Family Planning Legislation in Nigeria?

Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan made headlines – and caused controversy – this week by saying that his country may need “birth control legislation,” potentially along the lines of China’s one child policy. Nigeria’s population currently stands at an estimated 160-170 million people, and is projected to grow so rapidly that Nigeria may have over 400 million people by 2050. Jonathan has recommended that the newly formed National Population Commission pursue a campaign of “advocacy” and “sensitization” to promote birth control and the idea of child spacing.

This is not the first time someone influential has proposed such a policy for Nigeria. Last year, American economist Jeffrey Sachs suggested that “Nigeria should work towards attaining a maximum of three children per family,” an idea that also drew criticism and debate.

Nigeria’s massive population has sometimes been the subject of gloomy, even apocalyptic commentary, as in the New York Times article “In Nigeria, a Preview of an Overcrowded Planet.” That article pointed out that “for two decades, the Nigerian government has recommended that families limit themselves to four children, with little effect.”

Critics said that the NYT article’s attention to families’ choices about children distracted readers from other ways of looking at the country’s problems, especially in terms of the failure of the state to provide services to its people. Obadias Ndaba wrote to the NYT,

Economic prosperity isn’t driven by population size but rather by how a country invests in its human capital and manages its resources. Nigeria has deeper issues, such as corruption and poor governance, to deal with. Fear-mongering based on erroneous Malthusian population theory must stop.

If one embraces this argument, Jonathan’s talk of family planning could also be seen as a distraction technique, a way of displacing blame for Nigeria’s problems from the government to the people. One of the Christian leaders quoted in VOA’s article on the topic makes essentially that argument: “The population of Nigeria cannot stop the progress of Nigeria…If our leaders can stand on their obligations and apply the wisdom of God and the fear of God, we can make it and succeed also in Nigeria.”

Politically, Jonathan’s suggestion may play poorly in many areas of the country, including much of Northern Nigeria, where his popularity already runs low.

Does that mean family planning efforts are doomed in Nigeria? Not necessarily. Muslims in Northern Nigeria are often depicted as exceptionally conservative when it comes to dealing with issues related to sex and health, but at the grassroots level, VOA and USAID have reported some successes with family planning programs in the region. In 2009, VOA reported:

In Zakarai village, about 50 kilometers from the main city of Kano, a community-based outreach project is helping low-income families get the education and contraceptives they need to act responsibly.

Community volunteers, with technical support from the Community Participation for Action in the Social Sector, COMPASS, a USAID-sponsored project, are helping women avoid unwanted and often high-risk pregnancies.

COMPASS is a five-year integrated community-driven project with nine implementing partners, including the Federation of Muslim Women’s Association and the Nigerian Medical Association.

The project, which started in 2004, seeks to improve the health and education status of 23 million Nigerians in three northern and two southern states.

COMPASS field officer in Kano, Mohammed Gama, says putting the community in the driving seat was the catalyst for the program’s success in one of the most conservative communities in Nigeria.

For more, see this USAID report on COMPASS activities in Nasarawa State.

It would be deceptively simple to say that the solution to the issue of family planning in Nigeria is to go “bottom up” instead of “top down,” and US government sources have a clear interest in describing US-backed programs as successes. But at the very least, I think Jonathan’s top-down style proposal will have difficulty getting much traction, and will be an easy target for his various opponents. The larger issue also remains: is family planning even the right place to start in addressing problems like poverty, food insecurity, and crime? What do you think?

14 thoughts on “Family Planning Legislation in Nigeria?

  1. I think people are making a mountain out of a mole here.

    Jonathan isn’t the first president to talk about family planning. Babangida led a very widely publicised campaign for family planning (4 children per family).

  2. Let’s not forget keeping girls in school. All over Nigeria, girls either don’t attend school or leave at puberty. Contraception usage and family size are linked with female education. Illiterate and semi-illierate women marry and remarry early and often and have children for each husband over a 20+ year period.

    • The problem is most pronounced in Northern Nigeria. In parts of N.Nigeria a whopping 70 percent of women aged between 19 – 25 cannot read or write.

      That is where the next generation of Boko Haram is likely to come from.

  3. “The larger issue also remains: is family planning even the right place to start in addressing problems like poverty, food insecurity, and crime?” Bingo!! A wrong policy coming at a very wrong time. You’d think the president would realize the implication of giving his critics more salvos to hurl at him. Any attempt to impose any top-down population control measure will be fiercely resisted by various groups in Nigeria — and this is not just limited to conservative Muslim groups, many Christian associations would resist it too.

    The best way to “manage” population explosion is to provide education and awareness, especially to women — essentially what NGOs have been doing in rural areas. A literate woman (even up to high school) would make the conscious choice of not having more than four children, for instance, than her poorly (or non) educated counterpart in a rural area or some remote slum wallowing in poverty and deprivation. It’s just common sense. Anything else would backfire spectacularly!

    I wrote a piece on how the consequences of population explosion are a tad exaggerated and how unrealistic the proposed solutions are here:

    • We dont always want to say the truth in my country Nigeria. May Allah help those with good ideas in Nigeria, ameen.

