Why Do Nigerians Go On To Have So Many Children Anyway?

Have you ever walked through a Lagos street in the early mornings of a holiday periods? The ambience is uncanny. The feel of the atmosphere in the 20 million strong state is remarkably serene. The electric buzz of activity, the tireless honking of vehicles and the clouds of exhaust fumes that follows them, the dust raised from people something like angrily stumping and dragging their feet on the grounds on which they walk, the noise, oh the noise! everything just surrenders into an unfamiliar mansuetude. The world itself seems different and pleasantly strange, almost like the memory of a dream. While the reality of it is a Lagos with most of her inhabitants indoors, imagining it as a Lagos with say 15 million less citizens entirely paints it in a different light.

By all indications, Nigerians are a fecund set, the roots of which other than in the obvious biology of the population is also edged on by factors that range from the prevalent ideology of the resident population, the traditional and cultural beliefs as well as religion and surprisingly so but to a lesser extent, [the lack of] education, to mention an obvious few. For a lot of these there exists a confluence of synergies that encourages this condition in a way that often goes on to depict a brazen display of defiance for basic issues which should otherwise be considered as far as the fundaments of child rearing goes. Without being unduly critical, if one says these factors combine to the disregard of common sense, they wouldn’t be too wrong. Whether it just shows the levels of reverence that the Nigerian people generally have towards the matters of culture and tradition is one point that might be argued. Whether it goes on to point out a disregard for the conventional state of affairs, with the people choosing the comforts of hope and the promises of a better future over the unforgiving harshness of the present reality is another point. Whether, it goes on to portray a population’s inability take the conditions of the present as input in planning for the future, is another and unfortunately, they add up to form something of a mystery and thus, we would never actually know for sure. But to make the point even clearer, as at January 2017, the population estimates for Nigeria were 182 million people and as of January 2018, that figure has become 193 million. In the space of a single year, 11 million new people have become Nigerians and we hope that plans from healthcare to education, security, etc. have been made to accommodate them. Case in point: the proliferation of children in IDP camps. Oh, wait.

Over the weekend, I came across a Facebook post (below) on a similar issue but rather than Nigeria and the population explosion at hand, it criticised people who went on to produce multiple offspring, even though they lacked the capacity (especially financial) to effectively cater to them. The post offered a veritable source of insight into the reasons behind the continued proliferation of seeming new humans even though the reality of things after they are born remains largely grim and desolate than they are rosy.

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From the data at hand, one could, without inciting any divisiveness, draw certain distinctions towards the ideas of marriage, polygamy, childbearing and the notions of responsibility towards future generations or the lack thereof. Indigenes from the northern half of the country, many of which happened to be Muslim men, were not only of the opinion that it was their right as well as their responsibility to populate the earth as they saw fit without giving any second thoughts to the sustenance of the children that they produced. Other Northern Muslims as well as a good number of Christian, mostly Southerners, shared an understandable belief that the number of children that happened to a person or a couple, was only decided by God; “God alone gives children” and hence, no amount of planning or similar acts could affect or change that particular story. This is quite amusing because childlessness in marriages happens to be one of the leading causes of marital decay in today’s Nigeria and Africa at large. However, the proclivity towards polygamy as a contributing factor to a higher rates of child bearing (“football team” in this thread) was markedly obvious as more people in the North as well as the South-West (Yoruba men and their apprentice demons) seemed to share some sympathy for the practise. The thread having almost 500 different commenting participants from both genders as well as ethnic and religious roots, revealed that among the people from these sub-regions, more wives and more children generally translated to higher status within their society reflecting an ideology that has been inherited for centuries. Several times along the thread, to consider the input of religion, it was mentioned that the Qur’an and Islam generally allow for polygamy on the condition that the wives especially, and the children be well taken care of. This particular point was one of the strongest points of arguments as it pitted Muslims who considered the instructions of the Qur’an to be absolute and incontestable with the more liberal Muslims who made the point of that particular scripture being anachronistic in today’s world. Among the people who supported the former notion, were a few men who even stated their views on marriage as largely being a favour done to the women with whom they got involved and by virtue of their fact: the more, the better with some even going as far as unconsciously pandering towards gender imbalance as far as population dynamics were concerned in other words; “there are more women than men and so polygamy isn’t only right, it makes sense” as one user stated. While generally, Christians within the thread shared a similar opinion on monogamy: one man, one wife till death, when they bothered to tackle the question on why people went on to have more children than they could afford, many responded by insinuating that God only requested them to go into the world, multiply and subdue the earth while chipping in that Jesus advised in the sermon on the mount, not to bother about tomorrow. Some even bore notions that “babies would bring their sustenance from heaven” a point that was fiercely tackled by other users who labelled these notions as ridiculous while some others stated that for rationale like these, “many Nigerians remain the architects of their misfortunes”. Checking the profile information for many of the participants in this thread showed a majority from all sides of the discourse had at least been educated to university level but with only a small population exhibiting the kind of critical considerations that should ordinarily precede the decision to bear children.

