by Juliana Morgan
Nobody knows exactly how many Nigerians there are. In Nigeria, like most other African countries, census figures are politically manipulated. In 2015, the population was estimated to be 183 million according to data obtained from the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) and the National Population Commission (NPC). A 2017 United Nations report estimates that in 2050, Nigeria will be the third most populous nation in the world after China and India.
As a country, Nigeria is ill-equipped to cater for its current population. About 112 million Nigerians already live below the poverty mark. A population explosion will lead to even more poverty in a country that is already struggling. Mass unemployment and mass migration to cities will become an even bigger problem. Crimes rates are bound to rise as people flee the villages in search of better opportunities that are already scarce in urban areas. Infrastructure in the cities like roads, bridges are also likely to collapse under the weight it will be forced to carry.
Nigerians are very religious and traditional people––this actively contributes to the country’s population crisis. Most of the country is either Christians or Muslims, with very few people identifying with atheism and other traditional Nigerian religions. In Nigeria, children are considered a blessing from God and the higher the number of children, the more blessed a person is deemed. To try and regulate the number of children a person has is to try and play God. Islam, Christianity, and traditional Nigerian religions actively hinder family planning through their teachings, although Christians are more likely to use birth control than their Muslim counterparts. This is predominant in rural areas where religion is a way of life. In urban areas, due to education and globalization, however, a lot of young Nigerians are opting for family planning.
Local inheritance laws are a major factor contributing to population growth. Daughters do not carry their family name after marriage and are not allowed to inherit family properties in some parts of the country. The pursuit of male heirs often results in couples having more children than they can comfortably cater for.
High infant mortality in rural areas also encourages high birth rates. Parents are unsure which children will survive, so they have more as insurance.
Children also help families make a living––they work with their parents on farms, hawk wares in traffic, and sometimes help beg for alms.
In the absence of social programs, children are also seen as a retirement plan. They care for their parents in old age. The more children you have, the better the quality of your life later on.
The need for effective family planning in Nigeria cannot be overstated.
Other than its benefits to population control, family planning helps women take charge of their lives. Women who get married before completing their basic education can stay in school longer with family planning. Family planning helps women space and limit their pregnancies, this, in turn, has a direct impact on the quality of their lives. Proper family planning gives women a chance to engage in economic activities, which result in an increase in family earnings. An increase in family earnings means families are able to invest more in the education of their children. Family planning can help reduce infant mortality rates. According to a WHO policy brief, family planning can reduce maternal deaths by 40 percent, infant mortality by 10 percent, and childhood mortality by 21 percent.
Some family planning methods––such as condoms––help prevent the transmission of HIV and other sexually transmitted infections. STD diagnosis, treatment and counselling are part of the services included in family planning services. Family planning programs give participants the information and help they need to protect themselves and their partners from unintended pregnancies, HIV, and other STIs.
Family planning is also useful in preventing and managing adolescent pregnancies. Nigeria has the highest teenage birth rate in Africa. The National Population Commission reported that more than 60 million teenage pregnancies were recorded in the country in 2015. Adolescent pregnancy has a detrimental effect on the education and future plans of teenagers. Girls who become pregnant have the tendency to drop out of school and may suffer social stigma. Adolescent pregnancy also contributes to the high number of infant mortality in the country.
In a country with very limited resource to handle a population explosion, family planning must be brought to the forefront. Most of the family planning efforts in Nigeria are carried out by NGOs and international organizations. According to the 2017 budget, Nigeria will spend ₦915 million or the provision and distribution contraceptive commodities as part of counterpart fund. This fund and its use need to be properly monitored. The government also needs to step in and tackle social norms which stand in the way of family planning. Not much can be achieved if people are not well informed.
Massive education campaigns are also required in rural areas. Advocates need to make people understand that family planning is not a way of playing God and controlling people’s reproductive lives. People need to understand how family planning works and its advantages.
Most family planning programs in Nigeria are targeted at women. This can be blamed for their partial failure. Men and religious leaders need to be involved if family planning programs will work. They need to be involved because they’re the major decision makers in the Nigerian society.
Op–ed pieces and contributions are the opinions of the writers only and do not represent the opinions of Y!/YNaija
Juliana Okon Morgan is a Nigerian writer who lives in Abuja. She is passionate about gender equality, community health and local politics.