By Francis Ewherido
This Tuesday, July 11, is World Population Day, a day which seeks to raise awareness on global population issues. In Nigeria, our exploding population is a real issue.
Nigeria’s population was 122.8 million just 17 years ago, but it currently stands at 191.9 million, an increase of about 69.1 million or 64 per cent.
At the individual level, I have made it a sing song to my marriage course participants that after the first three children, they should think and think again before they add number four, because the fourth child is a game changer. I will illustrate with two instances.
A saloon car is just okay for a family of five, but once the number rises to six, seven or more, you need a Sports Utility Vehicle, which is bigger and more expensive, literally speaking. Putting six or more people in a saloon car is “overloading.” A family of five can make do with a two bedroom flat, but when the number rises to six or more, you sure need a bigger accommodation to avoid overcrowding.
Some readers might be saying, is this guy real? How many Nigerian families have cars? Does he not know that some families of eight occupy a single room? I know many families do not have cars, but even if they are using public transport, it will be cheaper to transport three children than four or more. Yes, I also know some families of eight occupy a single room, but that is existence not living. Will you be happy to be in such a situation? And for those who are in it, are you contented? Where is the privacy for the couples to be intimate? Any accommodation without the other room is not good enough for couples with children. Are you surprised that some under-aged children from such homes try to be sexually active? Na wetin dem see! Could that factor also contribute to the practice of couples who seek external partners?
Two weeks ago, I told you the story of a couple, who gave birth to five children in less than seven years, all because they are looking for a male child. Their family has grown to seven, meanwhile their income over the last seven years only grew from a combined N100,000 to N200,000.
Factor in inflation and you will find out that their economy has actually contracted in real terms. Yet they are just breeding without knowing the cost implications. Each child you give birth to has enormous cost implications in terms of feeding, clothing, housing, transportation, medical care, education, etc. Consequently, after three children you need to do serious soul searching before you go further because additional children not only bring additional cost, but additional pressure on your inelastic time.
In urban parts of Southern Nigeria, many educated couples now go for smaller families. I have observed that many couples who got married in the last 10 years or less, have an average of three children. They have realized that the paradigm has shifted from quantity to quality.
Our forefathers had many wives and children to create a large labour force for the farm. Infant mortality rate was also very high. So the more children they had, the better the chances of many getting to adulthood. All these have changed. Many couples now give birth to fewer children and spend their limited resources and time in giving them quality life. Now a man without children can own thousands of acres of farmland, something our forebears could not have imagine.
The major challenge in curbing population explosion in Nigeria, besides culture and religion, are the rural dwellers and many urban poor. A man on a N50,000 salary per month just had his 15th child from one woman. In spite of all the advice and warning about the dangers to the wife’s health, he is still insisting on having more because he is an only child. How does a family of 17 survive on N50,000 monthly? Of course he relies on the benevolence of family members, neighbours and friends. Many rural dwellers, with little or no income, have anything from six children to as many as 15 children. They just breed; no plan for the children. There are two major aspects of parenting: having the money to adequately provide for your children and giving them quality time. Unfortunately, most times, money and time are inversely related. Many parents who have money do not have the time and vice versa. That is why smart couples now go for smaller families because they either do not have the time or money to take care of a large family. Tragically many of those with large families these days neither have the resources nor time to give their children quality life and attention because of the number of children they have.
Nigerians need to procreate sensibly, even if culture, religion, your libido or other factors have given you the license to run riot. You have a responsibility to bring up responsible children, who will be useful to themselves, the family and the larger society.
At the micro and macro levels, inadequate or poor planning for population growth breeds poverty, diseases, unemployment, crime, pollution, among other negative tendencies. Nigeria does not even have the resources to cater for its exploding population.
The schools, hospitals, road and other infrastructure are not there. In developed countries, before people move into new neighbourhoods, the government would have built roads, sewage systems, provided electricity, etc. In Nigeria, go to new developments, even in highbrow Lekki, Lagos. Sewage is zero, no public water supply and no roads. You can imagine what new poor neighbourhoods look like. And it does not look like the situation will improve anytime soon.
It is time to focus our population control advocacy on mosques, rural dwellers and urban poor. The message is simple; give birth to only the number of children for which you can adequately cater. Unbridled breeding increases poverty, illiteracy, crime, degradation of the environment and other negative tendencies.