Population growth outpaces Nigerian investment

LAGOS, April 20 (Reuters) – Waiting at a crowded bus stop for a ride to work, Osheme Antoine dreams of raising a big family one day. Such dreams, shared by millions, mean Nigeria’s bus queues are likely to get even longer in decades to come.

President Muhammadu Buhari’s budget plan for this year boosts investment in new roads, railways and power supply in the hope of dragging his nation of 188 million out of deep poverty.

But in Lagos, home to 23 million, spending is quickly outpaced by the growth of the city’s population by thousands every day, from both a high birthrate and the migration of people from rural areas looking for work.

Some 1.2 million commuters head into Lagos each day. The three connecting bridges from the vast slum districts on the mainland are jammed until late morning.

“There are too many unemployed people,” said Antoine. But while complaining about the crowds, the 37-year-old wants plenty of children himself.

“My parents had 12 so don’t expect me to go for two children only, but rather six or seven,” he said.

Buhari plans capital expenditure of $9 billion this year, three times more than in 2015. But with the national population growing annually by 3 percent, Lagos alone needs to spend $50 billion in the next five years, said Ashade Jeremiah, Lagos state commissioner for budget and planning.

“But our (2016) budget is just 3 billion,” he said.

UNEMPLOYED

The country will have 300 million people by 2030, according to the U.N., and 20 years later it will be the world’s third most populous nation after China and India, with 400 million.

To cope Nigeria would need to double the numbers of schools, hospitals and roads, said Osaretin Adonri, Assistant Representative at the U.N. Population Fund in Nigeria.

The country’s big oil revenues have enriched only an elite, but account for 70 percent of state revenue. Government income crashed by around half in 2015 because of the collapse in world crude prices and looks unlikely to recover much soon, analysts say.

Analysts say Nigeria’s economy would need to grow at double-digit rates for years to provide sufficient jobs. But for 2015, the International Monetary Fund expects it to slow to 2.3 percent after 2.8 last year.

Some unemployed are easy recruits for Boko Haram, fighting a violent campaign to set up an Islamic state in the northeast.

“We have a pool of young persons that are probably not very educated and those who are educated do not have jobs,” said Adonri. “They become a ready army for the kind of insurgencies and the disturbances we are seeing in parts of the country.”

Many of the poor head for Europe, travelling overland to Libya from where smugglers ship them to Italy.

The European Union saw the number of Nigerian asylum seekers triple last year compared to 2014. Most say they are fleeing Boko Haram but officials describe many as economic migrants.

SURVIVAL

Global banks say the country is a potentially huge market for everything from TV sets to textiles and cars.

But for most Nigerians life is about mere survival, as 70 percent live on $1 a day or less.

Adding to the pressure on Lagos, Boko Haram is driving people south.

Buhari’s predecessor Goodluck Jonathan, a Christian, called for unspecified birth control policies but abandoned the idea amid public outcry. Buhari, a Muslim, has steered clear of the subject.

The population issue is inflamed by cultural rivalries. The country is divided between Christians, mainly in the south, and Muslims in the north. Each community often says it makes up the majority.

Last month, the governor of the northern Muslim state of Borno said 70 percent of Nigerians would be Muslims in a few years – a claim dismissed by southerners.

The U.N. Population Fund is trying to improve health facilities in the hope that reducing infant mortality rates will lead women to have fewer children.

“There should be a kind of family planning in Nigeria because jobless people keep having children,” said Amaka Roselin, a Christian mother of one child, after getting off her bus from the mainland with a swarm of other commuters.

But the saleswoman still wants more children herself: “As many as God can give me,” she said.

Source : Reuters Africa