There’s always so much buzz about numbers. You know…” strength in numbers”, how numbers make the difference when it’s crunch time and other sundry claims that make you feel as though if you have a multitude behind you, you can hardly go wrong. And to a large extent, these assertions make sense. Manage to sell a commodity worth a thousand naira to ten thousand people, and you have ten million naira. Just like that! Harness the numbers within your locality to vote for you during election season, and you are on your way to winning. Organise a ten thousand man match and you are likely to get the attention of the authorities for one reason—numbers.
But I have also seen that numbers can be overrated. How they can be a source of distraction, confusion, and disunity.
The larger the number, the more difficult it is to achieve cohesion, and the smaller the number, the greater the chances of having one voice in the things that matter. Little wonder the most peaceful and advanced countries of the world have some of the lowest populations.
And it’s not necessarily because they have the largest human or material resources. As a matter of fact, they don’t. Rather, we can chalk their harmonious living and obvious progress to the ability to effectively manage the little they have while bigger nations are burdened by the need to “get everyone on the same page”—a venture that turns out to be a mirage most times.
In the case of Nigeria, our more than 200 million population has proven to be more of an albatross than a blessing. With adult literacy levels as high as 35 per cent, according to the National Commission for Mass Literacy, Adult and Non-formal Education (NMEC), it’s easy to see why there’s a huge disparity in ideology between the elites and the rest of the population. And even among the elites, contrasting outlooks fueled by selfish interests, greed, and ethnoreligious sentiments remain stumbling blocks to any chance of reaching a consensus on the way forward.
Rising poverty levels continue to frustrate efforts to get the masses to see beyond stomach infrastructure in our supposed collective quest for better governance.
Attempts at education and enlightenment yield little result because of a divergence in mentality. Again, this is not unconnected with the fact that we are always grappling with a large and rapidly increasing heterogeneous population that throws some of the most forward-thinking, cerebral minds in the same space with no do-gooders and stark illiterates.
The sobriquet “Giants of Africa” is one we love to chant, but a critical look at the way Africa is skewed right now, and it’s clear that countries like Mauritius, Ghana, Cape Verde, and Namibia (whose combined population can only be compared to that of Lagos and Kano States in Nigeria) have more stable economies and far better living conditions. Global facts lend credence to this assertion in its ranking of African countries one can live and work safely. And then one wonders what makes Nigeria the proverbial giant of Africa.
Is it just by virtue of our numbers?
What happened to backing up our gigantic persona with laying the marker when it comes to the security of lives and property, standard education, good health facilities, and adequate employment?
Our population has not earned us respect among the committee of nations. Instead, what we hear are stories of prejudicial profiling at airports and foreign lands. This gives rise to the question of how our population has benefitted us again.
2023 is still a mile away, but we are already beginning to court the same recycled politicians that put us in an unenviable position. The symposiums and seminars and summits and conferences amount to plenty of talk and little action or results because the vast majority who are northerners will still queue behind a frail, certified incompetent candidate because he is from their part of the country.
If there was ever a time where the restructuring certain quarters have been clamouring for should take effect, it is now. Let each region—translating to smaller numbers—take control of their space and determine how best to harness their resources. Let the centre be decentralised and let’s have more people whose ways are aligned come together to chart their course in the macrocosm called Nigeria.
This “over 200 million” population is doing more harm than good to us.