In economics, there is a population size that when combined with available natural resources will produce the best national income at any given time. This is referred to as the Optimum Population. If the labour force from a given population is not enough to maximize output in the production year of a country, this will bring about a decline in its GDP and/or per capita GDP and such a country would be said to be underpopulated. On the reverse, if the labour force is too large with respect to other factors of production, this will trigger the law of diminishing returns to scale and, such a country would be said to be overpopulated with consequent decline in the standard of living.
In one of my previous jobs, we were ten staff in a unit with limited resources of seven chairs, one laptop and, less than ten spaces in the cabinet. You can imagine the constant strife and inefficiencies. Nigeria today has over two hundred million inhabitants and there has been so much emphasis from within and outside the country about the dangers of a fast growing population that even the Federal Government of Nigeria considers this to be one of our banes. But let us pause and ask, are we really overpopulated in the economic sense? Literally, to the man on the street, the country is overpopulated because two hundred million is a huge number and, life is so hard for him as a citizen of the poverty capital of the world.
In proffering an answer to the puzzle, I analyzed data on per capita GDP and population size from 1960 to 2017, a scope of 57 years, sourced from indexmundi. From the trend, Nigeria have had six optima populations since its political independence. The first was in 1966 with a population of over 60 million, the citizens enjoyed a relatively high standard of living with a per capita income of $124.31. Then we had optima in 1970, 1976, 1980, and after a quarter of a century we had another in 2008. And after five years of decline from the last optimum, the per capita income recorded an all time highest of $3,221.68 in year 2014.
It is interesting to note that despite our frequent declines in per capita GDP, we have never gone below the lowest per capita GDP of $92.96 in 1960. It is true that our population has multiplied more than five times since 1960 in a span of 59 years, does this imply overpopulation? Recall that a country is said to be underpopulated if its labour force is inadequate to produce the best output given its available natural resources. In the production process, the factors of land, labour, capital and enterprise are combined in certain proportions to produce goods and services which monetary value is summed to get the national income. Consider the production equation below.
- Y = L + K + ? + E
- Where Y = GDP = National Income
- L = Labour (over 58,000,000)
- K = Capital (low national savings 14.9% of GDP and labour intensive technology)
- ? = Land (over 70,000,000 hectares of arable land)
- E = Entrepreneurship
A large labour force is considered an advantage in the production process. High levels of national savings and technology, fertile arable land and competent enterprise to organise other factors are also of significant importance. According to the Nigerian government, we have inadequate labour to exploit our huge natural resources. We have a very low national savings and practice an intense labour production technique. And enterprise, the most important factor, is just beginning to gather momentum in the economy.
From the foregoing we can conclude that “Nigeria is Underpopulated.” The highest standard of living we enjoyed was in 2014. Before this time, everyone believed we were overpopulated. With rising population growth, per capita GDP increase will come from the improvement in any or all of technology, labour, land and enterprise. Remember how the vices and misery of population explosion failed to happen in England according to Rev. Thomas Malthus fears because of the Industrial Revolution.
Our prospect may look bleak when we compare our indices with the rest of the world. With a per capita income of $1,968.56, Nigeria is a negative outlier to the global per capita GDP of $17,300.00 The difference between the standard of living in Luxembourg ($104,103) and Nigeria ($1,968.56) is like the heavens from the earth. But if China, with over a billion people and a per capita income that was below $2,000.00 before its economic reforms, could achieve greater optima populations with a current per capita GDP of $8,826.99, Nigeria has greater potential to do better.
I conclude that, given my little analysis, Nigeria is underpopulated. Reason, our economic carrying capacity is huge; this means the country has the capacity to sustain a maximum population size indefinitely, given the natural resources and economic opportunities that abound in the country. Also, for a long time we have not had the best representation in government. There’s an urgent need to elect the best, a new breed that will not see our population as a problem but a great opportunity for global competition.