The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) projected that on January 1, 2019, an estimated 25,685 babies were born in Nigeria. It estimated that every four seconds a new life is added to the country’s population without good family planning.
By the estimation of the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs (DESA) in its latest report, if nothing is done in the shortest possible time, the overall population of Nigeria currently estimated at 198m, will reach almost 400m million by the end of the year 2050.
And, by the year 2100, without meaningful improvement in family planning acceptability currently hoovering at 15%, the population of Nigeria will be over 746 million!
The possible outcome of an explosive population was therefore the thrust of the last 5th Nigeria Family Planning Conference which took place in Abuja between December 4 and 6 2018.
With the theme: “Investment, Innovation, Inclusiveness, various speakers during the 3-day event took time to canvass how improved investment, innovative methods and inclusive governance would really make quantum leaps in managing the country’s population.
Welcoming participants, chair, Local Organising Committee, (LOC) and Association for the Advancement of Family Planning, Dr. Ejike Oji, gave a sneak when he noted that the conference was put together to seek ways of advancing efforts in providing the needed services to citizens “and to reduce maternal deaths and disabilities”’
This is because, “Providing Family planning services is a right and the only way we can make sure women and girls and men too, exercise this right is to empower them to make those critical decisions based on their choices in an atmosphere free of coercion” said, Oji.
Excited about the experiences from the International Conference on Family Planning held in Kigali, Rwanda, Dr Oji noted, “…As Nigerians we came back determined more than ever that we must work with governments especially at the sub-national levels to increase investment, bring to bear innovative ideas and make sure nobody is excluded in getting the needed family planning services he or she deserves”
Critical investment, innovations and inclusiveness is thus a call for decisive action because various revelations during the conference showed, Nigeria is on the verge of “population explosion”!
For instance, at Independence in 1960, Nigeria’ population was said to be about 45.2m but by 2018 it has reached almost 198m while Britain which in 1960 had 56m people has by 2018 only grown to 66.57m.
Vice President, Professor Yemi Osinbajo in his keynote address, decried the current high fertility rate of 5.7 per woman saying, “One of the main issues identified in our Demographic Dividend Road map is the need to invest in a nationwide family planning programme which eliminates the unmet need for modern contraception, puts a check on the current high fertility rate, and helps achieve efficient population management”.
Osinbajo could not agree more that “family planning and population management generally are not just about life-saving interventions, but actually critical tools for economic and social development”.
This fact was strongly canvassed by the Director of Legal Research and Resource Development Centre, University of Lagos Professor Ayo Atsenuwa who was Guest Speaker at the Annual Population Lecture Series (APLS).
Atsenuwa in her presentation titled: “Governance, People, Rights Opportunities” submitted, that Nigeria at this time is really in need of good governance which embraces Transparency, Participation and Accountability to achieve meaningful social and economic development.
According to the Professor of Law, “Government is not doing anybody a favour, government is a service to the people”, averred Atsenuwa.
She noted that while certain Religious, Cultural Beliefs and Values of the land impede on Nigeria’s population service especially on access to modern family planning methods, the non-existence of any protective Law for reproductive and sexual rights of all is a minus to good governance.
“For instance, nobody actually knows what the law is on abortion in Nigeria. We know what the law is on paper but we almost have no legal interpretation and we have not allowed the jurisprudence to unfold and so we do not know how far we can go”, said Atsenuwa
Atsenuwa posited that rights are contested issues and only good governance can be used to contest these rights.
“For instance, we have the Child’s Right Act which criminalises early marriages, sex with a child under the age of 18 with no defense and there are so many other provisions that are supposed to safeguard this.
“But, it is one thing to have law and another to enforce law, The Law cannot be effective except we engage with it” she argued.
“There is right to life and I want the Nigerian Court to interpret that and extend it to protection of women, pregnant women and that women who died from maternity related complications, the state should answer for their deaths.
“I want to make that argument but I cannot make the argument except there is a case before the court”. Atsenuwa lamented.
She therefore recommended a radical rights approach which enables citizens to engage in negotiation and demand for what is accruable to them under the law not as obligation by state.
“So we went to hinge the demand for family planning services on the right to health and on the right to life of the people.
“We want to hinge the right for education on the right to education and to be able to make informed decision. I cannot make decision unless I’m informed and I cannot be informed unless I have information”. The don advocated.