The United Nations recently published its two-yearly update of world population projections. These suggest that Nigeria could rise to 725 million people by 2100. Western media are shrilly calling for Nigeria to put a check on her population growth.
No way, sorry. We Nigerians are rejoicing.
Africans love children. First for financial security. In the past children helped in the farms and the more of them the better. Today, with little or no social security, children are needed to support their parents in old age. Their contributions constitute an informal pension scheme. And having more children means a better pension.
Second, many children ensure that we avoid the problem of ageing populations. We know that in Europe and America, birthrates are far below replacement level. Their populations are ageing and a huge pension debt is resting on the shoulders of a shrinking number sof their working youths. A day of reckoning is looming for them. Nigerians want to avoid this.
Third, our large population supplies our economy with the dynamic and youthful workforce it needs to grow, as well as huge markets for all types of businesses.
Why are Westerners so nervous? Perhaps they believe that Africans will consume all the food. Critics of large population argue that population grows geometrically and food production arithmetically and that soon the human population will outstrip food production and we will all starve. This theory was first floated by Thomas Malthus.
What Malthusians fail to take into consideration is the human spirit of enterprise. Necessity is the mother of invention. This was the case with the breakthrough of Norman Boulaug, the famous scientist who invented high yield crops. Even though Boulaug did not realize it, he had refuted Malthus.
Nor is our large population the primary reason why we are poor. “For these countries to overpopulate themselves like this is a burden on themselves and the world. They are driving themselves into poverty. I suppose they will be expecting other nations to accept their overflow when their irresponsibility makes life in their own countries unbearable,” sniffs a Malthusian reader of The Economist. “High rates of population growth is the number one indicator of under-development,” shouts another.
Such nonsense is often based on ignorance. Even that paragon of exactitude, The Economist, mixed up Niger and Nigeria in its comment on a graph of population growth. But this is a salutary mistake. Let’s compare the two countries. Niger has a population of 15 million and suffers from high unemployment, poverty and an unskilled workforce. It is poorer than Nigeria with its 150 million people by a long margin. Are population and poverty really linked?
The real reason for poverty is corrupt rulers, not a lack of birth control.
Most Africans are ruled by sit-tight leaders who are supported by Western countries because they guarantee secure access to resources. “Rivalry between the United States and the USSR for the rich resources of Congo culminated in General Mobutu Sese Seko’s rule, an extremely corrupt regime that lasted 32 years and sapped the country of its income and stability,” says Paul Johnson in his book Modern Times. African democracy — with some exceptions like Ghana and Botswana — is replete with power-hungry men who cling to power even if it destroys their country. Just think of Kenya, Gabon and recently the Ivory Coast. Such men loot and steal the resources entrusted to them for the development of their people. In many cases they stash their loot in Western banks while the Western governments look the other way.
In 2009 US Secretary of State Hilary Clinton flew around Africa and spoke tough words to many African strongmen. But she sadly refused to comment when asked what the US and its allies are doing to ensure that embezzled funds are returned. Surely this evasive and insincere attitude keeps many Africans poor. Until corrupt leaders know that Europe will not shield them because of their wealth, they will not stop bleeding Africa dry.
Yet the Western propaganda that people make us poor blares on. It is often parroted by our own local media and now many Africans fear having many children. When I was young, I was taught that the world was overpopulated by my primary school teacher. My relatives complained about my mother’s seven children. “A modern woman,” they said, “shouldn’t have so many.”
But we all grew up to be healthy, normal adults and are now a great source of joy and support to my mother and father in their old age. Many of those relatives are envious because in their twilight years they have to deal with few children whom they spoilt silly.
The comfort of a small family is deceptive. Many young people in advanced countries are so spoilt by luxury that even the smallest setback feels intolerable. Euthanasia and birth control result from an inability to cope with suffering, pain and self denial. As one American lady said to me: “My biggest fear is suffering and I am so scared of pain.” No wonder they have high suicide rates!
Nigeria and other African countries stand a good chance of becoming world leaders in the coming decades. They will be helping Europe and the US to fill gaps left by acute shortages of manpower. Perhaps it is a sign of the times that a Nigerian father of five is the new head of the United Nations Population Fund. “A world of 7 billion is both a challenge and an opportunity,” says Dr Babatunde Osotimehin.
I totally agree with him.
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