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Happy to be the Number 7 Most Populous Nation?

January 1, 2009

Good Morning Nigeria. We are still in the Happy New Year mode and this article would be a bit heavy on the eyes that are tired after the non-stop partying in the past few days. But I urge you to read this article as it will involves us all, may be just a trifle bit today but would affect us a lot more as the years go by and Nigeria takes the mantle of becoming the 7th most populous nation on the earth.

Good Morning Nigeria. We are still in the Happy New Year mode and this article would be a bit heavy on the eyes that are tired after the non-stop partying in the past few days. But I urge you to read this article as it will involves us all, may be just a trifle bit today but would affect us a lot more as the years go by and Nigeria takes the mantle of becoming the 7th most populous nation on the earth.

Population trends across nations is my favourite topic and it also involves some serious number crunching. Since I fancy myself as a part-time statistician,  I can crunch the numbers for the readers. But what I can’t do for the readers is to read this piece carefully and analyse it with an open mind. And one thing I must tell the readers at the beginning of this piece is that the entire country will feel the heat if something is not done now to drastically change our attitude towards the impending problem.


The Population Trend: Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow

The world population in 1998 was 5.93 billion. It rose to 6.71 billion in 2008, an increase of 13.1 %.   In 2050 the world population is expected to be 9.53 billion, an increase of  42%  % over 2008. Please remember that this isn’t an year-on-year growth but cumulative growth between 1998 and 2008 and projections for cumulative growth between 2008 and 2050.

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Against the backdrop of world population Nigeria's population in 1998  was 117,599,565. In the year 2008, it rose to 146,255,312, showing a 24.36% growth (as against the world’s population growth of 13.1%) . Nigeria was the 10th most populated nation in the world in 1998 but as at today, it stand at 8th position in the world and it is feared that in 2050, Nigeria will climb up to the 7th spot with a population of 264,262,405. This growth of 80.6% population growth by the year 2050  over 2008 is most worrisome to me. In fact it is alarming. But I find that most of my Nigerian brothers and sisters are not too bothered about it. This is one achievement which no Nigerian should be proud of. Just as no Indian should be proud of the fact that his/her country would overtake China before the year 2050, to become the most populous nation of the planet. But the growth in India between 1998 and 2008 has been 18% only and the growth between the years 2008 and 2050 is expected to be 57% as opposed to 80% that Nigeria will exhibit.

Are we really aware of the problem?

I have been writing to many editors and columnists to stop their obsession with politics, politics and more politics all the time and devote a fraction of the newspaper space to the issue of population but none listens. Some friends in the media have whispered to me that the issue of population is a highly emotive issue and it is politically incorrect to talk about it.

I find this most strange, to put it mildly. I know that in Nigeria, it very OK to have four children but it is time that people knew that to have four children is having two, too many. The couples must stop at one or maximum two if they want to give their children the best of education, health services and other benefits in life.

Before we proceed further, it would be good to look at a chart below:

Most populous Nation (1998 --2050)Ranking  Sr. NoCountryPop. (1998)Pop. (mid-2008)Exp. Pop. (2050)199820082050 1China1,250,365,5151,330,044,5441,424,161,948112 2India969,153,3321,147,995,9041,807,878,574221 3United States276,115,288303,824,640439,010,253333 4Indonesia207,534,204237,512,352313,020,847444 5Brazil171,201,155196,342,592260,692,493558 6Russia147,813,351140,702,096109,187,3536915 7Pakistan139,062,987172,800,048295,224,598765 8Bangladesh131,766,932153,546,896233,587,279879 9Japan126,246,089127,288,41693,673,82691018 10Nigeria117,599,565146,255,312264,262,4051087 11Mexico97,325,063109,955,400147,907,650111112 12Germany82,023,67282,369,55273,607,121121522 13Philippines77,740,54796,061,680171,964,187131211 14Vietnam77,092,38386,116,560107,772,641141316 15Egypt67,610,69981,713,520127,563,256151614 16Turkey65,177,18171,892,808100,955,188161717 17Iran62,413,14965,875,22481,490,039171921 18Thailand60,846,04265,493,29669,268,817182025 19France60,534,76864,057,79069,768,223192124 20Ethiopia60,483,90482,544,840278,283,13720146 21United Kingdom59,035,65260,943,91263,977,435212229 22Italy57,550,31858,145,32150,389,841222336 23Ukraine49,937,19645,994,28733,573,842232755 24Congo48,759,71166,514,504189,310,849241810 25Korea, South46,151,51248,379,39243,368,983252542 26South Africa43,961,92448,782,75549,400,628262438 27Burma43,338,25447,758,18154,430,334272633 28Spain39,906,23540,491,05135,564,293282951 29Poland38,668,75638,500,69632,084,570293356 30Columbia38,466,92245,013,67464,977,344302828 31Uganda22,502,14031,367,972128,007,514443913 32Sudan32,510,74740,218,45588,227,761323119 33Afganistan22,912,81432,738,37681,933,479413820 The information has been collated from various websites but the chief source of information is U.S. Census Bureau, International  Data Base  


From the table above we can find that China has been able to keep the population growth  less than 7% between 1998 and 2008 as against 18% population growth of India  and 24% of  Nigeria. The success of China in keeping population growth at such a low level can be attributed to the relentless follow up by the State machinery which levies heavy fines on couples who produce more than one child.Image removed.


