Why Family Planning is Vital to Nigeria’s Future

Daniel Nanshep Gobgab, MD

Christian Health Association of Nigeria | Secretary General and Chief Executive Officer

David Omorebokhea

Christian Health Association of Nigeria | Director of Advocacy and Management Information Systems

Family planning protects the health of women and children and can reduce dangerous population pressures, helping us fulfill our Christian calling to protect our families and be good stewards of the earth.

Family Planning User in Nigeria

Ramatu Isah, a family planning user, describes her satisfaction during a visit of the NURHI advocacy team, outside her home in Jiwa village, in the outskirts of Nigeria’s capital, Abuja. © 2012 Akintunde Akinleye/NURHI, Courtesy of Photoshare

Nigeria is growing at a rapid rate and is by far the most populous country in Africa, yet it is only the fourth largest African nation in arable land area. Nigeria’s annual growth rate of 2.8 percent means the population is growing by nearly 3 million people every year. To put this in perspective, in 1911, the population was 16 million. It grew to 114 million by the year 2000 and now is an estimated 174 million. With this current trend, the population will nearly double in 20 years.

The rapid growth of the Nigerian population has widespread implications for its present and future citizens. On Nigerian campuses, students stand by windows to listen to lectures, and a typical room where only two students lodged in the 1970s now houses up to 10 students. Major cities like Lagos, Ibadan, Kano, Kaduna, and Port Harcourt are experiencing an explosion in population,; housing is overstretched, and a growing number of Nigerians are homeless.

Although much effort is being made to increase employment opportunities in Nigeria, the rate of population growth is outpacing these attempts, and the result is a considerable waste of the talents of young people. Rapid population growth makes the already challenging task of economic development even more difficult. 

Food imports will need to increase dramatically as use of land for building continues to compete with use of land for farming. Out of the nearly 1 million square kilometers of land in Nigeria, only about 30 percent (285,912 sq. km) could be used for agricultural purposes in 1991. Due to the use of land for building, by 1996, land used for agriculture had reduced to only 266,407 sq. km, or 29 percent of available land for agriculture. Deforestation, already a severe problem, will worsen as more and more families consume fuel wood.

As available land for agriculture decreases, it becomes more difficult to feed the growing population. People in large families are more likely to suffer from poor nutrition because the family is unable to provide enough nutrient-rich food, like meat, beans, and milk. Poor nutrition leads to conditions that make it impossible for the body to function properly and for children to grow and thrive.

Although there is no single answer to the population pressures facing the nation, it is clear that population needs to be balanced with the amount of land available to feed and house our citizens.

By reducing the birth rate and slowing population growth, family planning would improve the health of Nigerians, especially children and mothers, and would also provide significant economic and social benefits.

Unfortunately, Nigerians have not embraced family planning as people have in developed countries. Religion and tradition are often cited as reasons to avoid family planning in Nigeria. But we believe that family planning is supported by Christian values, as it protects the lives of mothers and children. Christians are also called to be good stewards of God’s creation, which means using our resources wisely and having families we can support and that can be supported by available land.

In addition to the obvious societal benefits, healthy timing and spacing of pregnancies through family planning has tremendous health benefits for mothers and children.

Each day, approximately 800 women die worldwide due to complications related to pregnancy. Women are more likely to die when pregnancies are spaced close together or the mother is very young or beyond the age that is healthy for childbirth. Children are also more likely to die when they have siblings very close in age. According to a USAID-supported Demographic and Health Survey report, if all women waited three years to conceive after the birth of a child, 25 percent of all deaths of children under five could be avoided.

Saving the lives of women and children makes a compelling case for why family planning must be a part of Nigeria’s future. Our Christian faith calls for us to protect the vulnerable and the earth we are blessed with. This leaves us with no doubt that using family planning methods to safely time and space pregnancies for healthier mothers and children, and to balance our precious resources with our growing population, is definitely consistent with our Christian values.  

Daniel Nanshep Gobgab, MD is the Secretary General and Chief Executive Officer for the Christian Health Association of Nigeria a member of Christian Connections for International Health. Dr. Gobgab has been involved in heath management, both at the facility and organizational level, providing supervision and leadership. He trained to be a medical doctor at the Ahmadu Bello University in Zaria, Nigeria and also holds postgraduate qualifications in Public Health and Ophthalmology. Throughout his career Dr. Gobgab has worked to strengthen health care delivery services and create demand for services in rural Nigeria.

David Omorebokhea is Director of Advocacy and Management Information Systems for the Christian Health Association of Nigeria. He has a Post-graduate Diploma in Journalism from the Times Journalism Institute in Lagos and a M.Sc. in Public Relations from the University of Nigeria. He is a prolific writer, author, and speaker and has worked for various media outlets in Nigeria.