  4. Over the years government have tried to educate people on the benefit of fewer children and child spacing.
    But for some who believe western education is a sin, it will be very difficult to educate women in that region. Especially when the holy book says the girl shouldn’t start her first menstrual cycle in her father’s house. But what I noticed is this only affect the poor not the rich. So must of them are ignorant and full time illiterate. So education is not enough to help in most cases in the north, but it should be back up with tight rules.(family planning legislation) And the governors in the northern part of Nigeria should introduce incentives for a family with just three kids especially on education.

  5. Funny how the white countries like Russia, France, Japan, Poland, Germany, Iran, UK, Taiwan, Sweden, Ireland, and Portugal pay their women to have BABIES. Even the U.S who has 300 million is encouraging immigration of Europeans and now Asians … but not blacks. Black American women had over 18 million abortions during1973 to 2005. Some states are attracting Europeans to relocate to their state. Jews are deporting Blacks saying they are like a cancer from Israel. The problem is why come African countries are not putting in place mechanism to take care of its poverty issues. Believe me if Nigeria only had 100 people the corruption would still manifest itself. There is no reason why these Black African Countries can not be world leaders. Whites are interested in expanding their population numbers and always attempted to curtail or even reverse the population of Blacks, Browns and Yellows. One may merely look at AIDS for that suspicious proof. No Blacks should have children and build the economic power bases they can be.

  6. These is not the issue.nigeria had a great history we relied upon agriculture and petroleum so goverment not care about agriculture : our leaders were already corrupted looting, syphoning our natural resource,so if you look into this how does nigeria been develop

  7. Enough of all the blames hurling at the illiterates, as if they dont want to be educated. What about the leaders who deprive one of his right to basic and advanced education through choking educational policies. Those out of schools remain without jobs discouraging illiterates to go to school. Non availabilty of data base and bad record keeping deprive hospitals to follow medical and family histories of some women of child bearing age. I think it all have to do with failure in govt policies.

    • Good Luck Johnathan should begin doing an effective job and plan for a future that will not wait on anyone. Nigerian government officials allegedely draw $1.7 and $1.4 $USD per year while Obama earns $400,000.00. Looking at the status of the people in both countries tells a story of dismal failures continue in Nigeria. Why haven’t these Nigerian Officials came together and begun their own IMF? “The Economist this month reports “Demography isn’t destiny, one hopes”. For the first time, the United Nations has projected population figures as far ahead as 2100. The figures predict that Nigeria, which is currently the world’s seventh most populous country with 158m people, will be the world’s third-largest nation by 2100 with 730m people. However, China’s population is predicted to fall by 450m from a peak in 2025, to 941m.” If population increases in one half of the world are being forecast, in the developed world there a worrying drop which is forecast to continue and is already causing many problems such as those mentionedbefore on this blog.
      “”While negative reports of population growth abound, it is useful to remember that Paul Ehrlich in his 1968 The Population Bomb, asserted that “The battle to feed all of humanity is over. In the 1970’s the world will undergo famines—hundreds of millions of people are going to starve to death in spite of any crash programs embarked upon now.” Obviously this didn’t happen and we need to be critical of the biases and assumptions which underlie what we read now too. One also needs to be wary of accepting as gospel a forecast of the world’s population 90 years in the future.””
      Black nation leaders need to do the will of the people, and stop being bamboozoled by western plans to remain dominate over them.

  8. America should try and help us impose family planning especially abortion clinics,i am in a suburb in kenya where a woman is struggling with six children,she is so much in religion that she cannot use family planning measures.

    • And your suggestion, Michael, is to take the life of an unborn child to save Kenya?

      What if an investigation recommended that due to the “likelihood” that Kariuki Michael would increase the population of Kenya by having 3 or 4 children, his life should be terminated to forestall this “danger”; would you support the recommendation? Whether in the open or behind closed doors?

      Let us not miss the point, development of human capital is not made more efficient by having fewer citizens to govern. As a commentator mentioned above, the problem with Nigeria is so deep that even there on 100 Nigerians, the issues would still be real-lack of committed leaders, poor education, lack of policies and systems that strengthen the family and equip individuals to be better parents. Enlightened parents will raise strong and healthy families from where would emerge, strong and visionary leaders.
      I have not lived very long, but in my short life, I have seen that parents with fewer children do not necessarily raise better children.

    • If the woman with six children is struggling then why not provide economic options? Why are you wanting to abort babies? Is not not like the barbaric west especially the United States?

  9. Which tribe in Nigeria has family planning mechanism embedded in their culture such that they would claim is perfect and therefore apportion blame on others, Northern Nigeria or Muslims? It is natural, and the insatiable man to have as much sex as available to him without thinking about the socio-economic burden. The woman can’t be blamed for being available to the man according to nature, but be educated to manage self controls against unintended pregnancies which the man has no control over. Equally, the man should be educated and enlightened to see the burden of having a large family and to cooperate with, or encourage the woman to self control measures – contraceptives among others.

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