Population issues in a season of high wire politics

September 24, 2015
5 mins read

A VISITOR from outer space would certainly have been confused about the Nigerian situation on the evidence of what dominated media reportage in the past week. Intra-ruling class schisms can be bloody even without leaving a blood trail; therefore, vital societal institutions like the media, often become sites of pitched battles and contestations.

And in the past week, the fight for turf, reputation and the space of public perception just got nastier, with the prolonged effort to arraign Bukola Saraki at the Code of Conduct Tribunal and his determined effort to ensure that it did not happen. The courts were put to a straining test and the judiciary stayed under the klieg lights of national attention but in the end, the situation reached a denouement on Tuesday this week.

Ruling classes have always been obliged to provide avenues of entertainment in societies they dominate so as to offer diversion to dominated and exploited classes of society. But what has played out is beyond the run-in-the-mill diversion but the most punishing of Nigerian high wire politics. Before our spectator eyes, the grains are being separated from the chaff of political society and in my opinion, no prisoner will be taken.

But there are issues of nationhood that might not have a dramatic twist to the tail and neither can they titillate. Nevertheless, they have a far more defining edge to them and in the long run, it is how the consequences are managed, that will determine the future wellbeing of our country.

Populations of countries

Unfortunately, we face a crisis since those who ought to take note of these issues are often too consumed in their positional contestations to be able to appreciate the problems that loom ever so menacingly in the present and might even endanger the future.

One of those unpopular but determining issues is the population of our country. I am writing these lines at exactly twelve midnight on Tuesday night/Wednesday morning. Set before me on my iPad, is the ‘worldometers’, which tracks the populations of countries of the world and this tracking process is LIVE, thus counting the population of every country on a permanent basis.

And as I write, Nigeria’s population is displayed as being 184, 728, 559! These are very frightening statistics as we will discover. They show that Nigeria now ranks as the country with the seventh highest population on earth. The population density is 193 per Km2; the fertility rate is 6.01 and we witness the addition of about 4.7million newly born annually and our median age 17.7 years, while 2.4% of the population of the world now lives in the space called the Federal Republic of Nigeria. And of that population, 52% resides in the urban areas.

Nigeria’s population in fufure

If we begin tracking the population of Nigeria from 1955, we will see that in that year, our country’s population was 41, 122, 332, with a media age of 19.1 while the urban population was merely 12% and we were the 13th most populated country on earth.  It was in 1995 that Nigeria’s population grew beyond a hundred million people and by 2014, for the first time, the majority of Nigerians now live in urban areas and no longer in rural homesteads. The forecast for the future are equally dire, because by 2020, our population is expected to reach 210million with 55% of that being based in urban areas.  By 2030, that population will hit 273million, with 61% expected to be living in urban areas and by that year, we will become the fifth most populated country on earth.  In 2050, there will be 440 million Nigerians and 71% of these Nigerians will be based in urban towns and cities and by that time, Nigeria will have the third largest population on earth! The cynic might shrug shoulders and wonder why s/he should be worried about population figures that might not be seen in his/her lifetime. But the truth is that these figures matter and how we begin to prepare for the challenges that they will pose are very much part of our ability to deal with the complex contradictions of modernity and the post-modern world.

In truth, the problems are not as far away as we might think because the stresses and strains of increasing populations are all around us today. The changing patterns of the world’s population are leading to prolonged droughts and are expanding desertification of huge swathes of land on the edge of the Sahara and in the Sahel regions of West Africa and in Nigeria. That has led to the migration of more and more nomadic groups and their animals in search of pasture into central and southern regions of Nigeria.

They have increasingly entered into conflict with sedentary farming communities leading to patterns of clashes that have come to define life in many parts of central Nigeria today. In the past, these clashes would probably have used traditional weapons but today the AK 47 Kalashnikov is in the hands of opposing groups.

Opposing groups

There are the ever widening incidences of flooding in low lying costal regions, including those of Nigeria, as a result of the melting of polar icecaps and the issue of the damage that human action has wrought on the ozone layer has become an established fact of scientific development.

Even the emergence of the Boko Haram insurgency must also be read against the backdrop of the crises associated with the endangerment of livelihood patterns in the Lake Chad basin just as much as the spoliation of the environment and the disruption of the delicate ecological balance in the Niger Delta endangered the lives of people in the creeks. The result was the militancy of the past decade in the region.

Greater pressure on infrastructure: In Nigeria, as populations have continued to increase and have become increasingly urbanized, there is greater stress placed on infrastructure. Water supply is short; health care facilities are increasingly unable to cope with ever growing populations; roads are becoming clogged and at certain points of an urban day, movement becomes impossible and the school structure has all but collapsed. Nigerians spend about N160Billion annually in Ghanaian schools since the structures in our country cannot cope with the student population. And in a country that has grown ever younger, the economy is not creating the jobs that can absorb the millions of young people, including thousands of graduates, who need these jobs. And as we have become urbanised, 64% of that urban population lives in slums and the housing deficit is one of our greatest crises today.

As a matter of fact, we have to now learn how to manage existence in urban areas: conscious planning; managed expansion; infrastructural renewal; enforcement of development control; management of urban refuse and waste; green energy; preservation of historical sites and structures; open spaces and public parks; control of noise and pollution and encouragement of architecture and esthetics are its components.

It is clear in my view, that population is very central to everything that defines our nationhood. Rapid economic development is possible when we can massively mobilise our young people to be central to the process of growth, however, that cannot just be a spontaneous process. It must be planned and structured as part of an overall national agenda. It is the sluggishness of planning, not to talk of the absence of competence that has remained a major source of worry.

Issues of focus and development: We cannot stop the ruling class from contestation and positional fight since that is the heart of the political process. But it is also their obligation in the context of democratic development, to focus on issues that matter to the overall health and future well being of our country.

With a median age of seventeen years, it should strike our rulers that public policy must be centred around the youth because it can be an asset to society as much as being a source of nihilistic destructiveness too. Population issues are very much at the heart of everything and the earlier they are taken serious the better for all of us.

The management of resources, such as fauna and flora as well as the husbandry of nature; the conscious management of population growth as well as an eye for the controlled consumption of resources will give indicators of how serious we are about the long term habitability of the spaces of our country that we have inherited from nature and our ancestors and which in turn we must hold in trust for the succeeding generations of Nigerians.

These are very simple but profound issues which high wire politics might very well blind us to. It is therefore imperative to put the ruling class on notice about the dangers that lurk in the frightening dimensions associated with our ever-growing population.

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