A Three Child Limit for Nigeria? [Updated]

Jeffrey Sachs, the American economist famous for such books as The End of Poverty, currently serves as special adviser to United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki Moon. Ban visited Nigeria this week, and Sachs commented on Nigeria’s population growth. Nigeria’s population currently stands at around 160 million, and some estimates project that Nigeria could have over 700 million people by 2100, placing it third in population behind China and India. Sachs has a solution in mind:

“I am really scared about population explosion in Nigeria. It is not healthy. Nigeria should work towards attaining a maximum of three children per family,” Sachs told AFP on the margins of a presidential interactive meeting with key members of the business community.

He told the meeting earlier that an increased annual economic growth rate from the current seven percent, encouragement of integrated development in economy, agriculture, urban and rural sectors, provision of a good health system, education, power, railway, could see the country become one of the most important economies in the 21st century.

The BBC quotes a Nigerian family planning expert who suggests that the three child proposal is not feasible:

Isaac Ogo pointed to the tradition of polygamy and the belief that the children were seen as a “gift from God” in a male-dominated society.


Mr Ogo, from the Planned Parenthood Federation of Nigeria, agrees with the goal but says it will be hard to change the views of many Nigerians.

He says Nigeria is a “high birth, high death” society where many people think: “I need to have as much children as I want, as I don’t know which will survive.”

What do you think? Should the Nigerian government follow Sachs’ proposal? Would it work?


Elizabeth Dickinson responds at her blog:

This is a classic case of looking at the symptom of the problem, not the problem itself. Why is fertility so high in Nigeria? Because there is no access to contraceptives, because women’s healthcare is practically non-existent, because women often have no choice about when and whether to have sex, and because child mortality is so high that it’s not uncommon for kids to die before they ever reach the age of five. Focus on the healthcare and the structural issues — and start providing a lot more free contraceptives and a lot of public health education — and the population issue just might resolve itself.


10 thoughts on “A Three Child Limit for Nigeria? [Updated]

  1. I agree with Mr Ogo- it’s very easy for white Westerners to tell Africans to have less children. We have never in our lifetimes faced the possibility of a. many of our children not surviving into adulthood and b. needing our children to provide a safety net for us in old age. Until we understand that, there’s little point pronouncing the need for Africans to have less children, even in more developed areas.

  2. Isn’t it a universal truth that improved standards in education and health lead to lower death rates and longer life expectancy, which in turn lead to lower birth rates? But that doesn’t apply to Nigeria? Hans Rosling may have some answers

  3. In my limited reading of Nigerian culture surrounding family planning (see Daniel Jordan Smith’s work), I understand that children are not just a gift from God, but also a display of wealth (few children means you have not been very successful). Given this widely held belief, it would be difficult to introduce a child-limit policy. You change the rules, but what about hearts and minds?

    • See this paper in particular:

      Contradictions in Nigeria’s Fertility Transition: The Burdens and Benefits of Having People

      ABSTRACT: Nigeria appears to be experiencing a transition to lower fertility. Based on ethnographic research, this article shows how Nigerians navigate a paradoxical political-economic and cultural context, wherein they face powerful pressures both to limit their fertility and to have relatively large families. The main argument advanced here is that Nigerians’ fertility behavior must be understood in the context of the ways that parenthood, children, family, and kinship are inextricably intertwined with how people survive in a political economy organized around patron-clientism. Despite the fact that fertility transition is widely associated with broad processes of modernization and development, ordinary Nigerians experience the pressures to limit fertility in terms of a failed economy, development disappointments, and personal hardship–even while they see relatively smaller families as essential if they are to educate their children properly and adapt to a changing society.


  4. My thoughts aren’t quite coherent, but follow from the comments above, especially dadakim’s comment, and the abstract she posted (thank you for the link!):

    The abstract discusses how people deal with patron-clientalism in the political economy (I admit to not reading the paper yet). Yes, while household structures and operations interact directly with the political economic structure, practices of polygamy, and displays of wealth (via wives and children) have historical transcended different political economy structures or systems. Further, I’ve had notions of ‘providing’, ‘caring’, etc., expressed to me — if you are able to care for others, then you should do so. Another example is that several of the Hausa I interact with continue with child ‘fostering’ (for lack of a better English term at the moment) practices — and in this way provide ‘care’ for other relatives.

    My ideal self finds it questionable, to say the least, that the West finds it appropriate to suggest population-control measures could often be seen as directly limiting rights, promoting fertility control, etc.

    To me (in part following from priffe’s comment), part of what needs to happen worldwide is a better understanding of the informal economy, and better provision of entitlements to those working in it. Over the past ten years, I’ve seen Nigeria try to regulate some portions of the informal economy, especially in foreign exchange and precious stones, but my current interpretation is that these measures are much more about government control than economic wellbeing. The city in India in which I conduct research in is also a great example of the country’s lack of interaction, understanding, and provisioning for those who work in the informal economy.

    Further, and I hope that the article dadakim linked to does this, I’d like to see a breakdown of the analysis, especially by demographics (ethnic/religious background, location, occupation/class, etc.). I’m curious as to effects of the rise of Pentecostalism in the past few decades, as well as the effects of Izala in the north.

  5. Thanks for commenting everyone. It seems most of you are pretty skeptical that such a policy would work or would even be a good idea. Put me in that camp as well.

  6. I agree with Sachs about the need for some sort of limit.But i also agree with Ogo that it will be difficult to implement.However,just because it will be difficult is no reason to do nothing.Part of our problems in Nigeria is that we expect everything to be easy.We should ;learn to recognize that life is tough.
    If we agree with Sack’s analysis,then we should start working towards that goal,regardless of the difficulties.


  7. The main difficulty would be turning theory into practice.Most of the people who are guilty of having too many children are illiterate rural dwellers,exactly the sort of people who do not have enough education to appreciate the virtue of having fewer children.These people still believe that their economic prospects are proportional to the number of children they have.
    If they cannot be persuaded of the benefits of having fewer children,then compliance can only be achieved through the use of the law-enforcement agencies,a blatant breach of fundamental human and native rights,not to mention the limited enforcement-capacity.


  8. Pingback: Family Planning Legislation in Nigeria? | Sahel Blog

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