African viewpoint: Should birth control be mandatory?

Children sit in a canoe with their mother as she navigates through waterways in the Makoko slum in Lagos, Nigeria, on 29 September 2011

The UN estimates Nigeria’s population could grow from 160m to 400m by 2050


In our series of viewpoints from African journalists, Sola Odunfa in Lagos gives Nigeria’s President Goodluck, the leader of Africa’s most populous nation, some advice about birth control.

I have always wondered how many children a man or woman should have, and my conclusion each time has rested on the Lagos slang: “It’s a matter of cash”.

If you are rich you may have as many as the late Sir Olateru Olagbegi, the highly revered traditional ruler of Owo in western Nigeria, had.

His children swear that he sired 70 – unassisted. And they all are successful in their various callings.

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The more the number of children – the more the poverty”

Yoruba proverb

On the other hand if you are a “common” man or woman, that is you do not own a house and car and you must seek an appointment before you may see your bank manager, you must limit your family size to what the political elite dictate.

Otherwise you all starve and your children end up living under the bridge.

The stark reality needs no argument.

We see it and feel it on the streets of Nigerian cities on a daily basis.

The rich and the poor hardly mix.

Children of the one are taken to school in air-conditioned, tinted-glass cars and buses.

Head start

“Common” children of the “common” man are either hawking in the morning traffic for survival or dodging that scourge of Nigerian city roads – the commercial motorcycle – on their way to school, many barefooted.

Pupils of in Ibafo, Ogun state, Nigeria, during a school break time - 2007Not all children in Nigeria are able to go to school, many work as street traders

One already has a head-start in the race of life, although nothing will stop the exceptionally bright and lucky from catching up the others at or before the tape.

The late business mogul and later politician Moshood Abiola – of 12 June presidential election fame – makes a good example.

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The president admitted that children were gifts from God, but then so is the hair on our head which we control by barbering”

He was raised in poverty but in later life few of his privileged contemporaries in school matched his academic and business successes.

He remains one of the rare exceptions to the Yoruba saying of “omo bere – osi bere”, that is, the more the number of children – the more the poverty.

The point is that in this age any child who must be a success in life needs formal education; and education does not come free – it is a matter of cash.

Some Nigerians say that President Goodluck Jonathan does not have “the charisma of a leader” but I say that he knows how to describe situations graphically.

‘Down-to-earth logic’

This is a sample from his address at the inauguration of the National Population Commission in Abuja about a fortnight ago: “Sometimes you get to somebody’s house living in a well-furnished duplex.

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Why not bring education to everyone’s reach?”

“The husband and wife there may have two, three, four children. The mai guard [security guard] guarding them have nine children.”

The president admitted that children were gifts from God, but then so is the hair on our head which we control by barbering.

Then why not control the number of children? It is down-to-earth logic, one would say.

In response to Nigeria’s galloping population, the president is contemplating legally enforced birth control.

At the end of the day though, since the problem is down to education and education is a matter of cash, why not bring education to everyone’s reach?

The cost to government may be less than the billions of naira stolen annually by officials and you get birth control without pain.

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