There is an ongoing debate on the relationship between demographic change and economic outcomes in Nigeria. Many scholars agree that higher birth rates have trapped households and individuals in a vicious cycle of poverty (Reading 2011). However, there is a lesser agreement on whether lowering birth rates in Nigeria will contribute to an increase in economic development and help its people escape the cycle of poverty. I argue that while an increase in population growth may worsen the process of human development by reducing overall income per household, it is not the root cause of the country’s failure to provide its people with adequate resources. The existence of underlying political-economy problems, specifically the resource curse, that prevail the country are causing a lack of human development and intensifying the effects of population growth. “Development is said to be a predictor that determines whether a country is progressing or not.
A critical assessment of Nigeria’s development despite her abundance in human, natural and material resources reveals that the country is yet to achieve the desired expectations as clamored by her citizens” (Akande, Benyin and Abasilim 2015 p. 76). Nigeria is the most populous country in Africa and also the most populous amongst the black nations of the world. Population growth should improve human development due to the abundance of labor force, but that is not the case in Nigeria (Odusina 2011). Nigeria appears to be in, what economists call, a poverty trap which is a vicious cycle that prevents individuals or households from improving their standards of living and takes hard work and massive investment to break. The population is rising faster than the economy can cater for and is thus breeding poverty in the country (Vanguard 2012).
There are many factors which have contributed to population growth globally and in Nigeria. Modernization and technological expansion during the 20th century allowed societies to gain control of the ailments that previously killed large percentages of the population. Suddenly, societies were equipped to overcome famine, malnutrition, and other life-threatening diseases. Compared to many decades ago, there are better though not adequate medical services and facilities that have greatly reduced infant, child, maternal and other forms of mortality (Odusina 2011). Early marriages especially in the northern part of the country tend to lead to high birth rates because women have the opportunity of having many children due to longer reproductive years (Odusina 2011). In Nigeria, religions and customs often favor large families and discourage the practice of family planning. Many religions and customs permit polygyny, such as Islam which allows men to have up to four wives each, again leading to higher birth rates (Odusina 2011). The consequent increase in birth rates poses challenges for the country.
Even though, high population growth can be a source of capital formation and high mass consumption in underdeveloped countries, its effects on per capita income are not favorable (Jhingan, 2005). Lewis (1954) suggests that economic development takes place when capital accumulates with the withdrawal of surplus labor from the rural sector and its employment in the industrial sector.
Population growth also leads to the age of high mass consumption. Rostow (1966) has shown that during the “take- off stage” (p. 102) when the growth rate of population was high, the rate of net investment rose by 5-10 percent of national income. This increase in investment and consequent increase in demand of products led to the development of “leading sectors” (p. 105) and paved way for the age of high mass consumption. Unfortunately, growth in population tends to retard per capita income because it increases the pressure of population on land, leads to rise in cost of consumption goods because of the scarcity of co-operant factors to increase supplies and leads to a weakened accumulation of capital because with an increase in family members, expenses increase. Therefore, the reduction in per capita income due to population growth can badly affect human development even if output growth is high.
Another issue illustrating the impact of population growth is the unequal distribution of population density that can lead to unemployment. Even though population density in Nigeria is high (288 people/square mile), it is not equally distributed across all regions. With the rise of urbanization and the dual nature of Nigerian economy, rural-urban migration is growing. In urban areas, economic development brings about higher standards of living, but, in rural areas, a subsistence economy predominates. This dual nature coupled with rapid population growth results in small or no growth in per capita income (Onwuka 2013). The magnitude of this rural-urban migration has greatly exceeded the capacity of the modern industrial sector to absorb the migrants, so it can only employ a small proportion of them. However, these problems are not only a result of population growth and migration but also the government has typically failed to produce a growth of job opportunities at anything near the rate of output growth, so the migrants are likely to join the growing pools of unemployed workers. Therefore, the disproportionately high rate of rural-urban migration combined with slowly growing urban employment opportunities due to government inefficiency have contributed to the emergence of chronic urban unemployment and underemployment problem in Nigeria (Todaro 1971).
Hunger, starvation and malnutrition are ravaging the nation because there is a reducing agricultural output per capita (Onwuka 2013), a problem that results from the pressures of population growth but cannot be solved unless there is adequate government involvement. The agricultural industry, which accounts for 26.8% of GDP and two-thirds of employment, has seen a decline in productivity. Due to high density of people in the Eastern states as much as 53 per cent of the farming population cultivate less than 0.4 hectares in a given year and in the more congested areas of these states most farmers cultivate only 0.2 hectares per year.
The result is fragmentation of farmlands and their subdivision into smaller plots to accommodate the growing farming populace. With time, the small plots have become weak even for subsistence farming, forcing those concerned to move into marginal soils, where greater degradation takes place with attendant reduction in agricultural output (Onwuka 2013). This process is one of the explanations to decreasing peasant income and accompanying widespread poverty among the rural dwellers, the incessant food shortages and insufficient calorie intake among the Nigerian people. The application of modern farming techniques and fertilizers could assuage this problem, but unfortunately as a capital deficient country with a lack of focus on investment in modern forms of farming and technology, the traditional methods of farming dominate agricultural practice in Nigeria.
