Part 4: Out of Africa: The Case of Nigeria

Note: The following is excerpted from Steven Mosher’s book, Population Control—Real Costs, Illusory Benefits.

The combination of bribes, threats, and blandishments used to induce governments in the developing world to address their “population problem,” or at least to allow foreign-funded groups to operate freely within their borders for the same purpose, defies simple description or generalization.

In some cases the population control proposals are relatively straightforward, as in 2000 when the UNFPA offered the government of Pakistan $250 million for accepting a national sex education syllabus for primary and secondary students in which both graphic sex ed and the benefits of population control would be prominently featured. According to the Pakistani Health Ministry, “The UN official [promoting the project] contended that if the children are imparted awareness on small families from an early age, it will help control population growth.” Pakistan rejected the aid package because of the extraordinary conditions that the UNFPA imposed on the project. The UN organization not only demanded control over classroom sex education throughout the country, it also insisted on control over the budget out of concerns that previous money for “population welfare projects” had been “misspent.”1

This bold attempt to hijack the Pakistani school curriculum is only unusual in that Islamabad successfully resisted—this time around--—the attempt by the controllers to impose their own agenda on the country. More common is what happened in Bangladesh, where USAID programs met little opposition. By the early seventies, USAID, in conjunction with other foreign aid agencies, had virtually taken over the health care system. U.S. and foreign contractors were providing both the intellectual justification for the Health and Family Welfare Ministry's focus on population control, as well as the technical expertise needed to allow this work to go forward.

Of course, to mute local opposition, the pretence that Bangladesh still controlled its own population destiny was carefully maintained. For example, US officials were nowhere to be seen on July 11, 1996, when the Bangladeshi Health and Family Welfare Minister, Salahuddin Yusuf, publicly unveiled a seven-year plan (1997-2004) to reduce the country's population growth rate.2 A week later the U.S. ambassador, David Merril, called on Minister Yusuf to congratulate him on this effort and pledge $200 million in support of this new effort. Lowering the population growth rate, Ambassador Merril told Minister Yusuf, was a wise course of action for Bangladesh because it would alleviate poverty, reduce hunger, secure democracy, and improve the general health of the population.3 (We will examine the extravagant claims made on behalf of population control programs in chapters 7, 8, and 9.) The press did not report that this course of action had been imposed on Bangladeshi by a phalanx of foreign aid donors, led by the U.S.

How does this happen? The controllers are nothing if not persistent, seeking to gain entry into a country and influence over its family culture in multiple ways—through international institutions like the World Bank and the United Nations, through national ministries of health and education, through local schools and clinics, through the mass media, even through religion. How these multi-pronged attacks work in practice is best grasped through the medium of a case study.

I have chosen to present an example from Africa, simply because that continent has always loomed strangely large in the minds of those who have made the elimination of people their primary concern. Lightly populated relative to China, India, and Southeast Asia, the Dark Continent has nonetheless received a disproportionate share of attention over the decades. When Pentagon researchers in 1988 warned of a dramatic shift in power in coming decades, for example, they spilled much ink on Africa.4 They worried that, by the early decades of the next century, Nigeria, Kenya, Ethiopia, Zaire, Tanzania, and South Africa would all rank among the top 25 nations in population worldwide, and that Nigeria, in particular, would move past the United States into third place. Although they conceded what has since actually transpired—that the AIDS epidemic might undercut their projections—they nevertheless concluded that U.S. policymakers must energetically pursue programs to lower the African birthrate.

One of the best documented and most disturbing cases of population control imperialism comes from Nigeria. It is largely the work of Elizabeth Liagin, a researcher-journalist who has spent many years documenting how First World cash and clout was consciously and deliberately used to try to reshape the views of Nigerians on children, family life, and even religion. It is a story she knows from the inside, for she resided in Africa’s most populous country for a decade, and raised her own family there.5

In the mid-eighties, officials with the US Department of State and USAID mulled over the problem of Nigeria. For almost 20 years, they had tried to build a network of “family planning” services in oil-rich Nigeria, black Africa’s most populous state. They had little to show for their efforts. The birthrate had remained high. Repeated controversies had erupted over the heavy-handed, even duplicitous methods used in the campaigns. And among ordinary Nigerians, the campaign had generated a seething suspicion of US motives. But these US officials remained convinced that there were already too many Nigerians, and they were determined to move ahead, whatever the cost, to cap its population growth.

One problem they had encountered was that a huge majority of Nigerians belonged to religious groups which rejected Western birth control methods on moral grounds. More than half of Nigeria’s people, mostly those residing in the north of the country, professed Islam, while a substantial portion of the southern population were Catholic. The Catholic Church’s prohibition of artificial contraception, having been recently restated in the papal encyclical, Humanae Vitae,6 was scarcely amenable to local obfuscation or reinterpretation. Islamic teaching on the subject roughly paralleled that of Catholicism: Children were blessings from God while contraception, sterilization, and abortion are frowned upon. Islam, however, lacks a pope, and in the absence of a central, authoritative figure able to offer a final judgment on contraception the controllers saw an opportunity.

