Unsustainable Demographics In Nigeria

Nigeria is the largest and most populous country in Africa, and the seventh largest in the world,  and it currently has a population of 215 million. Available reports expect this number to nearly double by 2050, when the population will be approximately 400 million. The population growth rate of the country has been consistently high, always exceeding 2% since the 1960s. Currently, the population growth rate stands at 2.41%, according to the World Bank. This rate stands in stark contrast to the global average of 0.88% and the 0.2% observed in the EU. Despite a notable decrease in recent decades, Nigeria’s fertility rate remains remarkably high at 5.2 children per woman. The decline in infant mortality has not been matched by a proportional decline in fertility rates, thus leading to an increased population.

Nigeria finds itself in a transitional phase, characterised by a diminishing infant mortality rate and by an absence of a corresponding decline in fertility rates, therefore resulting in overall population growth. In particular, the young cohort is the main subject of such growth. According to data available on populationpyramid.net, 42,7% of the Nigerian population is younger than 14 years old, while the portion of the population between 14 and 29 is just below 30%. This data becomes even more significant when one realises that around 70% of the population is under the age of 30.

This youth explosion is a double-edged sword, as it can be an asset just as much as it can be a huge source of problems and instability for the stability of the government. An enormous young population is indeed usually believed to be an asset for the development of a society. However, if adequate resources are lacking to sufficiently employ young people, as is the case in Nigeria, the latter may turn into a big obstacle to the development of the country. Nigeria does not currently possess the necessary resources to accommodate a 50% population surge.

A country with such a young cohort should regard education as one of its principal concerns. According to Stratfor, 45% of all out-of-school children in West Africa are recorded in Nigeria. A report published in 2022 by UNESCO shows that approximately 20 million children were out of school. These numbers in Nigeria have always been considerably high, oscillating between 10 and 15 million. However, as pointed out by Premium Times, the degenerating security situation in the country has only worsened the picture. In particular, nearly two thirds of the 14 million out-of-school children in the country are girls, and 30% of Nigerian girls have never been in school. Many others start primary school but then end up dropping out due to several obstacles, such as poverty, insecurity, inadequate school infrastructure, child marriage, societal norms, and unaffordable school fees.

Despite assurances to tackle the crisis of out-of-school children and bridge gender disparities in education, the Nigerian government consistently falls short in allocating sufficient funds to education. Premium Times reports that in the 2023 national budget, a mere 8%, equivalent to 1.79 trillion naira ($2.2 billion), is earmarked for the education sector, and a significant portion of this allocation never reaches schools due to corruption at the state level. 

In addition, children that do go to school are exposed to high risks, as Osai Ojigho, Director of Amnesty International Nigeria recently explained: “While in captivity, school children are at risk of torture, humiliation, hard labour, rape, and other human rights abuses. The Nigerian authorities must take all necessary steps to restore them to safety, as well as all other children who remain in captivity”

Moreover, the question of unemployment resulting from this youth explosion may turn out to be a threat to national security. The Nigeria’s National Bureau of Statistics estimated that youth unemployment levels hover around 40%. Recently, the government launched the Special Public Works Program (SPW) to address job creation. It aims to benefit low-skilled workers, with a commitment to generate over 750,000 employment opportunities. However, as pointed out by Stratfor, the program offers three-month-long occupations with a salary of 20,000 nairas, the equivalent of $26 a month: less than the national minimum wage of 40$ a month. Its clear that, although initiatives like the SPW may temporarily ease unemployment for a small segment of Nigeria’s youth, they fall short of providing the fundamental structural employment opportunities essential for ensuring lasting and widespread job security for millions of Nigerians in the future.

The picture described so far appears very concerning and its long-term sustainability is alarming. However, the IMF has stressed the importance of investing in the youth bulge, as countries are given an incredible opportunity to deepen their human capital. A rising proportion of working-age people in the population can indeed boost economic growth with the right policies and institutions. The IMF suggests some strategies that governments should follow in order to make the most out of their demographic window of opportunity. Among those identified, improving the quality of education as well as easing labor market entry seem to be the most well-suited for the Nigerian context.

Regarding the education system, it appears that substantial education reform could help neutralise the causes behind high fertility rates, such as lack of education and early marriage. Better access to education is fundamental yet insufficient, as sexual and reproductive health education should be introduced in educational programs. By providing young Nigerians with the information and skills they need to make educated decisions about family planning, this strategy seeks to end the vicious cycle of high fertility rates linked to low educational attainment. Moreover, a concerted effort should be made to address the existing gender disparities in education. 

Devoting a larger share of the national budget to education, with a focus on eliminating barriers for girls, may prove crucial to the creation of an educated and empowered population capable of making informed decisions.

To successfully tackle unemployment in Nigeria, new job opportunities capable of meeting the demands of the nation’s expanding population must be created. Investing money in industries like technology, renewable energy, and sustainable agriculture that have a lot of room for growth will help the country develop overall, while also employing a large number of young people. For example, sustainable agriculture not only creates jobs but also improves food security and encourages ecologically friendly farming methods. Similarly, Nigeria can contribute to the global effort to use cleaner energy sources.

In conclusion, according to the UN Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator for Nigeria, Edward Kallon, young people represent Nigeria’s greatest and most valuable resource. In the Nigerian Youth Employment Action Plan, published in 2021 by the ILO, the government stressed its commitment to ensure decent and productive work for young people. The hope is that by improving education and lowering youth unemployment rate, young people will be encouraged to remain in school and complete their education. Given the prospects of population increase by 2050, as predicted in available data, Nigeria must undertake major reforms, not only to handle 400 million citizens living within its borders, but also to make the best out of Nigerian youth.



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