. One reason Nigeria has failed to increase food output as a country is because it is a victim of the “resource curse” (Ross 2012) and depends on natural resources, particularly oil that poses a lot of political and economic challenges. The discovery of oil in the country reversed its rich history of agricultural practices. The country was once a lead exporter in cocoa, rubber, and palm oil – now production of all three over the past 25 years has declined sharply. Nigeria is a country that has immense potential to be a key exporter of food and livestock, yet it now relies on imports of food to support its rapidly growing population. The prospect of huge financial resource that could be generated from the oil resource has diverted the nation’s attention from its agricultural blessing. The financial returns from the oil resources are constantly manipulated and diverted by government officials and result in Nigerian citizens suffering a food shortage.
Instability and violence due to the resource curse add to the troubles of development in Nigeria. The oil rich Niger Delta has converted to a region of intense and controversial struggle between the state and the indigenous population. Local indigenous people are furious that foreign oil corporations are reaping the rewards of this resource, while their standards of living have not improved. In fact, the effects of oil extraction for the environment and the Niger Delta communities have been devastating. According to Nigerian federal government figures, there were more than 7,000 oil spills between 1970 and 2000 that have led to serious ecological damage in the fragile region. In the last decade, a militant group called the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) has emerged. This group has hurled many attacks on oil workers and pipelines, attempting to shut down production in the region. Also, since government revenue depends heavily on oil, political control seems to be a tempting opportunity for would-be coup leaders and revolutionaries, which leads to further instability. As a way of maintaining social stability, Nigeria heavily subsidizes fuel for consumers. With prices rising, those subsidies are the government costing more and the giant country is caught in a political-economic trap (Global Citizen 2012).
Corruption and mismanagement, which also result from the resource curse pose a challenge to the elimination of poverty. Ineffective targeting of the poor leading to leakage of benefits to unintended beneficiaries, poor design and implementation, deficient infrastructural facilities, poor funding of programmes and political and policy instability are also contributing factors. These factors suggest bad governance and over-centralization of power which have become the bane of the country. The World Bank has estimated that as a result of corruption, 80% of energy revenues in the country only benefit 1% of the population. Because of the different and numerous interests in the country, it is difficult to carry out a holistic and comprehensive poverty reduction programme that would fit and satisfy the six geopolitical zones. Although some pocket successes have been made in areas of agriculture, education and provision of primary health care, poverty still remains high in the country. Each government that comes into power relegates what the previous government has started. The constant change in poverty reduction programmes does not allow the people to completely embrace the policies and for the policies to make the expected impact (Onah, Okwuosa & Uroko 2018).
Oil exports also tend to push up a country’s exchange rate, making it less competitive in other industrial markets and resulting in poverty. This in turn reduces an economy’s complexity, preventing it from producing supply chains or raising productivity by learning foreign technologies and thus exposes a country to risk. Oil prices are also volatile. When prices fall, as they often do, it can be disastrous for an oil-dependent economy such as Nigeria. During the 1980s, Nigerians actually got steadily poorer, as oil prices fell. To escape the resource curse, there needs to be economic diversification as well as an educated and healthy workforce since service and manufacturing industries depend on a having a reservoir of able, literate workers. Along with a stable currency and budget, diversification will help insulate Nigeria against the vagaries of the oil market (Bloomberg 2018).
To overcome the aforementioned development challenges, the Nigerian government must provide an enabling environment through promoting decent employment in the agricultural sector and non-farm sectors as well as providing credit facilities to serve as platform for the most vulnerable to cope with the economic realities particularly in the rural areas. The government needs to provide basic infrastructures such as access to road and electricity and make education more accessible to build the capacity of farmers.
Modern technologies must also be adopted to improve agricultural productivity. Because of the slashes in educational expenditures, investments have not kept pace with the demands of that sector. In effect, infrastructures have been overstrained causing their decay and inadequate teaching materials and understaffing engender deterioration in learning outcomes. Many eligible candidates are also denied admission into Nigerian universities due to inadequate facilities. The health sector suffers the same investment fatigue, with aggregate growth rates of 2 per cent and 1.2 per cent for the capital and recurrent expenditures respectively for the period between 1985 and 2002, which is lower than the population growth rate of 3 per cent (Central Bank of Nigeria, 2003b). Overuse negatively impacts the physical conditions of health facilities and the growing number of patients reduces the availability of drugs in hospitals (Onah, Okwuosa & Uroko 2018).
Nigeria has faced negative consequences as a result of population growth. However, the Nigerian resource curse and government’s failure to provide basic resources and bring down the birth rates are to blame for the consequent low development patterns. Robust economic growth coupled with equitable distribution of income could lesson the negative consequences of population growth on development as experienced by China, Indonesia and South Korea demonstrate. In Nigeria, however, growth has been sluggish and the gap between the rich and the poor keeps widening to the extent that the share of the poorest 20 per cent of the population in national consumption amounted to only 4 per cent in 2002, while that of the richest 20 per cent was 56 per cent (Federal Republic of Nigeria, 2004c). Corruption and bad governance wear away the confidence of the people in their government which reduces their enthusiasm in the struggle for socioeconomic revival and stability. Since the basic needs of the people are not adequately catered for, exacerbation of poverty is inevitable especially with rural-urban movements.
It is true that curbs are needed in Nigerian population growth rate but in order to support human development, Nigeria has to turn its resource curse into a blessing. If we look at the Angola’s case, we can understand that simply lowering birth rates will not help the economy improve. Despite having one of the world’s highest growth rates from 2005 to 2010, averaging some 17 percent annually, its score on the human development index remained at 0.49, and its infant mortality rate was lower than the sub-Saharan African average (Onwuka 2013).