Nigeria high fertility rate fueling underdevelopment — Experts

By Chioma Obinna

When John and Josephine Adigwe got married several years back, all they could think about at that time, was making babies.
Today, Josephine is a mother of eight. Faced with the current economic challenges in the country, the meagre income of her husband, a carpenter, cannot meet the needs of the family.

The family of 10 is surviving hand-to- mouth. Four of the children have dropped out of school, even as three square meals daily is a tall dream. Josephine is one of the Nigerian women of reproductive age that are not accessing contraceptives and suffering the consequences that made up the 16 percent family planning unment need, according to the 2013 Demographic Health Survey.

While the Adigwes are endangering the future of their young ones and swelling the number of dependents of the country, Godson and Tina Egwu, are working towards achieving a better future for their two children. Married 10 years after graduation, Godson, a civil servant, took it upon himself to plan his family. Exactly, 13 months after their nuptial, his wife gave birth to a baby girl.

The couple agreed to seek family planning services and opted for long acting contraceptives that helped to prevent pregnancy for five years before the third child was born.

Today, their children are healthy and in school and with potential to contribute positively to  the country’s economic growth. Sadly, there are more families like the Adigwes than the likes of the Godsons. Statistics from the Nigeria show that as at mid- 2016, Nigeria had a population of 186 million, annual population growth rate of nearly 3 percent, and 44 percent of the population was under age 15.

According to the data, the Total Fertility Rate, TFR, or the average number of children per woman over the course of her lifetime, declined from 6.5 in 1990 to 5.7 in 2015.  Given Nigeria’s high population size and population growth rate, even assuming a decline in total fertility rate to 3.7, the population is expected to grow to over 440 million by 2050.

From the 2016/2017 Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey, MICS, Nigeria has a fertility rate of nearly 6 children per woman and a median age of 18.   The survey also showed that before age 19, some women in Nigeria must have given birth to a live baby. Health watchers say although Nigeria has made bold efforts to achieve rapid economic development over the past four decades, among other factors, rapid population growth has affected the quality of life and made achievement of socio-economic development goals difficult.

While launching the roadmap on harnessing demographic dividend in the youth population, the Vice President, Prof Yemi Osinbajo, expressed worry about the Nigeria’s fertility rate, saying with the youthful age structure of about half of the population under 35 years, the implication of such demographic realities for the country’s development may have consequences too grave to be ignored. Experts estimate that the window of opportunity for demographic dividend occurs when the age of the young population and the older population is between 26 and 41 years.

Findings show that countries with higher fertility rate are unlikely to achieve desired levels of development across multiple sectors. But with a change in maturing age structure opens a window of opportunity across four sectors – health, education, economic and political.

In a research on “How Age Structure Change Can Benefit Development” with statistical analysis using data from over 100 countries for a period of over four decades, it was found that countries with very youthful populations almost never attain high thresholds of development.  Nigeria falls among these countries.

The research specifically found that Nigeria has only 1 percent chance of achieving the Sustainable Development Goal, SDG, target of reducing under-5 mortality to less than 25 deaths per 1,000 live births. But experts say if the country invests more in reproductive health particularly family planning in areas with poor health indicators, then fertility levels may begin to decline more significantly, and children will be more likely to achieve better basic levels of health.

Supporting this view, the Programme Director, Population Reference Bureau, PRB, Elizabeth Leahy Madsen, said all was not gloomy for Nigeria, if the country invests massively in child survival and child spacing, adding that such investments can turn things around. But she observed that demographic window of opportunity does not open on its own.

She said countries must provide women with voluntary family planning information and services as it helps couples achieve their desired family size and contributes to improved child health through promoting healthy timing and spacing of pregnancies.

Using historical data from countries that have achieved the child survival dividend in the research supported by Population Reference Bureau, PRB, USAID and Policy Advocacy Communication Enhanced, (PACE), Nigeria’s likelihood of achieving the child survival dividend is possible only if the country’s total fertility rate, or the average number of children a woman would have in her lifetime, continues to decline.

It also showed that a faster decrease in the total fertility rate could accelerate Nigeria’s progress toward the child survival dividend.

From the statistical graph, in 2015, Nigeria has total fertility rate of 5.7 and a median age of 18 years and the likelihood of achieving the child survival dividend was 1 percent.

“By 2020, Nigeria is expected to have fertility rate of 5.4 with a median age of 18 and likelihood of achieving child survival dividend is 2 percent.  By 2025, Nigeria will achieve a total fertility rate of 5.1 with median of 19 percent, and likelihood of achieving child survival dividend will be 2 percent.

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