In Nigeria, population growth, as a result of poor family planning, is compounding the country's housing crisis. But one 10-year-old is building his own hut to try and change people's attitudes.
Benue, Nigeria — 10-year-old Aondoungwa Gbawuan squats as he moulds bricks for a hut he is planning to build. Without cement, he mixes water and clay, then moulds the bricks, which he arranges in a rectangular form to dry.
Unlike cement which dries quickly, the bricks will stay under the sun for a month before he can use them to build his hut. He had gone to the bush to get sorghum bicolour culms - commonly used for fencing and the radiating bends of conical hut-roofs.
Gbawaun has never built a hut before, but he has a very good reason for doing so now.
Born into a family of 12 at Gbajimba, the headquarters of Guma in Benue, a state in Nigeria’s middle belt, he said he can no longer share a room with his nine siblings and parents because it's uncomfortable. It’s rare in Nigeria to see a child of his age to make this sort of a decision.
“I want to build a hut to let my parents know I’m not comfortable sleeping in the room with them and my siblings. I want to let parents know how they subject their children to hardship by giving birth to many,” he told TRT World.
“I want to warn parents intending to give birth to many children not to do so,” he said.
Many children born into families with lots of children in Benue, where Gbawuan is from, do not go to school because their parents can't afford an education for them.
Over the years, Nigeria has failed to control its population growth. The country’s population is an estimated 180 million according to the Nigeria Bureau of Statistics. Benue state's population is around 5.3 million.
Despite its agricultural dominance, the state is still unable to meet the needs of its citizens. Compounding state failure, parents fail at family planning, subjecting their children and themselves to greater hardship.
Gbawuan’s father, Godwin, a farmer, said they need to have as many children as possible for the farm.
“I always wanted my children to assist me in my farms that is why I thought it was necessary to have many children.”
Godwin described his son as an “independent and hardworking child” who thinks like a man.
“Nobody told him to build a hut. He just woke up one morning and said he wants to build a hut for himself and I did not stop him,” Godwin said.
Lack of family planning
Godwin said if he knew about family planning, he would not have given birth to as many children as he has done.
“Health workers are yet to bring the idea to us here in the community.”
Titus Agbaape, a farmer who has 16 children and four wives, supported Godwin’s claim. Agbaape, who lives at an Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) camp in Gbajimba said his children would not have been suffering if they were better educated about family planning.
“I have heard of family planning but I don’t know what really it is but I was told it’s good. I want the government to bring it to us,” said the farmer whose family was displaced by herdsmen.
Despite being Africa's largest economy, Nigeria's health indicators remain among the lowest in the world.
According to the country’s Ministry of Health, 16 percent of women of reproductive age have high unmet needs regarding family planning, and about 84 percent don't employ any family planning methods.
Nigeria’s troubling population growth and housing problem
In spite of the importance of housing, rural housing in Nigeria is still far from adequate. A study shows that 15 percent of rural households live in a single room - many of them in huts. Rural housing receives less attention than it deserves from both policy makers and researchers when compared to urban housing.
Many of the people who live in rural areas cannot afford to buy land, let alone afford to build a house. High population growth rates contribute significantly to exacerbating poverty.
According to a World Bank report in 2017, Nigeria’s population growth is 2.6 percent annually. While urban population growth is 4.1 percent, rural population growth is 1 percent. Urban populations are growing fast prompting an urgent need for more housing.
With a total fertility rate of 5.5, Nigeria is projected to be the third most populous country on earth, behind India and China, by 2050.
The need for rural infrastructural development
“Population growth rate is a strong indicator in rural housing,” Kanu Ejike, a town planning expert and lecturer at the Department of Urban and Regional Planning in the University of Nigeria told TRT World.
Nigeria has rural housing challenges ranging from poor access to loans, lack of infrastructure, high costs of building materials and the issues with mortgage institutions.
“The increase in the urban growth has a strong effect on the rural housing because if you don’t have the youth in the rural areas, some of the construction needed for housing will not be there.”
Ejike said if Nigeria wants to address the problem of rural housing, it must control urbanisation by ensuring there is development in the rural areas where there is no water and electricity to make housing functional.
“There is a need for rural infrastructural development, job creation, provision of good roads, mortgage institutions should give loans. Once this is done, it will reduce the rate of rural-urban migration and create more housing in rural areas.”
Gbawuan hopes parents will see what he is doing and be motivated on the need to adopt family planning to reduce population growth and help to do their part to solve Nigeria’s housing problem.
“I want mates of my age seeing me doing this, to do the same.”