Our steady progress in the labour rooms

Sunday Trust - - VIEW POINT -

We are mak­ing a steady, re­mark­able and en­vi­ous progress in the labour rooms. At in­de­pen­dence in 1960, there were 45.1 mil­lion of us in the coun­try. Now there are 198 mil­lion of us, ac­cord­ing to the lat­est fig­ure re­leased by Na­tional Pop­u­la­tion, NPC, this week. Few coun­tries have made this very im­pres­sive pop­u­la­tion leap in so short a time.

At 45.1 mil­lion, there were two Nige­ri­ans for ev­ery five Africans. At 198 mil­lion our coun­try has vir­tu­ally over­whelmed the rest of the con­ti­nent. Our new pop­u­la­tion at­tain­ment means that it is now 2.35 per cent of the world pop­u­la­tion and that one per­son in ev­ery 43 per­sons in the world is a Nige­rian. This im­proves the pos­si­bil­ity of see­ing Nige­rian faces in ev­ery part of the world. Ah, yes, the Nige­ri­ans are com­ing - 419, cor­rup­tion, warts and all.

It is true that we still hold the can­dle to a good num­ber of other coun­tries. China and In­dia are in a class of their own pop­u­la­tion-wise. Among the third world or de­vel­op­ing coun­tries, we are still not quite up there with In­done­sia, (258.7 mil­lion); Brazil, (207.66 mil­lion); and Mex­ico, (123.52 mil­lion). But at the rate we are go­ing, adding 50 mil­lion to our pop­u­la­tion within only 12 years, we would soon catch up with those coun­tries, even if we would have to ex­pand our labour rooms and vastly im­prove our fe­cun­dity to have a chance of play­ing in the very big league with China and In­dia in the near fu­ture. I would ad­vise against mak­ing this a wor­thy na­tional am­bi­tion, though.

One man who does not ap­pear to be hail­ing our pop­u­la­tion growth is Vice-Pres­i­dent Yemi Os­in­bajo. He said it would cause many chal­lenges. In­deed, so. The vice-pres­i­dent needed to one to tell him that the hor­ren­dous chal­lenges of man­ag­ing this can­tan­ker­ous coun­try are steadily get­ting worse with more peo­ple to feed, more peo­ple to shel­ter, more peo­ple to be pro­vided with potable wa­ter, more peo­ple to ed­u­cate and more peo­ple to be gain­fully em­ployed. He told the di­rec­tor-gen­eral of the World Health Or­gan­i­sa­tion, Dr Te­dros Ghe­breye­sus, in Abuja April 11: “We are in chal­leng­ing times and in the next decade or two, we will have chal­lenges given that the pop­u­la­tion is grow­ing and this calls for a lot of work es­pe­cially with re­gards to (the) health of our cit­i­zens.”

The world has had a mor­tal fear of in­dis­crim­i­nate pop­u­la­tion growth since the 19th cen­tury. Those who preached the virtues of lim­it­ing pop­u­la­tion within rea­son­able lim­its, through birth con­trol and fam­ily plan­ning, found them­selves in a pitched bat­tle with the men of God who ar­gued against birth con­trol, or at least, ar­ti­fi­cial birth con­trol. It is a po­si­tion still held by the Ro­man Catholic Church in the face of cur­rent odds. A Bri­tish clergy man, Rev Malthus was quoted, I think, as say­ing that con­trol­ling the pop­u­la­tion was against God’s will for mankind be­cause for ev­ery mouth the almighty pro­vided a pair hands. The­o­ret­i­cally, a pair of hands should be able to feed one month.

If that ar­gu­ment made sense then, tied as it was with the lack of wis­dom in ques­tion­ing God’s will, it does not now. The chal­lenge of pop­u­la­tion growth is much more than a pair of hands feed­ing one mouth, al­though feed­ing is a crit­i­cal chal­lenge in the face of our turn­ing labour rooms into baby fac­to­ries. Ev­ery coun­try is faced with the chal­lenge of qual­i­ta­tive rather than quan­ti­ta­tive pop­u­la­tion. Qual­i­ta­tive here refers to the ca­pac­ity of the state to meet the ba­sic needs of its pop­u­la­tion, such as good health fa­cil­i­ties, potable wa­ter, ed­u­ca­tion, hous­ing, roads, en­ergy - the whole lot - to pro­tect the peo­ple against the bru­tal­ity of liv­ing a life close to that of the denizens of the jun­gles.

In the sev­en­ties the late In­dian prime min­is­ter, Mrs Indira Gandhi, tack­led the prob­lem head on. She needed no one to tell her where her coun­try was headed with its steady pop­u­la­tion growth. She en­acted a law lim­it­ing a cou­ple to two chil­dren. The pol­icy worked re­mark­ably well. It put a break on its pop­u­la­tion growth. The re­mark­able progress the coun­try has made in tech­no­log­i­cal, med­i­cal and other mod­ern ad­vances owes as much to that po­lice as the zeal of the In­di­ans to hold down their pop­u­la­tion and lift their stan­dard of liv­ing.

Other third world coun­tries have not had much luck be­cause of the patchy poli­cies in some of these coun­tries. In our own case, the only pol­icy en­acted by the Nige­rian state to re­spond to our pop­u­la­tion growth was by the Ba­bangida ad­min­is­tra­tion. It de­creed four chil­dren per wife. It ad­dressed noth­ing, not least be­cause it more or less ex­cused a man to have more chil­dren from dif­fer­ent women or wives, as the case might be but also be­cause it chose to skirt around the prob­lem and per­haps leave it to the fu­ture. That fu­ture is now here.

The cam­paigns for birth con­trol and fam­ily plan­ning in the de­vel­op­ing coun­tries has not had much suc­cess. It suf­fered largely from mis­guided and ten­den­tious ar­gu­ments, one of which was that it was a di­a­bol­i­cal scheme de­vised by the West to keep the pop­u­la­tion of third world coun­tries down. It was a prim­i­tive re­ac­tion to what many fore­saw as loom­ing global cri­sis. That cri­sis is more or less on us now.

A large pop­u­la­tion is good. It means the avail­abil­ity of man­power. But that is merely the­o­ret­i­cal. In truth a large pop­u­la­tion is not so good be­cause it has a ten­dency to be­come re­mark­ably un­man­age­able and hob­ble na­tional de­vel­op­ment. A large pop­u­la­tion comes with huge prob­lems: food, shel­ter, health, wa­ter, light, etc. It is in­ter­est­ing that the leaps in pop­u­la­tion growths are the ex­clu­sive pre­serves of de­vel­op­ing coun­tries racked by the one thing that chains hu­man de­vel­op­ment and progress: poverty.

This is why our re­mark­able achieve­ments in the labour rooms should hum­ble us; not ex­cite us. We are a poor, strug­gling coun­try, what­ever might be the im­pres­sion cre­ated to the con­trary by the num­ber of pri­vate jets, pri­vate man­sions and a life­style that would make the Amer­i­cans see us with red eyes. Our fe­cun­dity has cre­ated new prob­lems and wors­ened the ex­ist­ing ones. It has been a night­mare for de­mog­ra­phers and plan­ners since we were 98 mil­lion and later 147 mil­lion peo­ple. We could not then plan to feed the 147 mil­lion mouths or put the mil­lions of pairs of hands to work. Now, we are 198 mil­lion. I leave you to work out the im­pli­ca­tions of more mouths to feed and fewer hands to feed them in an ironic oil-pro­duc­ing coun­try get­ting poorer.

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