• ‘Our increasing population keeps me awake at night’
Former President Olusegun Obasanjo, yesterday, said Nigeria’s increasing population is assuming a worsening trend, which keeps him awake at night.
Speaking at the public presentation of the 2020 Africa Progress Group (APG) report in Lagos themed: ‘‘Making Africa’s Population an Asset,’’ he lamented the challenge of providing basic amenities for the country’s ever-increasing population.
The report, Population As Asset Responsiveness Index (PARI), is anticipated to be a stimulus for African countries to show more responsiveness to making their populations more of an asset than a burden.
The former president stated that the reason for uprising and terrorism in the country is not far from the fact that there are large armies of unemployed youths who are being recruited into violent extremist groups and criminal gangs.
Making reference to the 11-year Boko Haram insurgency, Obasanjo said Mohammed Yusuf, the group’s founder, was noted to be a religious and forthright man who had lots of unemployed graduates around him.
He said: “Mohammed Yusuf who started Boko Haram was said to be a good and responsible man with a lot of idle youths waiting to listen to him. I heard there was a time he called his followers and said to one, ‘you went to university, how many years now since you graduated?’ He said three years and what are you doing now? He said, ‘no job.’ Then he replied, ‘you see the uselessness of your university education.’
“That is how the word Boko Haram came up. By virtue of his followers not having jobs, he said ‘you see the uselessness of your western education.’ If we cannot provide jobs for our population, we are really in serious trouble. Nobody needs to tell us anything more,” the former president remarked.
Obasanjo, who is the chairman of the APG, said his heart sinks any time he travels across places and sees the huge population of people “oozing out from nowhere.
“Over the last several years, as I travelled through cities and rural communities in Africa, my heart sinks with the sea of heads that fleet across my eyes in parks, marketplaces, and under bridges.
“Even today, as I flew over some settlements from Minna to Lagos and traversed the road from Ikeja to Victoria Island, the sheer number of persons literally oozing out from nowhere kept my mind numb and exasperated. The situation has been worsening and has filled me with a sense of foreboding.
“Three clusters of questions pop up in my mind any time the scary thoughts of the ever-increasing population kept me awake at night. The first cluster is: how are we going to feed this exploding population?
“Only a few days ago, the alarm was raised about the imminent food crisis in Nigeria. Similar alarm bells have been ringing with increasing stridency all over Africa. How are we going to house them; educate them, provide them with health security and other variants of human security?”
A November 2020 report by the Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO) noted that at least 22 million Nigerians could face a severe food crisis between October last year and August 2021.
Continuing, Obasanjo said: “The second cluster of questions is: how do we keep this keg of gunpowder of the large army of unemployed youth from exploding? How do we keep them from enlisting in violent extremist groups and gangs of kidnappers? The third cluster of questions is: how can Africa attain the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and Agenda 2063 in a turbulent sea of exploding, not-well-managed populations?
“While these clusters of questions are frightening, they would appear to have an elegantly simple solution — political will and action to make population an asset. This is the master key of a sort! I am sure you noticed that this ‘key’ has two elements — the will and the action.
“It is not enough to shroud political will in mere political rhetoric and sloganeering, but translating such will into concrete, measurable actions with a visible impact on the ground. This is why, in this report, APG, being a group with a burning desire for Africa’s progress, has established a unique measure of progress of African countries on the concrete and measurable actions on responsiveness to their growing populations.”
According to him, to avoid imminent danger, the huge population of the country must be met with adequate measures that will provide job opportunities for its teeming youth, else the nation will be sitting on a keg of gunpowder waiting to explode.
On his part, President of Afreximbank, Prof. Benedict Oramah, who was represented by Chief Economist/Director, Research and International Cooperation, Dr. Hippolyte Fofack, said the APG report provides the opportunity to realise the huge potential of Africa, drawing on economies of scale associated with the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) to transform the continent’s youth bulge into a demographic dividend.
“Well trained and better harnessed young Africans will not only develop epidemiologic models to predict the next pandemic, but they will also manufacture effective vaccines for the prevention and the right drugs for treatment when prevention is not possible.
“They will protect the continent, which will be in their hands when the old and current generation is gone. There is no development without sustainable development; there is no sustainable development without intergenerational continuity and making Africa’s population, I should add, every cohort of Africa’s population, an asset is definitely the path to sustainable development and real independence.’’