As the world population prepares to hit the 7 billion mark on 31 October 2011, the world’s governing bodies are turning their attention towards Africa, a continent whose population has grown exponentially over the last century. According to the United Nations, from 1955-2009, Africa’s population quadrupled, putting the number of residents at 1 billion in November 2009. Nowhere is the growth rate more noticeable then in oil-rich Nigeria, the most populous country in Africa. With a population estimated to be nearly 156 million as of July 2011, President Goodluck Jonathan has been forced to draw attention to the critical issue, at the very least on a superficial level. At a recent meeting with Australian investors, Jonathan said that the ever-expanding youth population has made it necessary for his country’s government to take action by creating jobs and expanding the economy, adding that “we pray that we should not grow at that rate.” However, Jonathan’s government will need to do more than just offer empty rhetoric; he must look to solve the situation by relying on better education, sexual health awareness, and women’s rights. Any failure to address the critical and rather controversial topic of population will result in greater challenges to a country already plagued by numerous complications, including high unemployment, environmental damage, and further food insecurity.
Without question, Nigeria’s population growth is a ticking time bomb. Despite the economic success Nigeria has seen in recent years, chronic unemployment, specifically with regards to young people, remains a problem. According to the 2010 Federal Bureau of Statistics, Nigeria has a youth population of approximately 80 million, comprising 60% of the total population, with 64 million of them labelled unemployed. This is a potential recipe for disaster for a country which every year churns out thousands of graduates who are unable to find available jobs, whilst Nigerian slums continue to be flooded with idled youths searching desperately for a purpose. Given the annual growth rate of 3.2%, the Nigerian population is expected to reach 180 million by the year 2020, a figure that does not bode well for those hoping for peace and security in the developing nation. With such a high number of unemployed or underemployed youths, security concerns are rife as many believe that the nation’s young people may turn towards terrorism-related endeavours, a problem for a country already plagued by religious conflicts and radical groups, such Boko Haram, an extremist Islamist sect that has targeted the northern region of Nigeria on many occasions. Additionally, such a high growth rate could result in a mass exodus of migrants to Europe, adding to employment and assimilation difficulties there.
Along with chronic youth unemployment, the population growth rate is expected to have devastating effects on already environmentally damaged Nigeria, which has for years tried to balance the issues of increased urbanisation, deforestation and pollution, whilst trying to bring itself up to speed with the rest of the so-called developed world. Traditionally, Nigerians have always looked upon their large population as a blessing, as many families had large broods due to low childhood life expectancy rates and a need for additional help on local farms. However, as foreign companies began investing in the country, Nigeria was forced to modernise itself, and had the difficult task of balancing its traditional family life with a new, plastic-ridden society which saw thousands of people flood into the already crowded slums in search of factory jobs, whilst an untold number of precious natural resources were stripped away. In response to the alarming environmental devastation, Nigeria set up the Federal Environmental Protection Agency (FEPA) in 1988, in an effort to combat further damage. However, FEPA has arguably been ineffective as it merely looks at the surface of the problem rather than addressing the root causes.
Food insecurity is already a major threat to Nigeria. Despite a food production rate consistently on the rise, there is still not enough to meet the national food demand, and as such, the country must rely on costly food imports. In a country that benefits immensely from its oil exports and is often touted as an honorary BRIC member, hunger and malnutrition continue to be a constant threat. The World Bank has stated that as many as 90 million Nigerians -about 40% of the population-suffer from chronic food shortages. Despite the Bank committing US$1.2 billion for Agricultural Development Projects (ADPs) to increase farm production in Nigeria since 1974, the issue of food security shows no sign of letting up, and the problem will only be exacerbated by the increase in population over the next half century.
The Way Forward
Overall, Nigeria looks to have a lot on its plate with regard to tackling the controversial issue of population. Going forward, President Goodluck Jonathan must do more than talk about the uncomfortable subject matter; he must tackle the issue at hand by looking to improve the country’s educational system, as well as promote sexual health awareness. Additionally, his government must make a concerted effort to promote women’s rights, specifically giving women more authority over their own well-being, an understandably difficult task for a heavily religious country, otherwise the safety and security of Nigeria may lie in doubt.
(Image: Doctors Without Borders)