Chairman of the National Population Commission (NPC), Eze Duruiheoma, has reiterated that Nigeria’s population stands at 198 million.

Duruiheoma, who spoke through the Country Director, Population Council, Dr. Sylvia Adebajo, at the first Private Sector Conference on Harnessing Demographic Dividend in Nigeria, said this is the first time the private sector is being called to discuss the matter, stating that, “the population of Nigeria is increasing rapidly. Currently, it is about 198,000,000 and it has continued to rise and we must find ways of controlling population growth; not necessarily by enforcing anything, but that people will have the choice to have the number of children they want and to be able to space the birth.

“When we talk about that, we need to control the rate at which the population is increasing so that people will be more productive, be able to save money, live longer and have better quality of life and improve the life expectancy of  every individual. And that is a human right.”

He said government and development partners cannot do it alone, adding that right now, a lot of resources in the country are donor-dependent as Nigeria depends so much on aids.

He added that Nigeria is trying but there is a lot of room for improvement, and that the gap can be filled by engaging the private sector.

Also speaking, United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) Representative in Nigeria, Dr. Diene Keita, who was represented by the Assistant Representative, UNFPA, Mr. Osaretin Adonri, said harnessing data is very important even at the micro level.

He said: “If you have a family and you don’t know the number of children you have, you won’t be able to know how many mouths to feed. The same thing at the macro level; if we do not know how many we are in Nigeria, we are not sure.

“For a very long time, we have been using the population projection, which, to some extent, is good but we need the accurate population of this country to be able to plan.”

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He said Nigeria must first invest in human capital, in health, education, create jobs and have good governance with continuity so that Nigeria doesn’t go back to recreate what have been done before each time the country goes forward.

According to him, the starting point is to create the population structure, which has more people working and less people feeding or being dependent. He said that the dependent population is between the age of zero to 15 and those above 65.

To be able to create the population that is working, he said, “we must decrease the population that is dependent and that starts from some form of planning the population, which is where family planning is important.”

Head of Sustainability at Access Bank, Omobolanle Victor-Laniyan, said 35 per cent of Nigeria’s population are youths and so investing significantly in them and ensuring that they are supported to maximise their potential will result in positive economical growth for society.

She explained: “But if we abandon this category of people, what would happen is that tomorrow will not be guaranteed for the society or for the economy. As we may be aware, demographic dividend is a deliberate thing, it has to be deliberately planned, so you don’t leave it open and assume that things will catch up.

“You need to plan, invest and harness the dividend. We need to ensure that the youths themselves are confident in themselves and in their ability to be able to drive the economy forward.”

The convener of the event, Paul Ojajuni, said the aim was to see how the private sector can invest in young people to harness demographic dividend in the country.