USAID embarked upon a project breathtaking in its cultural arrogance. Working, as is its wont on the population control front, through middlemen—the Futures Group, the Pathfinder Fund, and the Carolina Population Center7—the agency hired a Pentagon consultant to create texts suggesting that Islamic teaching approved of family planning.8 These works were disguised as the product of research initiated by the Nigerian government, and were planted in Islamic colleges and universities throughout the country.

Carolina Population Center was involved in contacting prime contractors for this “Islam and Population Policy” project, in which capacity it sent a confidential proposal to Muhiuddin Haider at the Pathfinder Fund. In the proposal, dated 14 November 1986, the Center is careful to point out that the project was to proceed “exercising great caution,” warning Haider that “Any tendency toward politicization in this matter might have serious effects.” Reading the enclosed contract, one can appreciate the necessity for stealth, since it proposed to tamper with religious convictions held sacred by believers.

According to the contract, the objectives of the “Islam and Population Policy” project were to “motivate Muslim men and women to time and space births,” to “help to disseminate correct concepts on Islam and family planning,” and to promote “involvement by Muslim leaders with issues of population policy.” [italics added] The activities described in the draft—including the publication of “a source manual for Muslim scholars” and a series of “carefully organized, small seminars”—were to be funded under USAID’s “RAPID” program.

RAPID was a too-clever-by-half acronym for “Resources for Awareness of Population Impacts on Development,” and was carried out through the Glastonbury, Connecticut-based Futures Group. Like other “policy development” programs funded by USAID, RAPID was intended to convince leaders in poor countries to formulate and implement national policies to reduce the birthrate.9 This often meant in practice convincing the leaders of poor countries to allow USAID population contractors like the Futures Group and its employees and consultants to formulate and implement policies to reduce the birthrate.

That is certainly what happened in this case. According to the 1986 proposal, a Professor Abdel-Rahim Omran was to research and write an Islamic textbook, plan and participate in seminars, and assist in follow-up activities. Professor Omran taught epidemiology at the University of North Carolina until the mid-1980s, at which time he joined the staff of the Center for Development and Conflict Management at the University of Maryland.10 The final version of the “Islamic” text he authored bears the title, A Resource Manual on Islam and Family Planning with Special Reference to the Maliki School. Prof. Omran is identified on the cover only as a “consultant to the Ministry of Health, Nigeria.” No mention is made of his Pentagon connections, nor of the fact that he received $25,000 from Pathfinder in 1987 for preparation of documents on Islam and family planning, and another $57,000 between March and September of 1988 for “Islamic and population workshops.”11

In late 1987, USAID decided to move ahead with an even more ambitious plan. On the table was a blueprint for an externally funded population control program in Nigeria, a huge, green-covered, two-volume document the size of a couple of big-city telephone directories. The final version, dated 9 July 1987 and designated “unclassified,” described the soon-to-be implemented plan as “a major, innovative, and far-reaching endeavor . . . designed to increase the acceptability and the practice of family planning by approximately four-fold in the most populous country of Africa.” Its initial target was to recruit 2.5 million committed contraceptive users within five years. “At the end of the five-year project,” it added, “80 percent of the population aged 15-45 will be informed of family planning concepts. Hopefully, smaller family norms will result.”

Enormous obstacles stood in the way of this ambitious assault on Nigerian values and birthrates, the document went on to acknowledge. Fertility surveys suggested that the average Nigerian woman was likely to give birth to between six and seven children during her reproductive lifetime.12 Even worse, from the State Department’s point of view, Nigerian women had no sense of having “too many” children. USAID-funded fertility surveys showed that the average woman wanted between eight and nine children. In others words, a truly voluntary program of family planning, one based solely on facilitating the free will choice of Nigerian women where childbearing was concerned, would result in nothing less than a 25 percent increase in the national fertility rate. State and USAID had no intention of allowing this to happen, of course. Permitting Nigerian women to decide for themselves the number and spacing of their children was emphatically not what they had in mind.

The preference for large families runs deep in Nigerian culture, an appendix to the 1987 document noted, to the extent that the celebration of fertility is “ingrained in many rituals of life and even in daily greetings. . . . Nothing is more rewarding to most Nigerian women than to bear and raise children. Nothing can give a Nigerian man more pride than to be surrounded by an admiring crowd of family and children. They are not just a sign of his wealth and power, they are his wealth and power.”

The report went on to note that the Nigerians are a religious people and that most object to Western birth control methods on moral grounds. In fact, a pair of World Bank consultants were cited in the report to the effect that opposition to Western birth control programs spanned the religious spectrum: “[P]oliticians, civil servants, and political activists all feel that the programs may run counter to the basic spiritual beliefs and emotions of African society.”

Another section warned that political currents were equally unfavorable to an ambitious anti-natal program: “The political furor surrounding censuses in Nigeria reflect some of the political obstacles to family planning. Political groups, regions, and ethnic groups and religions vying for position all want to be numerous.”

