According to a recent United Nations report, Nigeria's current population of 200 million is projected to double and exceed 401 million by the year 2050. If the current demographic trends persist, it is anticipated to surpass a staggering 728 million by the end of the century.
Nigeria currently has the largest population in Africa, with a count of 206 million individuals as of 2020. In comparison, Ethiopia, the second most populous African country, has 115 million inhabitants, while Egypt leads in North Africa with 102 million people.
It's worth noting that Nigeria's population growth is occurring even though a significant number of children are unintended, largely due to a high number of financially struggling parents contributing to this rapid increase.
This demographic challenge poses a serious concern, especially considering Nigeria's struggling economy. The country remains one of the world's poorest, and the continuous population growth threatens to strain its already limited resources. According to data from the World Poverty Clock, over 105 million Nigerians have been living in extreme poverty since November 2019.
Alarming statistics show that there are no fewer than 24,329 live births per day, even though a substantial 4 in 10 Nigerians live below the national poverty line. The unchecked population growth exacerbates the challenges of the nation's poverty and resource scarcity.
Religious and Cultural Biases
Although family planning is not a novel concept in Nigeria, research highlights a significant portion of women who abstain from using contraceptives. In 2022, the contraceptive prevalence rate among Nigerian women stood at a mere 18%, underscoring a notable resistance to contraceptive use among them.
Notably, the average Nigerian woman bears 5.3 children, which is twice the global average of 2.3 and exceeds the replacement level of 2.1 children per woman. This stark contrast is one of the primary drivers behind Nigeria's status as the most populous country on the African continent, even though it grapples with severe poverty.
The reluctance to adopt contraceptives doesn't stem from a lack of awareness but rather from deeply ingrained cultural and religious biases. Nigeria's 2013 Demographic Health Survey reveals that approximately 85% of women and 95% of men are cognizant of contraceptive methods. However, only 15% of those surveyed report actually using them.
Experts argue that Nigerians generally tend not to embrace the idea of controlling the number of children they have, as they see them as gifts from their maker.
Misconceptions and conservative ideologies discourage contraceptive use, with some perceiving family planning as incompatible with traditional values or Genesis 1: 28.
Kola Adeniyi, a reproductive health practitioner, told Prime Progress that cultural and religious biases are the major reasons why women are not using contraceptives in Nigeria.
"Some people believe that using birth control will make the woman promiscuous and even have extramarital affairs," he added.
He underscored the far-reaching consequences of overpopulation on all facets of the nation. The presence of excessive population hampers the capacity to effectively strategise and allocate economic resources, resulting in resource scarcity due to inefficient distribution.
He also highlighted that "having numerous children could significantly disrupt the lives of parents, as they may struggle to find sufficient time and finances to support their children in reaching their full potential in life."
A problem of access, too
An issue of access compounds the problem. Even those who opt for contraceptives often face challenges in obtaining them. Many married women who are aware of contraceptive options lack the consent of their husbands to use them. Additionally, given the illegal status of abortion in Nigeria, seeking contraceptives is often accompanied by social stigma.
An adolescent reproductive health advocate, Nkechi Macaulay, also described how the myths and misinformation surrounding contraceptives are spread. "So many women have misconceptions about contraceptives. And they even tell other women about it and spread their fears. We need to enlighten women to know the right contraceptive that will suit their body so that when it fails in their system, they visit the health clinic to know for the right assessment," she said.
Speaking further, she noted that men should be educated on the usage of contraceptives. "We have many women who are married to men who know nothing about contraceptives, family planning and maternal health. So when we don't include men in the issues of family planning, the women go home and will not be able to implement it. So it was high time we introduced men to family planning conversations to make them understand. It takes two to get pregnant. It is the collective responsibility of men, women and the government," she said.
And What Should Be Done About Overpopulation
Overpopulation can perpetuate poverty cycles as large families battle to provide for their basic needs. Overcrowding in urban areas can lead to inadequate housing and sanitation.
According to Nkechi, a national orientation policy should be in place now that we are getting overly populated. "We need to cut it down, so we are requesting that families should produce children according to their financial sizes so the government has to come in and not leave it to the sole responsibility of women alone."