By Moses Emorinken, Abuja
Stakeholders in the health space have stressed that one of the major reasons for Nigeria’s slow economic growth and a low rating for other socio-political indices, is due to its high fertility rate.
While noting that the fertility rate globally and in Nigeria are 2.5 and 5.3 respectively, they advocated for more engagements at the state and local government level in order to reduce the country’s fertility rate, and achieve a 27 percent prevalence in the use of modern contraception across the country.
They also stressed that in order to reduce maternal mortality, unemployment, poverty, insurgency, etc., there is an urgent need for the country to adopt inclusive, equitable, transparent, and qualitative family planning services, in order to move from demographic crisis to demographic transition, and then to demographic dividends.
While speaking during a media dialogue organised by the Association for the Advancement of Family Planning (AAFP) and Planned Parenthood Federation of Nigeria (PPFN) in Abuja, Dr Ejike Oji, a Public Health Advocate and Family Planning Champion, said: “Nigeria is in a demographic crisis. Ten years ago, we were shouting at the top of our voices that in ten years’ time, Nigeria will be in a crisis situation, and it is happening now. Our population has grown tremendously since the last time we had our census in 2006. Then, we say we are 140 million. We are now 210 million and still counting.
“The only problem here is that our fertility rate is high and it means we are producing more people than we can take care of at any point in time. A lot of people refer to India and China as being populous countries, and their economies are doing well. But anyone who has been in touch with reality in the past 50 years, will know that China and India were one of the poorest nations of this world, until they did something.
“So, the fertility rate is the problem. The world met in 1991, where the international conference on population and development was held in Cairo. At that time, the world’s total fertility rate was 5.5. The world said – if we need to see progress in human development, we must by 2025 reduce our annual global fertility rate to 2.5. In 2019, the world had attained a fertility rate of 2.5. It means the world has moved in the right direction. Nigeria’s fertility rate is still at 5.3.
“The dependency ratio in Nigeria now is about 85.5 percent. In order words, the people who are producing what other people are eating and using are below 20 percent of the population. 70 percent of our population is under the age of 30.
“This means we have young people who have aspirations in life; some of them have been properly trained, but they don’t have jobs. You also have young people who are incapable of doing any smart jobs because they are uneducated and untrained.
“So, because the aspirations of the youths have been blunted, they will seek greener pastures to a country where they feel they can do some good. Also, because of the youthful bulge in the country, religious, traditional and political bigots recruit those young ones to perpetuate their evils.”
He added: “Nigeria made a commitment that by 2020 we will increase our annual modern contraception to 27 percent. We pushed it to 2024. Now the global move is to 2030. Nigeria’s commitment should be grounded in available data and evidence.
“Also, male involvement through the traditional and religious leaders is paramount. Once you tell the Pastor or Imam, once they tell the men, the men will go to their various homes to implement it.”
In his presentation on the Hewlett Voices Project, Dr Okai Haruna, Director of Advocacy and Business Development for Planned Parenthood Federation of Nigeria (PPFN), said: “The Project seeks to educate the communities about family planning, because there are a lot of myths and misconceptions about it.
“We moved from Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) to Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). We really did not know that to achieve MDGs, we must address family planning because it is the most cost effective way.
“When we talk about family planning, people tend to look more towards women than men; reproductive health is for both sexes. It is important to take advocacy work about family planning to the subnational level. This is because the federal level alone cannot achieve this.”