With population growth at 2.6 percent and fertility rate at 5.6 births per woman, Nigerian finance minister Zainab Ahmed announced that Nigeria is considering limiting the number of children a woman can have to two in hopes of improving the country’s economic recession.
Nigeria is currently the most populated country on the African continent with 195 million people. It also has one of the largest economies in the region. Ahmed stated in a session at the 24th Nigerian Economic Summit in Abuja that Nigeria was that overpopulation is one of the greatest challenges facing her nation’s Economic Growth and Recovery Plan (EGRP) of the Federal Government.
Ahmed said that she is consulting religious leaders across the country to find a policy targeting population growth. Assistant Professor of Political Science Jacqueline McAllister sees religious communities as those likely to be most opposed to such a policy.
“The North is mostly Muslim and the South is mostly Christian, and they are both really devout communities that really prioritize having a lot of children,” McAllister said.
Overpopulation is one of several big problems facing Nigeria. “The educational system is a mess, the economy is slowing down, and when you have a lot of people, it puts a lot of strain on those areas,” McAllister said. Contributing to this situation is the high birth rate among women who have not yet finished school.
Abortion is currently outlawed in Nigeria, and only 20 percent of the female population have access to contraceptives. As the Nigerian economy begins to urbanize, she stated that much of the population struggles to see having fewer children as a benefit.
By encouraging women to stay in school, educating mothers on matters of birth control and supplying them with different takes on the Bible and other religious texts in respect to this issue, McAllister promotes the idea that women have a choice in an environment where husbands indicate that they do not.
McAllister also advocated against the constraints of legislation as the basis of the solution.
“One idea that I thought was interesting was that instead of trying to legislate that women should only have so many children, that the real goal should be to try to empower women,” McAllister said. “Focusing on empowerment and getting the religious leaders throughout the country on board and dialoguing there might be better than doing a top-down policy.”