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Nigerian Population Explosion: Was Malthus Right? By Tony Ademiluyi

August 2, 2020

Nigeria has been cursed with the worst set of leaders both military and civilian and the lack of vision from these overlords has ensured the perpetuation of the vicious cycle of poverty which has been the lot and fate of the generality of the populace.

In the 19th century, English scholar, Thomas Malthus, in his widely read book ‘An essay on the principle of population’, warned the world that the geometric growth of human beings will far outstrip the resources needed to take care of them. He warned that there will be lots of famine with its attendant undesirable consequences and that the world should brace up for the agony that would follow.

The West proved him wrong as they used science and technology to give their citizens a better deal in life.

However, he is indeed a sort of prophet as his prediction seems to have come to pass in Nigeria – the African continent’s most populous country, which earned her the ironical sobriquet ‘The Giant of Africa.’

Nigeria has been cursed with the worst set of leaders both military and civilian and the lack of vision from these overlords has ensured the perpetuation of the vicious cycle of poverty which has been the lot and fate of the generality of the populace.


As at the last census, we are estimated to have about 206 million people and the numbers keep growing day by day.

Population growth is a two edged sword. On the one hand it could propel a nation to greatness and the zenith of economic growth and development. The China example is there for the world to see as the world’s fastest growing economy leveraging on their large population as the world’s most robust market. This was because its leaders since 1949 when Mao Tse Tung took over power have been visionary and have translated this vision into pro-people policies. They also ensured that their country was highly investment friendly which saw the United States and the west setting up shop massively in their country.

Nigeria on the other hand has no clear cut plan for her citizens beyond empty rhetoric and grandstanding. We have had vision 2000, 2010 and 2020 with the economic situation of the country deteriorating with no solution in sight.

The average birth rate in Nigeria according to the Punch editorial of July 29, 2020 is put at 5.3 per woman and it is as high as 7.3 in Katsina where President Muhammadu Buhari hails from.

The government has no plan for anybody as we are all left to our devices and survival strategy by the cruel government. The current challenge of the COVID-19 pandemic where very few citizens received palliatives is a clear pointer to the reality of our heading to Golgotha.

Malthus was a diehard advocate of population control long before it became a global buzzword. China had to embark on a one child per family policy in 1978 to keep their population under control after the failure of the Cultural Revolution which failed to leapfrog the Asian nation into the economic big league.

Coming back home, population control has been an extremely hard sell as most people especially the proletariat believe that children are a gift from God and as such they should perpetually be open to life.

We recall vividly the attempts by the then Military Head of State, General Ibrahim Badamosi Babangida to limit the children per family to four. The religious leaders and the conservative cultural practices of the people made the idea end up in a gargantuan fiasco.

By 2050, there is the projection that Nigeria’s population will be well over 700 million. This is really scary when you take into consideration the reality of scarce resources that are available to live a decent and productive life. If at 206 million, there is massive unemployment, poverty, hunger and the dearth of a welfare state, imagine how it will be by 2050! It will be worse than the state of nature.

There must be a critical paradigmatic shift as we grapple with the realities of being domiciled in a failed state where every resident is a local government unto him/herself.

The issue of population is a personal one and it is wrong to impose strict population control as a public policy. However there should be some robust form of suasion to ensure that each citizen has children that they can reasonably cater for.

It is the quality of the kids that really matter and not the number. The challenge of day to day modern living is different from what obtained in the 20th century where the family unit was stronger and we were our brother’s keepers. 

Things have changed now as the extended family which was a huge source of economic buffering is given way for the ascendancy of the nuclear family as a result of the brutal financial pressures of the 21st century.

Many Nigerians even with just two children find it a herculean task giving them the good life and how much more the possibility of taking additional ones from their relatives. That cultural cum economic description of the Nigerian family is fast giving way to the novel realities of westernization and globalization.

While we could blame the government for our woes as the country may have been better if corruption was reduced to the barest minimum, individuals also have a critical role to play to ensure that their kids get a head start in life in the ever increasing world of competition.

Thomas Friedman’s New York Times bestseller, ‘The World is Flat’ talks about the new realities of competition across borders. In this era of outsourcing, the dynamics of the labour market has witnessed a shift in who constitutes the competition. Many western nations have a presence in Asia for instance and these Asian residents earn huge foreign exchange without having to leave their countries of residence unlike in the days of yore when migration was highly necessary. The competition a modern day Nigerian now faces comes from all across the globe. The critical question to ask is that how competitive is the average Nigerian child when benchmarked against their foreign peers?

It is important that Nigerians have kids that they can afford to take care off in order to forestall disasters that await these children in the future if they don’t have the tools and knowledge needed to thrive in this jet age. While I agree that children are a gift from God, they could also become a societal menace if they are not properly equipped to face the current challenges being thrown at them. Religion is good but it shouldn’t be substituted for rational thinking.

It is the society that will ultimately bear the brunt of badly brought up offspring and so it makes a whole lot of sense for modern day Nigerian parents to cut their coat according to their cloth with regards to the number of kids that they bring into the world especially when you factor in the absence of a welfare state since we are all on our own to use local parlance lingo.

A word is enough for the wise goes the age-long cliché.

Tony Ademiluyi wrote from Lagos