larger the population, the more the unemployment figures. We must admit
that the issue of overpopulation is not absolute. That a country has a
very large population does not necessarily condemn it to penury. After
all, China, for instance, has over 1.3billion people, but most of them
are productively engaged. The capacity of the country to manage the
large population is what is critical. Since it is clear that we are not
in a position to productively engage our people, it would be an act of
irresponsibility to continue growing at our current rate. At the moment,
most facilities, which are inadequate in the first place, are over
stretched. Hospitals are in very short supply, education is more of a
privilege than right. Housing is in deficit, power is a scourge,
transportation is struggling and most importantly, hunger has become a
permanent companion of many of our citizens. Unemployment has become our
nemesis and the economy continues to wobble. The question, therefore
is, why should we continue multiplying when we know we are unable to
provide for even the existing population? My position is that it would
be a disaster if we double our population within the next three decades.
We must, therefore, do something very drastic if we do not want to
witness savagery by that time.

Literature links population explosion to several factors. One of them
is mortality rate. It is argued that owing to the decline in death rate
and the decline in infant mortality rate as a result of rapid
improvements in medicine, world population has witnessed an exponential
growth. There has also been a sharp rise in birth rates, again
attributed to improvements in medicine that have more people being
fertile. On this note some mischievous fellow once quipped that the best
form of population control is to replace the first ‘P’ in population
with a ‘C’! Migration has also made some parts of the world receive a
lot of people that have impacted on the population. Lack of education
which has made a few people reject birth control measures is another
factor. In the same vein, religious and traditional beliefs have been
adduced as reasons why birth control and other measures to reduce
procreation are not popular. In our case, the issue of migration and
decline in death rate cannot be said to be major reasons why our
population is increasing in such an alarming manner.

Literature is also replete with population theories which have either
been accepted or discarded. The first attempt to call the attention of
the world to the population crises was made by a renowned economist
Thomas R. Malthus in 1798. His theory which was later termed
pessimistic, simply warned that population was growing in geometric
progression while food supply was growing at arithmetic progression. He
therefore recommended what he called “preventive measures” to manage
population growth. These preventive measures include late marriages,
birth control and celibacy. He added that if the preventive measures
were ignored, “positive measures” will be the consequence which man had
no control over. Positive measures would include starvation, hunger,
strife, pestilence, civil war and natural disasters. Both of them would
achieve the same purpose but one would be more destructive than the
other. After roundly condemning Malthus, many other theories had been
propounded which were also criticized until the more popular and
acceptable “theory of demographic transition” which is based on the
actual population trends of advanced countries. According to this
theory, every country passes through three different stages of
population growth. In the first stage, the birth rate and the death rate
are high and the growth rate of population is low. In the second stage,
the birth rate remains stable but the death rate falls rapidly. As a
result, the growth rate of population increases very swiftly. In the
last stage, the birth rate starts falling and tends to equal the death
rate. The growth rate of population is very slow. While this theory is
popular with western economists, it has its pitfalls. It assumes that
there is a historical trajectory that all the countries of the world
must pass through. Science does not support this and the experiences of
countries like Singapore that transited from 3rd world to first world
put a lie on that “trajectory”.

Without boring readers with theories, one is of the view that there
is some sense in taking a look at the Malthusian theory again. Our
experience in Nigeria seems to bear him out. Without preventive and
deliberate efforts to check exponential population growth, we may be
left with no option than the positive measures which will normally
spiral out of our control. We are already witnesses to some positive
fallouts as if Malthus saw this day in 1798. We are not strange to
starvation, hunger, strife, kidnapping, armed robbery, violence and even
war. The immediate fallouts may be different, but if you pause and
investigate remote and latent causes, you cannot but agree with Malthus.
The few facilities provided are already overstretched and deliberate
efforts are not enough, nor are resources enough to make additional
provisions to accommodate the many more mouths we have to feed. This
explains why in spite of the economic growth of the past, we remained a
very poor country. Anytime you translate absolute statistics to average
numbers, the country begins to plummet towards the worst social and
economic quadrants. Per capita income is one statistic that readily
comes to mind. With a GDP of $415b by the end of 2016, Nigeria was the
largest economy of the 53 African countries and the 26th largest economy
out of 190 in the world. By the time you introduce the law of averages
into the equation, Nigeria ends up with GDP Per Capita of $2260 and
drops to number 17 in Africa and No. 133 in the world. If somehow, the
number of people sharing this same GDP increases by a few more millions,
your guess should be as good as mine. It is therefore imperative that
we seriously begin to look at policies to manage the rate of growth of
our population. If we fail to do it, the positive force of nature may
have to do it for us and in that case, it would be completely outside
our control.

Permit me to use this opportunity to wish my Muslim readers Barka de Sallah. Eid Mubarak.

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