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Let’s Talk About Sex

My introduction to sex education did not come from my parents, it came from music. Not sure how it happens these days, but in my time, you only got to learn about sex from those ‘sinful’ American videos like thisone I stole my title from. It’s incredible to think music made in 1990 is still relevant, but read these lyrics and let me know if you don’t think they apply in Nigeria today.

Let’s talk about sex for now
To the people at home or in the crowd
It keeps coming up anyhow
Don’t decoy, avoid, or make void the topic
Cause that ain’t gonna stop it

In my last post, I mentioned how population growth was the elephant in the room, and how the data suggests Nigeria will struggle to create the required jobs for unemployed people, if we don’t fix population growth.

Stay with me, let’s start with the scary stuff.


Weather for Two!

According to this post, over 20,000 babies were expected to have been in born in Nigeria on New Year’s Day. What this is really saying is Nigeria is expecting record 7.3 million new births in 2018. Ha!

In a country of approximately185 million people, 7.3 million newborns suggest a birthrate (number of live births per thousand) of 39.5. What does this mean? In the 1950’s the global birth rate was 36, but with better health outcomes and family planning, this has now dropped to 16. This means Nigeria is still operating at 1950 levels, and has a birth rate that is 4x of Germany and 3x of France’s.

Birth rate has a strong correlation with another important metric: fertility rate. This is the number of children who would be born per woman if she was to pass through the childbearing years bearing children according to a current schedule of age-specific fertility rates. According to thisreport, Nigeria also has the 13th highest fertility rate in the world at 5.13.

What do these numbers mean?

Nigeria is the 7th most populous nation in the world, which means the base on which these ratios have been computed is very high. If the current growth rate of 2.6% continues for another 20 years, Nigeria will have a population of 311 million people.

Again, what does this mean for jobs?

It means our labour force will grow from 85 million people today to approximately 156 million, a growth of 71 million people in 20 years, or better put 3.5 million per year.Wow.

Think about this for a minute. Nigeria needs to achieve a growth of at least 3.5 million jobs annually to keep unemployment numbers at constant levels for 20 years. Let me write that differently. If we don’t slow our population growth, we will need to create 3.5 million jobs annually to keep the unemployed/underemployed population at 34 million people.

No wonder Nigeria is a poor country, even though we have the 29th largest economy in the world. Since our population is the 7th largest in the world, our GDP per capita of $5,900 means we are in 162nd place globally. That is lower than the Republic of Congo, and comparable to Burma. For a depressing comparison, Saudi Arabia has a GDP per capita of $55,000, 10x Nigeria’s GDP per capita. Ouch

The bad thing with being a poor nation is the risk of being trapped in poverty for a long time. This is explained by theDemographic-Economic Paradox that shows an inverse relationship exists between income and fertility. That’s why Karan Singh, a former minister of population in India said:

Development is the Best Contraceptive

If you want to see evidence of the phenomenon at country level, compare USA with Niger, look at the chart below.


Enough about the problems, we need clear solutions, right? Maybe another volume of policy documents? Shrugs.

First, Nigeria does not have a shortage of population control policies and if you have nothing to do, you can read the 2004 National Policy on Population for Sustainable Development here. However, to see how we failed at implementing the policy, I suggest you read thisImplementation Assessment Report instead.

What is the summary? When the policy was written, we had an estimated population of 120 million, growing at 3% annually. At the same time, our birth rate was 38, fertility rate 5.2, and a high dependency ratio of 80%. The policy is low on specifics, but one sentence caught my attention. It said:

Birth control may be provided to persons whovoluntarily seek them.

That statement helped explain one reason the policy failed. If you are going to wait for people to seek birth control and family planning solutions, we might as well go home. Of course, we missed every target set. The implementation report is very good and gives many reasons why targets were missed. Again, one paragraph caught my eye:

The politicizing of population counts has also negatively impacted implementation of the NPP. Nigeria’s census figures determine seats in the House of Representatives, civil servant hiring, and — most importantly — the distribution of federal funds to the state level. This creates a perverse incentive to manipulate and inflate population figures.

Ouch.

For an activity where I’m told a woman can only get pregnant during a 6-day window every month, you need to have a lot of unprotected/unplanned sex to make as many babies as we do.

So, where do we go from here.

COPY INDONESIA: I’m a big fan of not paying school fees, if you can learn the lessons for free. Indonesia is dominated by two religions and has the largest muslim population in the world, but that’s where the similarities with Nigeria end. Since the President Suharto started an aggressive birth control program in the 70’s, Indonesia’s fertility rate has plunged from 5.6 to 2.6 as at 2010, using a number of key actions that can be copied by Nigeria. First, Indonesia focused on selling a message of family prosperity instead of birth control; this is for me, the biggest change factor.

Second, the country gave more responsibility to religious and village bodies in exchange for their support of family planning policies. Third, a focus on girl child education increased the age of marriage, shortening the fertility period for women. Finally, these policies were backed with the required funding to deliver a door to door campaign that now ensures at least two-thirds of all Indonesian adults use some form of birth control.

There is a lot of material on how Indonesia achieved these staggering results, but you can read thisshort one to start.Incentives Matter: If states have a political and resource driven stake to encourage higher population numbers, the Federal Government must start to tie financial stimulus packages to targets like population control. Like economists say, incentives matter.

It is also important to start showing states that whatever fiscal gains they reap from a large population will be easily offset by per capita demand for resources. At this stage, the National Economic Council should have dedicated sub-committee tracking how states are implementing sub-national family planning policies.Funding: Nigeria budgeted $6 million on family planning in 2017, while Indonesia spends $76 million. Like we all know, your budget is the only way to show focus on a specific issue. Read this and this, then cry a little. We are still in the budget review season, so please advocate to you legislator, we need to improve resource allocation on family planning.Education: Nigeria has a teenage pregnancy rate of 11%. This can only mean one thing, we need to ensure as many girls as possible are educated.

One tried and tested way of reducing population growth is by increasing the average age of first pregnancy. If more girls are educated, they marry later, and have fewer children. Easier said than done, but this one way we can use those Conditional Cash Transfers the Federal Government has started to deploy. If you want to benefit from the CCT, send your daughters to school.Nudge: One of the things Indonesia did was to drive a narrative that having fewer children was a important to improve the quality of life. Outside Bandung, Indonesia’s third largest city, white stones have been set into a green hillside above a busy road, just like the ‘Hollywood’ sign in Los Angeles.The Indonesian version reads,‘Dua Anak Cukup’ meaning ‘Two Children Are Enough.’ I can’t remember seeing a Nigerian campaign around family planning in my lifetime, if you remember any, please share. This is how to shape opinions using teachers, religious leaders, traditional rulers and trade/community associations and the media.

Are these solutions the correct ones? I don’t know. However, what I know is we need to slow the population train down. We can debate how to do it, but it must be done. As Deng Xiapong famously said, “it doesn’t matter whether a cat is white or black, as long as it catches mice.”

One last thing. Did you know that Lokoja is the fastest growing city in the world according to this Wall Street Journalreport? At least we can claim first place in something :)

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