In democracies like India and Nigeria these kind of measure will lead to instant revolt against the state and very rightly so. However from the table above, it can be seen  that even democracies like South Korea and South Africa have been able to keep the population growth less at less than 10%.


Nigeria certainly takes the cake among all developing nations when it comes to  rise in population.  Only Uganda (39%), Ethiopia (36%) , Afghanistan (42%), Congo (36%) grew faster than Nigeria.

Any lessons from others?

One needs to know as to how other countries have been able to achieve what Nigeria didn’t. To achieve lowering of population growth, the government of India launched a sustained socio-economic campaign to reduce the birth rate (while at the same time reducing the infant mortality). There were incentives to those who adopted family planning measures like male vasectomy and female tubectomy. The contraceptives were made available free-of-cost at all primary government health centres. In spite of the fact that India is a very conservative society when it comes to discussing issues like sex, a series of government paid radio adverts were aired advising people to use contraceptives as a means to limit the family size. There were appeals by the leaders who had strong social influence on the people. Many NGOs were given financial support by the government to help them  spread the message of keeping the family size small. The media played a very active role in educating people about the perils of having large families. Street-plays were organized in the worker colonies to drive home the message of family planning. Specials stalls were set up in numerous village fairs to remind people that if they produced more than two children, they would be adding burden to the nation already burdened by a huge population.

With all the above activities, Indians still  managed to procreate more than the average growth of world population. But what about Nigeria? What have been the combined efforts of the intellectuals, the state, the press and the social reformers in ensuring that the population doesn’t grow by leaps and bounds?


From my 4 year stay in Nigeria, I find that Nigeria is yet to acknowledge that the rising population is a problem at all. The general public doesn’t seem to be aware that huge population can no longer be treated as an asset. In fact the whole concept of treating large population as an asset was a carefully crafted campaign by the rich countries faced with shrinking population. These rich countries wanted poor countries to keep producing more children so that there was never a shortage of those who were to do the menial, lowly paid jobs. Some countries realized  this in the last three decades of the 20th  century and made an conscious efforts to check the population growth.


Since Nigeria doesn’t acknowledge the rising population as an issue worth giving so much attention to, there is an absence of high decibel, high profile, mass campaign to educate the people about the ways and means to keep birth-rates down. When India got independence in 1947 the leaders had hoped that as in the developed countries, with the rapid advancement in industrialization and urbanization, the population growth rate would decline but this line of approach didn’t yield the desired result. The Government of India then launched an extensive family planning campaign which reached at the village level. India was able to achieve some semblance of control after pouring in billions of rupees in the campaign. The message of  keeping the family size of four, comprising Mom, Dad and 2 kids, was drummed into the ears of every Indian throughout the sixties, seventies, eighties and it still is going strong. In India, at least in the big and small cities, a couple with more than 2 children is an oddity. This is in total contrast with Nigeria  where the rich Nigerians take pride in counting the number of children they have. Even the educated and working class Nigerians in the age group of 35-45 feel comfortable in having 4 children, unmindful of the fact that with the rise in cost of living and absence of  very strong state social security, they can’t guarantee that they would be able to give their 4 children the best of education and health care. I find this disturbing trend in Nigeria, when educated young men and women of my age (I am 44) want to have 4 children. My dad's generation in India stopped at 2, max. 3 and my generation doesn't want to go further than 2 (and many are going for just one child). I tell this to all my Nigerian brothers, especially who are less resourceful in terms of money (like the bus drivers, the Okada riders, the housekeepers and the security guards) but they all seem to believe that they are "entitled" to at least 4.

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What can be done now? Who should do it?

Who then would raise the issue of population and make it important enough so that each and every Nigerian becomes aware about it, begins to ponder over it and eventually tries to empower himself/ herself to be able to ensure that he/ she doesn’t contribute more than one or two young lives to the society?


I want to appeal to the most influential social leaders of Nigeria to sensitize their followers about the issue of curbing the fast rise in population. Pastor E. A. Adeboye, the General Overseer of the Redeemed Christian Church of God(RCGG) has been listed in the first 50 Global Elite listing of U.S. and international news magazine, Newsweek, emerging as the only African on the list now making the waves in the world. If the Reverend takes it upon himself to include in as many discourses as possible the need to keep the family size small, the chances that his followers will follow his advice are very bright. Similarly there are leading icons who can contribute to the issue. Names which come to mind immediately are Professor Pat Utomi the highly respected intellectual whose words are heard in rapt attention whenever he speaks,  Mrs Dora Akunyili whose charisma cuts across all sections of the society, Chief Gani Fawehinmi one of the most respected persons in West Africa. There are young wealth creators like Jim Ovia who are a toast to the middle class men and women who want to think big and do things creatively. There are others people who are popular writers and editors who can do their bit by this writing about  this issue in their dailies.


In fact I want to appeal to all the readers of this prestigious newspapers who agree with my views to propagate them amongst the ignorant ones. If each reader talks to 10 others about it, the message would hit home.


Sudhir Bisht, is a freelance writer. Send feedback at [email protected]Happy New Year and God Bless Nigeria.

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