Now that Nigeria has 200m mouths to feed

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By Olurinde Lafe

The National Population Commission, through Chairman Eze Duruiheoma, recently announced in New York that Nigeria now has an estimated population of 198 Million people. This figure will rank Nigeria the 7th most populous country on the planet. Reactions to the news have been all over the map. Some commentators do not believe the figure is accurate. Several people expressed dismay at the gigantic challenges the country will be facing with a population of nearly 200 Million. The Vice-President, Professor Yemi , told Dr. Tedros Ghebreyesus, the visiting Director General of the World Health Organization, that should make Nigeria a priority. He was quoted as saying: “We are in challenging times and in the next decade or two, we will have more challenges given that the population is growing and this calls for a lot of work especially with regards to health of our citizens.”

There is no gainsaying the enormous challenges associated with the rapidly rising population. With a population of 200 Million:

1. Actual electrical power need is 200,000MW, using 1KW per capita metric. The country cannot consistently distribute the 7,000MW which senior government officials boasted as the current national power generation capacity.

2. 20 Million new housing units will need to be constructed to meet the new population.

3. The world’s average paved road per capita is about 7m. Nigeria, which currently has less than one metre of paved roads per capita, will need to construct 1.4 Million km of new paved roads just to meet the world’s average number.

4. Small farms, which currently produce 80% of the nation’s food supply, will need to cultivate the bulk of the 34.1 Million Hectares of land required to feed the new population.

Nigeria should focus on the huge opportunities a population of 200 Million human beings will provide for the country. The population, just as our diversity, should be viewed as an asset and not a liability. Slaying the 3-headed-monster of power, housing and roads will pump over US$3 Trillion into the economy. With the right plan and execution strategy the bulk of the requisite funding can be generated from Nigerians (across all socio-economic levels) will be the de facto investors and stakeholders in development projects.

Solving each individual challenge will have a positive domino effect on the solution of the other national problems. For example, seventy percent of the labor force is currently associated with the agricultural sector. A publication by Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation stated: “Agricultural development is two to four times more effective at reducing hunger and poverty than any sector.” Unfortunately, the agricultural sector is plagued with massive harvest spoilage and great difficulties in getting goods to the market. Half of the world’s food production ends up being wasted. Solving the power problem will arrest food spoilage by providing effective and affordable refrigeration close to the farms. New and improved road and rail transportation networks will greatly facilitate the delivery of agricultural goods to the market.

More than 50 Million vibrant well-paying jobs will be created if there is a national resolve to tackle these problems. We will double the total number of people in full-time employment (that is those working at least 40 hours a week).  Unemployment, which currently stands above 50% among the youth, will be history.

Nigeria’s GDP, currently at US$461 Billion, will shoot through the roof in the trillions of US$. The country will then be bold to stand, shoulder to shoulder, with other up and coming contemporaries such as Brazil (population: 209 Million; GDP: US$2.139 Trillion), Mexico (population: 124 Million; GDP: US$1.25 Trillion), and Indonesia (population: 261 Million; GDP: US$1.092 Trillion).

There is no justifiable reason for Nigeria, the “Giant of Africa”, to be be languishing in relative poverty with an annual budget that is less than US$30 Billion. This nation should, at the minimum, be at par with Brazil’s $750 Billion annual budget and a nominal GDP that exceeds US$10,000 per capita.

Leadership must “take the bull by the horn” with new thinking, a selfless attitude, bold moves, and a smart and aggressive development strategy that is not controlled by Abuja. We can do this Nigeria!

Prof. Lafe is  Director, Centre for Renewable Energy Technology and Professor, School of Engineering & Engineering Technology, Federal University of Technology Akure, Nigeria

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