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September 01, 2010

Report Says Nigeria's Population Boom May Pose Threat to Security

A British Council study published this week says Nigeria's booming population of young people may be a great boon for the country's economy in the coming decades. But it says if the Nigerian government does not take steps to engage young people, the country could face a "demographic disaster."

Farida Ashu is a 22-year-old who lives in Nigeria and is looking for work as a teacher.

She says she is optimistic young people in Nigeria are ready to take the country into the future.

"Now young people are not waiting for someone else to do it for them, they are striving to do it for themselves," said Ashu. "Most very good initiatives when you look at it critically, you discover that there is a young mind behind it and there is a young person that is being the one that is driving and executing it."

But she says like many young people in Nigeria, she does not have work. She says major steps need to be taken to ensure the growing population of her country can fulfill its potential.

"I fear that the government might not necessarily make use of this opportunity they have as they are supposed to," she adds. "I fear that the private sector, that we are all begging to come and invest in us, when they invest they will be grossly disappointed and we will go back to where we were in the beginning. I have so many fears."

Ashu took part in a new British Council study looking at how Nigeria can cope with its growing population. It already has one of the highest populations in the world and by 2050 is set to be the fifth most populous nation.

The report by the government-sponsored nonprofit organization says if the country takes full advantage of that baby boom, the average Nigerian's income could triple during the next two decades.

Ben Fisher is the director of programs for the British Council in Nigeria.

"By 2030 it will be one of the few countries in the world which has got a plentiful supply of young worker," said Fisher. "So the expectation is that if there is an investment in youth, that Nigeria could reap huge economic benefit in a similar way as has been experienced in Southeast Asia."

But a lot needs to be done in order to make that happen, he says. About 25 million jobs will need to be created during the next 10 years, the report says, and more attention needs to be paid to education and health.

It also says focus must be drawn from oil and towards other sectors. The oil industry counts for up to 40 percent of Nigeria's GDP, but Fisher says it does not create many jobs for the population.

A young population without work will be bad news for Nigeria, he says.

"If Nigeria fails to put the correct policies in place and to reap the demographic dividend, the seriousness of the predicament should not be underestimated," Fisher added. "Youth could be a force for great instability and social unrest in Nigeria."

The report says 30 percent of people who completed secondary education in Nigeria are unemployed.