From all indications, Nigeria can no longer afford to play the ostrich with the consequences of its population growth.
Observers, nonetheless, note that the country’s leadership is apparently becoming more aware of the need to initiate decisive measures to control the country’s population which has been growing without a boost in resources for sustainable development.
Nigeria’s current population projection as at July this year is about 171 million and the population is growing at an alarming rate of 3.2 per cent, according to figures obtained from the National Population Commission (NPC).
Signalling the thrust of the new Federal Government’s policy shift, President Goodluck Jonathan urged Nigerians should brace up for an imminent legislation on birth control so as to check a looming population ‘explosion’.
The President recently made the call at the swearing-in ceremony of the newly appointed Chairman and 23 commissioners of the NPC.
“Although the issue of population regulation is sensitive, government cannot fold its arms and watch the population explodes to an uncontrollable level.
“Government will carry out enough sensitisation before legislating on laws controlling birth and population,” Jonathan, however, gave an assurance.
Population experts say that the President’s declaration represents a marked departure from the situation in the past where the government was somewhat silent on issues relating to population growth.
They even recall that a controversial jingle captioned “One man, four children’’ was broadcast in the 1980s and early 1990s, giving a tacit approval to four children per one woman.
To some mischievous analysts, the jingle, in essence, meant that a man with four wives could have 16 children.
The experts, nonetheless, note that Nigeria has never supported birth control officially, either through a policy or a law, owing to its controversial nature, not only in Nigeria but also in many countries of the world.
This is because in Nigeria, for instance, children are considered to be an inestimable asset: a pride to the family and the community.
The desire to have a large progeny is largely considered to be ideal in virtually all the traditional societies of Nigeria, as children are assessed to be a veritable insurance for parents they are old and helpless.
All the same, it appears that the situation is fast changing; thanks to factors such as economic recession, unemployment, poverty, corruption and undue pressure on social amenities due to increasing urbanisation.
The emerging situation has somewhat compelled development planners to start canvassing for a manageable population which takes cognizance of available resources.
“A large population can only be an asset to a country if it is qualitative, resourceful and manageable,” Andrew Olaitan, a demographer, said, adding that with a manageable growth pattern, resources would become more sustainable.
“Unbridled population breeds unbridled poverty,” he quipped.
Sharing similar sentiments, the President said that it was now pragmatic for people to start having families they could manage.
“Sometimes, you get to somebody’s house living in a well-furnished duplex. The husband and wife there may have two, three, four children. The `maiguard’ (security guard) of the house may have nine children. That is the kind of scenario we often see.
“That means there is a segment of the population that is aware of the need to have a family of a manageable size, while the other segment of the population is not conscious of this fact.
“If you are used to the military barracks, you see that the officers – the Generals, the Major-Generals, the Brigadier-Generals and the Colonels – usually have three to five children but those with no ranks normally have eight to 12 children.
“This is the scenario. The people up there, probably because of their level of education, know that the population must be controlled, whereas the people down, because of their level of exposure and education, are still not aware of the need to control our population,” he said.
Jonathan directed the new management team of the NPC team to initiate a public enlightenment campaign on birth control, pledging government’s support and funding for the proposed initiative.
However, such advocacy has been in place over the years, with the active support of non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and development partners.
The advocacy entails mobilisation of people and funds, networking, Information, Education and Communication (IEC) interventions and media partnership. It also includes purchase and distribution of contraceptives.
Analysts, nonetheless, insist that population issues are all about people, and not just numbers, stressing that population is central to all other development issues such as health, environment, politics and economy.
Sharing similar viewpoints, Jonathan said: “For us to plan properly, we must manage our population but population control is extremely a sensitive issue, owing to religious factors.
“Christians, Muslims, traditionalists and adherents of other religions believe that children are God’s gifts to man. So, it is difficult for one to tell any Nigerian to limit the number of their children because they feel that it is wrong to reject God’s gifts (children).
“Population control is a very sensitive issue but we must begin to think about it. We must begin to think about how to manage our population.
“The key thing is for the NPC to come up with plans and programmes on pragmatic ways of encouraging Nigerians to have the number of children they can manage before government comes up with clear policies and guidelines on the issue.
“So first and foremost, before government comes up with regulations, guidelines or laws, Nigerians must be made to know that we cannot continue to procreate and procreate, even though we know children are God’s gifts,” he said.
Jonathan, nonetheless, noted that Nigeria would not be the first country to make laws on population control, adding that religious beliefs should not be allowed to frustrate good policies and intentions.
“There cannot be genuine sustained development if it is not anchored on accurate and reliable data, hence the need to begin the process for the 2016 national census.
“No meaningful planning is possible without dependable data and statistics,” he reiterated, warning against the use of population and other demographic issues to garner cheap political advantage and engender political discord.
From all indications, the population control movement is obviously gaining ground in the country.
For instance, Mohammed Isiaka, an Abuja-based civil engineer, said that he could not afford to have more than two children, owing to the quality life he wanted for his family.
“Gone are the days when it was fashionable to have many children; what matters most nowadays is the family’s quality of life and sustainable development,’’ he said.
Dr Elias Pede, the Director (Primary Health Care and Disease Control) in Plateau’s Ministry of Health, underscored the wisdom in having an expanded access to potent family planning practices so as to regulate the size of families and enable parents to cater for their children effectively.
“When a woman spaces her children, it enables her body to recuperate properly and it reduces the cases of `at-risk pregnancies’.
“Apart from the health benefits, it enables the woman to be economically vibrant.
“Sometimes ago, it was difficult for a woman to take steps towards family planning without the consent of her husband; however, that requirement has been relaxed.
“Now, families can have only children they are prepared to cater for; no one should be forced to have a child by mistake,” Pede said.
“A woman can now walk into any hospital, seek counsel and actually begin the process of birth control without the consent of her spouse,” he added.
Dr Linus Amobi, a mass communication teacher, however, stressed that the media were very crucial to the success of the current advocacy on population growth for sustainable development.
He, nonetheless, stressed that journalists ought to be sufficiently educated on population issues to enable them to inform and educate the populace responsibly.
“They should able to counter any adverse publicity or information put out by mischief makers. In a nutshell, the media should not be viewed as a tool for propaganda; rather, they should serve as a vehicle and forum for education, dialogue, debate and discussion.
“Rural communities should not be left behind in the campaign; the use of traditional and folk media is considered imperative. There is also the need to get the message right, based on socio-cultural sensibilities of the people,” Amobi said.
“Above all, government at all levels must redouble efforts to efficiently manage the available resources in the best interest of the people.
“Government should be sincere and transparent, while making tangible efforts to reduce unemployment and provide the necessary amenities,” he added.
Ponle writes for NAN