Population Growth Rate
The absence of virtually any reliable current demographic data has not prevented national and international bodies from generating estimates and projections of population and population growth in Nigeria. The World Bank estimate of Nigeria's 1990 population was 119 million, with an estimated annual growth rate of 3.3 percent. Although other sources differed on the exact figure, virtually all sources agreed that the annual rate of population growth in the country had increased from the 1950s through most of the 1980s. The government estimated a 2 percent rate of population growth for most of the country between 1953 and 1962. For the period between 1965 and 1973, the World Bank estimated Nigeria's growth rate at 2.5 percent, increasing to 2.7 percent between 1973 and 1983. Projections about the population growth rate were uncertain, however, in view of questions concerning the accuracy of Nigerian census statistics.
This increase was typical of most of sub-Saharan Africa, where growth rates increased steadily throughout the post-World War II period. The key to decelerating the rate of population growth would be a sharp decline in the fertility rate, which is defined as the average number of children a woman will bear in her lifetime. Considered the second stage of the demographic transition process, it was well under way in 1990 in most other developing regions of the world, except for the Islamic nations of the Middle East. Few African countries, however, had experienced any substantial fertility decline, and the overall fertility rate for sub-Saharan Africa was estimated as 6.5 in 1983.
Any decline in the population growth rate in Nigeria or the rest of sub-Saharan Africa was expected to depend on the balance between the demand for smaller families and the supply of birth control technology. Urbanization (especially when full households, rather than just males, are involved) was likely to be the most powerful factor leading to a decline in fertility, because it induced the most radical shifts in the relative costs and benefits of having large numbers of children. Other important factors were likely to include the availability of health care and of birth control information and equipment in both rural and urban areas, the rate of expansion of education, and the general pace of economic development. If the pattern of change in Africa were to follow that in other parts of the world, urbanization, economic development, education, improved health care, increased availability of birth control, and declining infant mortality would eventually lead to a marked decline in fertility rates.
Between 1970 and 1987, life expectancy in Nigeria was estimated to have increased from forty to fifty-one years. Much of this rise resulted from a sharp decline in mortality among infants younger than one year and children ages one to four. Infant mortality was estimated to have declined 25 percent from 152 per 1,000 live births in 1965 to 113 in 1983, while child mortality declined almost 50 percent from 33 to 17 per 1,000 in the same period. These levels were likely to continue to fall, thereby exerting continuing upward pressure on the population growth rate. As of 1990, maternity deaths exceeded 75,000 per year, excluding deaths resulting from illegal abortions, and both were estimated to have risen during the 1980s.
Despite the probable decline in fertility in the 1990s, given the country's age structure, Nigeria's 1990 population was expected at least to double before the middle of the next century. Somewhat less than half of Nigeria's 1990 population was younger than fifteen. As a result, even if population growth were to drop immediately to a replacement rate and remain there, the 1990 population would double before stabilizing. Nigeria, thus, could expect to deal with a population of more than 200 million probably within the next twenty-five years.
These projections suggested that population growth would be an issue of central concern for Nigeria for some time to come. Merely to remain at current per capita levels, agricultural production, industrial and other economic output, and provision of health and other social services would all need to double within twenty-five years. This situation was a challenge of historic proportions for Nigeria, one faced by many other nations of Africa.
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