Nigeria on cusp of ‘demographic disaster’

2010-09-02 07:18

Lagos, Nigeria. – Nigeria could become the fifth most populous country in the world, teetering on the edge of a “demographic disaster” unless its stagnant economy rapidly expands to support its teeming youth population, according to a new report.

Estimates in the report released yesterday by the British Council show Nigeria’s population of 150 million people will swell by another 63 million people by 2050.

Nigeria will have a ready supply of workers into the future with more than 40% of the West African nation’s younger than 14.

However, the oil-rich nation’s gross domestic product (GDP) remained flat as its population multiplied in the last two decades, leaving it dangerously out of balance unless true economic development takes hold, the report said.

“Large cohorts of unemployed or underemployed young people destabilise their societies, fuelling crime and creating conditions where civil conflict becomes more likely,” it said.

“Instead of collecting a dividend, a country that is not well-prepared to make the most of its Baby Boom generation can find itself in the midst of a demographic disaster.”

To avoid that chaos, the report urges Nigeria’s government to step away from relying solely on its crude oil revenues and encourages investment in emerging industries like telecommunication and manufacturing.

Nigeria has yet to show such bold moves after it emerged into democracy a decade ago in the wake of the chaos of military dictatorships and coups following its independence from Britain in 1960.

Blinded by oil money, the government allowed the country’s one-time dominant agricultural economy to be devastated and many of the nation’s factories sit idle.

Illiteracy remains high as an education gap grows wider – children have access to better schooling in the Christian-majority south compared to those in the Muslim north, the report said.

But even an education cannot guarantee a job. The report said 30% of those who completed secondary education remain unemployed.

Meanwhile, those without opportunities in the north will be susceptible to radicalisation – a dangerous precedent in a region already prone to religious violence that borders nations where terror group al-Qaeda of the Islamic Maghreb already operates.

The report also suggests Nigeria’s government offer “family planning” services to slow its population growth.

The British Council, a non-profit organization, is sponsored by the UK government and other organisations.

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