Nigeria’s large population and rapid urbanization has been celebrated among those in the U.S. business community optimistic about the country’s prospects. The country’s natural wealth, it was argued, provides the means to construct an education system and other infrastructure for a modern future. With a population projected to be the third largest in the world by mid-century, there are dramatic investment opportunities, so the story goes.
Remi Adekoya’s short, succinct article in Foreign Policy provides a dose of reality. He observes that Nigeria’s National Bureau of Statistics estimates the population to have already surpassed 193 million, larger than the UN projection of 187 million. Nigeria’s fertility rate remains very high, 5.13 children to each woman, compared with 1.87 in the United States. He also chronicles the devastating impact of the fall in petroleum prices on the government’s budget. For 2017, the national budget amounts to $15 billion at the current market (not official) exchange rate. The Kansas state government has as large of a budget as Nigeria, though with a population of 2.9 million.
The budget for education is $290 million, “less than a third of what Harvard University will spend on research and development alone.” Under these circumstances, he projects, the numbers of illiterate and unemployed Nigerians will grow, packed into urban slums. So, too, will violent crime and illegal emigration. He notes that of the 153,000 migrants who entered the European Union via Italy in 2015, “the largest number – 22,000 – were Nigerian.”
Adekoya argues that Nigeria’s birth rate must fall. But, there are immense obstacles to overcome, including culture. He notes that for many Nigerians, children are a blessing from God, and a guarantee that they will be taken care of in their old age. He also observes that the political class in Nigeria is thoroughly discredited by corruption and bad governance. To increase family planning and birth control, he urges that religious leaders be approached.
Adekoya’s analysis of the demographic time bomb is credible. Perhaps less so is his hope that religious leaders can be persuaded to advocate family planning and birth control. Socially, religious leaders, both Christian and Muslim, are highly conservative.
By John Campbell
January 12, 2017
Council On Foreign Relations