Within the South East and the South South, while polygamy wasn’t generally reflected as a common practise, rather than having three or four wives and twenty children as seen elsewhere, the thread defined the people in these regions as having more of a tendency to demand up to ten children from a single woman. For example, one Facebook user, commented on the relationship with a personal acquaintance who having his origins from the south eastern section of the country, is a married man to a single wife and blessed with 7 children. Asking why the said man had chosen to have so many children, he was given an explanation that the man’s wife had set for herself, a target of 12 so she could be eligible for a chieftaincy title in their hometown. Some of the comments are quoted below:

I have one in my area with six children. They wear dirty clothes and walk around barefooted. They are the errand boys and girls for the whole street. I cried when I saw her with big stomach again. – Adetutu Oluwatoba

Someone from Ibadan doing naming for their fourth child while they live in a single room. They threw a huge party, hired musicians, did asoebi and invited the whole neighbourhood and even took out a loan to finance it. They can take loans out for these but won’t take out loans to pay their kids’ school fees – Ekuse Osagie

Abakaliki friend who believes that Bill Gates isn’t the richest man in the world. He kept asking how many children Bill Gates has until I understood that in Abakaliki, children are a man’s riches – Asiegbu Nonso

Yes of course. We [born] as many children as we want. We don’t have terms like “family planning” in our system. Children are blessings from the Most High, we don’t encourage abortion. How many people are rich, yet they sleep with hunger? Surely the government has nothing to do, we live a different lifestyle. You are not God to decide the man’s future. We marry 2,3,4 wives, I think it is better to be loyal than to be moving around cheating your single wife. If we say every man should marry a single woman, what about the rest of them? We need to check the ration of men to women. It is men that die at war, accidents and hospitals. We actually have more sense than you. You think children can save you from poverty? – Mubarak Sanusi

The society at large suffer when people fail to plan for the future as untrained and uncared for, these children stand a greater risk of growing into social menaces like robbers, kidnappers and impacting negatively on the progress of the whole community – Wale Ojo

Destiny is different for everyone. Tell me something about China, where they started and where they are today – Isiaka Ibrahim

After making my point on the first post about this very topic of breeding many children, being contented with the two kids that I have, a guy replied on my comment saying “what if God decides to bless you with more children?” in my mind I was asking, “is he going to impregnate my wife for me?” – Olakunle Ahmad

Money isn’t everything. If we don’t have money, let us at least have children because if we are many we are stronger without money – Reginald Chukwuemeka

Although there were other reasons why some ended up with more children ranging from unplanned pregnancies to the views on abortion in conservative Nigeria, from the general representation using this particular thread as a data point, it revealed that a seeming majority of Nigerians are factually incapable of entertaining the notion of control over this basic issue of propagation and family planning as many share a common theme of helplessness as far as the issue is concerned. When the idea of family planning, the use of birth control devices and contraceptives was mentioned, it was often to hostile reception with some parties even going as far as stating that the practise of birth control was “foreign” to Nigeria and that not all of the practises of the western world was acceptable or even possible as far as the Nigerian condition was concerned. However, it should be stated and understood that as far as this particular discourse went, a greater share of the participants entirely missed the point which primarily centred on the financial responsibilities of child rearing (if you don’t have the money to train them, then don’t have so many children) choosing rather to delve into baring offensive opinions about others’ religions and ethnicity. Nigerians remain the biggest detractors of the inefficiencies of the system in which they live, and in many other ways also, they are the most prominent perpetuators of the ills of their condition. But in the case of the population and the pressures that it places on the resources of the society, the already inefficient social infrastructure and even on the people living under the most unfriendly of circumstances, it becomes obvious that these factors generally add up to an expression of the inability of the average Nigerian to perceive the bigger picture of their place as a single contributor to a larger, more complex structure. The population grew by 11 million in a single year, care to find out how many new schools, health care centres, affordable housing projects (public and private), etc. have been completed in the same space of time? The answer is zero, the full responsibility for which many Nigerians would remark, lies with the government. As usual.

