Nigeria’s Population Boom Can Africa’s most populous nation provide for 300 million people?

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According to a UN report, Nigeria’s population will rise to over 300 million by 2050, making it the third largest country in the world. This will be a recipe for disaster or the platform to economic strength.

Starting with the first head count of the Lagos Colony in 1877, there have been many attempts to determine Nigeria’s population.

The numbers have reflected steady growth over time, especially in certain towns and cities that are now recognised as the main population centres: LagosKanoIbadanBeninCity– but not without question marks over the accuracy of the final figures or what/who exactly was counted.

The most recent example comes from 2006. That year’s census pegged Kano at a population of 9,383,682. In the days after, many beer-parlours were asking if the census officers had counted cows as part of that figure.

Animal-related questions aside, that 2006 census is the last to have held in Nigeria. It put the population at 142.6 million people. Compared with the country’s population at independence; 45.14 million people, that’s a staggering increase of 215% in 46 years.

As of December 2016, that figure now sits at 193.3 million, courtesy of estimates from the National Bureau of Statistics; another 33% in a decade.

That figure is expected to rise to over 300 million before 2050. “Among the ten largest countries worldwide, Nigeria is growing the most rapidly”, a report from the United Nations’ Department for Economic and Social Affairs says. “Consequently, Nigeria’s population, currently the 7th largest in the world, is projected to surpass that of the United States.”

By this estimation, it will become the third largest country in the world shortly before 2050.

Nigeria’s large population is a major part of its identity. It is the world’s most populated black nation, and is often referred to as the “giant of Africa”.

Historically, major parts of the country have always been high-density areas.

Before the Portuguese and English first anchored their ships, the rich soil and fauna of the Niger Delta supported a large indigenous population. They make up over 40 tribes that now call the area their homeland.

In the North, Hausa kingdoms and the Kanem-Bornu Empire, which covered large parts of the North-East, prospered as trade posts. Large towns and cities grew in those areas.

The culture of the Hausa/Fulani also promoted large families and a high birth rate replaced the numbers.

Today, this is the single most important factor pushing Nigeria’s rising population.

While the global average birth rate sat at 2.45 per woman in 2015, according to figures from the World Bank, Nigeria had an average of 5.6 children to one mother.

In truth, Sub-Saharan Africa has the highest birth rate in the world. NigerUgandaMaliZambia and Burundi lead the pack, according to the CIA’s World Factbook.

Nigeria is projected to be one of the world’s largest economies in coming years.

Consistent economic growth, until 2014 at least, and the emergence of a Lagos as a commercial and financial hub have attracted higher net migration from other neighbouring countries.

That “You will find a Nigerian in every country in the world” is a common saying among the people. Most Nigerians would gladly leave the country to find “greener pastures” overseas.

In recent years, many, mostly young males, have explored various routes to South-Africa, Europe and the United States.

In the inverse, more people are crossing the borders from neighbouring countries such as Benin, Cameroon, Niger and Ghana.

Some come to get an education in one of the country’s many universities. Others come for menial work,  or to take a shot at making a living in Africa’s largest economy. Most of them never leave.

Developments in healthcare, yet minimal, have improved life expectancy by a long stretch.

At independence, the average Nigerian male could only expect to live for just over 37 years, according to the World Bank.

46 years later, that had improved to 54.5 years, for both genders, according to the World Health Statistics reportreleased by the World Health Organisation at the end of 2016.

The influence of cultural ideals cannot be ignored. Large families are often associated with prosperity and fruitfulness in Nigeria and most couples often go out of their way to have more than one child.

Whether they can take care of them is a question that comes later, sometimes, too late.

In the past, these large families helped with farm-work or trade. Nigeria’s population boom could have a similar effect on the country’s economy.

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