DEC 19 EDITIONOddityTrending

The Numbers that Numb

Oluwafisayomi Agbolabori (@fisayo_8)

Most of our challenges are a gone coon but we often gild the pills even if their consequences are in glad rags already – it seems we have regarded them as the acts of the gods that cannot be questioned and we deem them our fate. We are on the horns of a dilemma when we look at our gigantic population number which experts have termed a liability and many of us have decided to wait on the knees of the gods. It is time we began to acknowledge and find solution to it – a problem known is half-solved. In fact, we cannot wait till 2020 before we begin because Nigeria is becoming an overloaded beast of burden with a foot in the grave.

Our fecundity rate is 4.48 (2018) and a population growth rate of about 2.58%, one of the highest in the world with a reported 20,000 new arrivals on a daily basis, if we compare this with our economic growth rate of 2.1% and dependency rate of 88.2 per 100 and other human development indices, one ought to be frightened of the present and take cover for the incomings. If the gini index of Nigeria were to be zero, that is, an utopian perfect state of equality where all Nigerians receive the same amount from our commonwealth, then, every 200 million Nigerian would be entitled to about N52, 000 from the proposed 2020 budget for 365 days which equals to about N142 per day for medicine, food, kerosene, transportation, education, security, house rent and what have you which is itself subject to various internal and external disturbances.

Unfortunately, though, our gini index is close to the middle, it is 0.43 to be precise – the implication is, while majority would likely receive the west of N2, 000 from the proposed N52, 000 budgeted, very few would likely cart away the east of N2, 000,000,000 – this is a topic for another piece. In this piece, with my little knowledge, I would want you to imagine an hypothetical situation where we are just a quarter of our present humongous number that is, Nigeria, a country with 50 million people holding other factors constant, given the fact that there are countries far lower than the hypothesized figure with far larger GDP.

Before this hypothesized situation, let us consider some facts and figures cheer ourselves up a bit. The state of Alaska in the United States has a land area of 1,717,856 km2 with a population of 710,249 Compared to ours 923,768 and about 200,000,000, it is like the “gods of fertility” are not operating at 100 percent capacity or the prefer the tropics to temperate weather also, Sweden has 10,290,800 people, a number smaller than Lagos State, with a per capita figure of $54,135 (ours is $2,244) – “the gods of prosperity, peace and security” reside with them.

Let us face it squarely, asking why humans procreates is like asking why we are living organisms but for all sense of rationality which gives us a higher ranking than the apes, “how many” is required seems reasonable enough in light of the present national and international realities – globalization, technology (AI), global warming, migration and their exigencies. In this present affairs of man where Artificial intelligence is undergoing finishing touches to replace drivers, pilots, attendants, teachers, bankers while large conglomerates, relentlessly guided by profit, are merging and downsizing, we need to either compete or get colonized again (not just by hoisting of flags anyways) but we cannot compete where over 10 million children are roaming our streets (a number more than double the entire population of Republic of Ireland) which do not even have any fighting chance – not a free-for-all scenario.

It is time every fertile adult asked some obvious questions before procreating such as; what does the reality holds for a child I bring into the world, would the child have ‘security’, how would this additional expenses affect my present and future income – in the US, a child needs approximately $9,050 between 0-2 years on the average and we should work out ours in Naira and Kobo as well. Every individual requires some level of comfort and stability to be a functional member of the society with a few exceptions. This is what our figure means to the suppliers of the goods and services we consume, market, a growing one which equals a growing profit.

For instance, more napkins and baby products will be needed for the existing millions and thousands arriving on a daily basis but, it is bleak future for the existing ones which ensures we simply cannot breakout from our current dependent situation. The government does not need to come up with an x-number of child policy; we need to get rational and realistic. “How many do we really need to be humans?” is a subjective and an open ended question but, according to experts, an ideal population density is 50-100 people per square km which we have already exceeded by more than double at the current 212.04. And, on the micro level, every family does not need, rationally more than two children, the perfect arithmetic for replacement – time has really changed, unfortunately, many of us have not.

Economics teaches that what is earned is either saved or spent and what is saved can be invested for further earning. Globally, wage rate has been very rigid and unionism is losing its fight for better packages for various reasons. If all Nigerians were to be placed on the proposed N30, 000 minimum wages for unemployment to be reduced, we would not survive, given the fact that present resources cannot take save us with oil prices very volatile. We definitely do not have the resources to cater for ourselves right now and, it is the reality. The prescribed physician-to- patients ratio is 1:1000 compared to Nigeria’s 4:10,000 according to the NMA but if we had more doctors to cater for our present figure, do the resources; entitlements, offices, beds, wards etc exist to ensure they render their services optimally not forgetting the burden on the wage bill.

Good health is a panacea for development and with more than 90% not under health insurance cover, it would be right to say the obvious, we are too many for too little resources presently at our disposal in the short run. I attended classes with tens more in lecture rooms designed for 15-20 students – if we were to hire good and qualified teachers from the elementary to tertiary levels, we would not have facilities to give and receive the knowledge. Let us not lose the crux of this piece, we need to hold ourselves accountable and be rational in every decision we make and not pass the bulk of the blame to the government. For us to move forward individually and collectively, one of the questions to be answered logically and rationally is “how many is enough?” We have a plethora of references of nations with small number of people doing better economically, politically and socially.

We cannot sustain the population figure now and in few decades from now even if we were to halt the growth when about 88millions of Nigerians are below the age of 15 if our life expectancy is 51.88 years remains constant due to hidden momentum of population growth. According to a government official, our country needs to invest $100 billion yearly for the next 6 years to bridge our $3 trillion infrastructural gap and, if we were to meet the UNESCO 25% of our budget to education ($8.5 billion), health, security, debt servicing and other miscellaneous from the proposed $34 billion 2020 budget, we would have to ‘close up’. Is large population a prerequisite for economic growth?

The answer is NO – it is a function of the ‘quality’ of the number but ours currently has a regressing quality which is why it is not needed for the meaningful growth we crave. While we cannot reduce with a snap of a finger this huge number, we can lessen its burden on ourselves and the coming generation. It is time to get crude. It is time every adult asked what reality holds, how the additional cost of raising another life would affect present and future income and expenses before procreating. These are steps we can take to slow down this doom-headed train.

The government at all levels need to be transparent with the people as regards to how much “resources” is needed to adequately cater for a head and be open about their present receipts and expenditure, this would change the wrong notion about the financial strength of the government. Then, there can now be a robust dialogue with various bodies – religious, political, traditional, NGOs and other stakeholders on the need for a workable national policy on our population. I would suggest a ‘replacement population policy’.

Of course, this cannot be achieved without taking some radical actions such as compulsory girl-child education, abolishment of underage marriage, incentives for adhering parents, LGAs, and states, exemplary leadership, affordable and accessible family planning services, more gender balanced appointments, mass and continuous campaign on the need for a sustainable population in all local dialects and restructuring of our governance structure which promotes the undesirable weaponization of our demography. I would volunteer my service pro bono to work towards a sustainable population. Of all these bodies, religious leaders would play the most significant roles due to the influence they wield in the decision making of majority of Nigerians and this must be seen to be genuine and sincere, devoid of any ulterior motive that could make the plan not to gang a-gley. It is what it is.

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