The idea of population control in itself is factually a tough sell in any environment. It is quite difficult to enact and indeed comes with a few side effects. For example, the gender imbalance in the Chinese population due to the one child policy which came into enforcement in 1979 and used mechanisms like forced abortions and sterilisations on women who went against the policy to drive down the population, encouraged a systemic preference for male children that has skewed the ratio of men to women in China to something around 118 men to 100 women. Particularly affected by this legislation were the low income families as the richer and better off could afford residency in other countries where they could have as many children as they desired. Similarly, in Pakistan the government promoted ideas like child-spacing to bring down the birth rate and in neighbouring India, the government provides a special family tax to new couples who wait at least two or more years before deciding to have their first child. The practise of population control is not only employed to force down the population but in some instances, it is used to encourage couples to have more children and examples may be seen in countries like Japan who provide special tax reliefs and financial benefits to couples who choose to have more than one child. In Russia and South Korea, there are entire holidays set aside as family days where baby making and generally communing with family is encouraged. Amusingly enough, in 2013, President Putin invited the Boys II Men over to Russia on Valentine’s day to “encourage” couples to “get it on” as Russia continues to battle against its low natality and there are even more examples all around the world. However, in trying to propose population control measures on a country like Nigeria, taking into considerations the anticipated distrust and protests that would stem from the 77% of the population that lives below a dollar a day and believe that if they cannot be monetarily wealthy, then no one has any right to stop them from being wealthy in children, takes this challenge to another level. Additionally, considering the ethnic and religious distrust that continues to simmer below the surface of the fundamentally divided citizenry, for instance, if President Buhari were to give an order mandating that couples all over the country were no longer allowed to have more than two children. Anticipating the response from the residents of the south who already detest the fact that their president: A Fulani, Muslim man, would be giving orders that would see that their generational progression is not only limited for the foreseeable future but that they also stand at risk of invasion from those in the North, does not come off as entirely unlikely. The possibilities on talking points for why population control in Nigeria would be incredibly difficult, abound and factually, one stands a better chance of dividing the entire country as the ideological differences between the north and the south are entirely too wide to promote any sustainable progress through policy making and perhaps this is one of the factors affecting the progress of the country today.

Understanding that there is a notable trend between wealth and the rates of child bearing vis a vis richer families tending to have fewer offspring while the otherwise generally have more, this has become one trend that can be observed globally when the natality rates of wealthier countries are considered compared with the poorer ones. Although this fact has been attributed to higher levels of advanced education especially among women in the more developed climes as well as the availability of contraceptives and birth control measures. From the point of view of an economist, it has been postulated for considerable periods that part of the factors that accounts for higher birth rates among the poorer regions is the poverty itself that robs the people of common distractions like social gatherings and recreational facilities from clubs to cinemas, amusement parks and as such they turn to coitus as their ready source of entertainment and to digress, an old Chinese proverb says: “it is not economical for a couple to go bed early trying to burn less of the candle if the result are twins”. In some sense, one of the effective means of bringing the population down, perhaps even globally might just be increasing the efficiency of wealth distribution; the richer the poorer people are, the less likely that they would on average have more children – theoretically at least. Well, for the most part, a good number, I aver a majority of those in need of this kind of information in Nigeria have no access to things like the internet if at all they have any level of education. This is also one of the factors that would need to be addressed. Overturning centuries old traditions regarding the bliss of child breeding indeed poses the most arduous challenge to this objective even though the necessity of population control may lie outside the reaches of common contestation.

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