Past efforts to enlist African governments and leaders into promoting population control among their own people failed, the report said bluntly, because those embracing such activities in the past “have repeatedly been attacked on the grounds that population programs are a form of foreign intervention and that they are imperialist, neo-colonialist plots to keep Africa down.” For this reason, “African governments have given either no leadership or uncertain leadership to family planning programs.”

None of this really mattered to the elitists gathered around the table. The “spiritual beliefs and emotions” of the Nigerian people they regarded as mere superstition, the desire for large families as a false consciousness, and the unwillingness of African leaders to lead an anti-natal campaign as mere political cowardice. These considerations would affect their tactics, but not their overall strategy. The US government had determined that Nigeria’s population was growing too rapidly. For a whole host of reasons ranging from U.S. national security (remember Nigeria’s oil) to improving the health of Nigeria’s women (women who have been sterilized do not die in childbirth), Nigerians had to stop having babies in such numbers. State Department officials were determined to seize the opportunity presented by Nigeria’s economic slowdown to force the country’s leaders to adopt a Western-dictated population policy.

You can read more in Steve's book, Population Control: Real Costs, Illusory Benefits, available here.


1 “Pakistan may lose $250 million aid for not agreeing to sex education,” Pakistan Business Recorder, 8 August 2000; “UN Attempts to “Buy” Pakistan and Impose Population Control,” Zenit, 16 August 2000; “UN Offers $250 Million to Pakistan if it Teaches Population Control,” CWNews, 9 August 2000.

2 "Plan to Reduce Population Growth Rate: Yusuf," The Bangladesh Observer (Dhaka), July 13, 1996.

3 "New $200 m[illion] USAID package for Health Sector Likely," The Daily Star (Dhaka), July 18, 1996.

4 The study commissioned by the Office of Net Assessment in the Department of Defense and was published in abbreviated form by the Center for Strategic and International Studies in the Spring 1989 issue of its publication, Washington Quarterly. “Global Demographic Trends to the Year 2010: Implications for U.S. Security,” by Gregory D. Foster, et al. The study included information provided by the Futures Group, Johns Hopkins University, and other major players in the anti-people movement. Africa occupies a large place in the mental landscape of the controllers, even though it is still a relatively lightly populated continent. Pentagon researchers, worried about the accretion of power by increasingly populated African states, warned in 1988 that Nigeria would surpass both the United States and the USSR to become the third largest nation in the world in the first part of the next century.

5 An earlier version of this case study first appeared in the PRI Review as “Money for Lies,” PRI Review 8(4) (July/October 1998):5.

6 Humanae Vitae, which is usually rendered “On Human Life,” was issued by Pope Paul VI in 1968, and forbids all forms of artificial contraception. Natural Family Planning, on the other hand, is encouraged as a means of welcoming and, if need be, regulating births.

7 The Futures Group, according to the Guide to Sources of International Population Assistance 1991 (United Nations Population Fund, New York), is a “private organization concerned with policy analysis, development and strategic planning.” (p. 225) It works mainly with USAID and the Department of Defense. The Pathfinder Fund, which we have seen elsewhere in these pages, is a major recipient of funds from USAID’s Office of Population, receiving tens of millions of dollars in multiyear contracts to provide birth control information and services to developing countries. According to USAID’s Users Guide to the Office of Population, 1991, Pathfinder was then in the middle of a $67 million contract. The Carolina Population Center, located on the campus of the University of North Carolina, participated in the design phase of the $100 million Nigerian population control program financed through USAID’s African Bureau. See USAID agreement no. 698-0462-C-000-7012-00, from 1987, with a budget of $56,184.

8 The following section is based on research carried out by Jean Guilfoyle and reported in her excellent article, “Islam and Family Planning” PRI Review 2(4) (July/August 1992): 6-7, from which many of the below citations are taken.

9 The subcontract to Haider was written during RAPID’s second contract with USAID, pithily called RAPID II. A 1991 directory of USAID population projects explains that the RAPID project is intended to “raise leadership of relationships between population growth and development and about the positive socio-economic and health effects of lower fertility.” See User’s Guide to the Office of Population (USAID, 1991), p. 13. By then the Futures Group was on to RAPID III, which ran from September 1987 to September 1992, to the tune of $12,666,000. Much of USAID’s population funding is expended in this sequential fashion to a core group of trusted population control surrogates, which are more properly considered quasi-governmental organizations than non-governmental organizations.

10 Nations and Needs, newsletter of the Center for International Development and Conflict Resolution, March 1985, 3.

11 Abdel R. Omran is also identified as a Pentagon contractor in a study by Gregory D. Foster et al, called “Global Demographic Trends to the year 2010: Implications for U.S. Security.” Washington Quarterly (Center for Strategic and International Studies, Washington, D.C.), Spring 1989. The payments to Omran are recorded in “Overview of AID Population Assistance, FY 1989,” Office of Population, April 1990, a computer database print, under section of “Subproject Level Activities,” run date 4/5/90, 34 (Nigeria).

12 High infant and child mortality rates meant that many of those born would not survive until adulthood, of course.

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