By Meletus EZE
Nigeria must urgently build an economy that will support its fast-growing population in order to avoid a `time bomb scenario’, Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, has said.
Osinbajo made this submission in his address at the Religious Leaders Consultative Forum on Harnessing Demographic Dividend for Sustainable Development in Nigeria: The Role of Muslim Religious Leaders on Thursday in Abuja.
The theme of the forum is “Increasing Access to Reproductive Health as a Key Pillar for Achieving Demographic Dividend in Nigeria.’’
Demographic dividend refers to the growth in an economy that is the resultant effect of a change in the age structure of a country’s population.
The vice president said that relevant demographics showed the prospects and potential of a prosperous future for Nigeria, if appropriate and timely actions were in place.
According to him, Nigeria’s population size is currently estimated at over 198 million, the largest in Africa.
He said about 63 per cent of the population was under the age of 25 years, 33 per cent between 10 years and 24 years, and 54.8 per cent of working age between 15 years and 64 years.
Osinbajo added that 51 per cent of the female population was in their reproductive ages-15 years to 49 years.
He said it was estimated that by 2050 Nigeria would be the 3rd most populous country in the world, after India and China.
“Of course, the reverse side of Nigeria’s rich demographic potential, is the much-talked-about ‘population time bomb,’ or as some would say demographic threats.
“Total Fertility Rate (TFR) has remained high over the last three decades and currently stand at 5.5 births per woman; modern Contraceptive Prevalence Rate (CPRm) is very low at 10 per cent with 16 per cent unmet need for Family Planning (FP).
“Twenty-three percent of our adolescents (ages 15-19 years) have commenced childbearing and Child Marriage still persists at 18 percent.
“These figures vary across the North and the South, for example, TFR is lowest in the South West (4.5) and highest in the North East (6.3) and North West (6.7), respectively with Bauchi at 8.1 and Sokoto at 7.0.
“To avoid the time-bomb scenario, we must act with urgency to build an economy that can support that population, provide jobs and economic opportunity, education and healthcare, hope and optimism.’’
Osinbajo said it was the business of heads of families at the micro level and governments at the macro level to prioritise the education and health of their families and invest more per child with more deliberate planning.
He said the Federal government had since 2015 prioritised the problems of speedily getting the largest numbers of our people out of poverty and its implications for the critical human development issues especially, healthcare, education and jobs.
“We are now two years into the most ambitious Social Protection Programme in the history of Nigeria, with a provision in the budget of N500 billion.
“We are in answer to the malnutrition and stunting feeding over 9.2 children in public primary schools daily in 25 States, we have now employed 500,000 graduates in our N-Power programme, and we are giving microcredit to over 2million petty traders in every State.
“We are also targeting our cash transfers to over 400000 of the poorest Nigerians. We are investing in present and future generations, raising school enrolment and child immunization rates.
“The emphasis on young people as contained in the Demographic Dividend Road Map is consistent with one of the strategic objectives of our Economic Recovery and Growth Plan, of “Investing in our people” through social inclusion, job creation and youth empowerment and improved human capital.’’
He commended the United Nations Population Fund for its leadership in the crucial dialogue.
Osinbajo also thanked the Nigerian Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs, Federation of Muslim Women Association of Nigeria, the Muslim Students Society of Nigeria, for honouring the meeting.
On his part, the Minister of Health, Prof. Isaac Adewole, said the road map to harnessing Nigeria’s demographic dividend– promoting gender equality, responsible fertility; empowerment of young people was consistent with the global strategy.
He said the Federal Government through the Ministry of Health and UNFPA was collaborating with all religious leaders.
In a goodwill message, UNFPA’s Representative in Nigeria, Dr Eugene Kongnyuy, said that the experience of Asian tigers showed that that demographic dividend did not come automatically as it must be deliberately harnessed.