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”

End Quote 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 - 2007 Not 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”

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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?”

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"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.

If you would like to comment on Sola Odunfa's column, please do so below.


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  • Comment number 32.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

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    Comment number 31.

    Tell the world the truth or you will be targeted. boko haram is not trying to impose sharia law in all part of nigeria. they only want it in their land which is the northern part you call one nigeria. Boko Haram knows they cannot have sharia in igboland, never & never. so, u should allow people to live the way they want. you are afraid that if there is sharia biafra is librated

  • rate this

    Comment number 30.

    There are many reason's why one nigeria must divide. arabic is written on "naira" the nigerian currency. could someone tell me why? what does arabic has to do with the history of nigeria? is like a part of nigeria was colonize by britain while the other was colonize by saudi arabia? pls, tell me. believe it or not, (you people are the angles we don't know)

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    Comment number 29.

    @Smiffie, that's what you and Europe deserve.

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    Comment number 28.

    you don't just need to educate the women, you need to change the culture, many men believe that multiple children even if they cant afford them and watch them starve to death is a sign of their manhood and virility , they need to learn that with kids come responsibility

  • rate this

    Comment number 27.

    Don't political connections and wealth already weight survival in favor of the elite with wealth and political connections, must the poor now be denied even the chance to procreate? Such a policy would likely require heavy handed enforcement and be hugely unpopular, doesn't Nigeria have enough social unrest already?

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    Comment number 26.

    shame on you, the weapon you gave to the hausa,fulani,kanuri & yoruba to kill others for the sake of one nigeria is being use to kill them self to divide nigeria. so, what do you say? ohhhhhhhh queen

  • rate this

    Comment number 25.

    Why can't you use this opportunity and tell the world how britain has been killing the igbos through the hausa,fulani,kanuri and their yoruba ally just because the igbos reject the idea of one nigeria.

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    Comment number 24.

    I am not happy with this kingdom. you people are responsible for the dead and suffering of millions of igbos. but the time has come for change. one nigeria will destroy all of you. obasanjo, they killed in 1967 to preserve one nigeria but are today killing to seperate one nigeria

  • rate this

    Comment number 23.

    I would like you to use this opportunity and tell the world how the hausa fulani you people gave weapon to kill others for the sake of one nigeria back in 1967 are now killing others to devide nigeria.

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    Comment number 22.

    I feel really passionate about this issue, im an Nigerian born educated male living in the UK. and i just always wonder why Nigerians are practically everywhere. i think more education is needed from the grass roots about sexual practices, also forced sterilization. Africa needs to adopt chins's practices. it has to stop where poor Nigerians are the ones that end up with multitudes of children

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    Comment number 21.

    Forced sterilisation? Really? I'm not sure what the solutions are but that isn't it. I work in International Development and have read genuine and horrific reports about forced sterilisation in Central Asia and China where it is not uncommon for women to undergo forced abortions at all stages of pregnancy. Don't turn into China!

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    Comment number 20.

    While children are a gift from God, they also come with responsibilities. To whom much is given, much is expected. Perhaps a less radical approach to encourage people to have fewer children is to create incentives such as free healthcare and education for the first two, and then no benefits for any added children. This should be complimented with free and accessible birth control to mothers.

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    Comment number 19.

    Population control is a good idea. President Jonathan "Bad Luck" because that's all he has brought Nigeria since he took office. An unchecked & frequent Boko Haram attacks & other miseries suffered daily by Nigerians. He promised stable power supply he is yet to deliver. Nigeria roads are death traps. He should provide needed infrastructures. Resourceful & hard working Nigerians will do the rest.

  • Comment number 18.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

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    Comment number 17.

    The Nigerian government is an expert in paying lip service to family planning. It's a world champion in numerous failed policies [and counting]. Nigeria has failed its people on so many fronts and population control is no exception. Again, Mr Jonathan is publicising his wish list. The pipe has already burst and as usual Nigeria will be patching rather than overhauling, so to speak.

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    Comment number 16.

    What is needed is a generally better understanding of life

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    Comment number 15.

    Think of the possible consequences this could have! Limiting the number of children poor families are allowed could have horrible consequences for girls and the sick or disabled ending in abandonment or 'accidents'. As for enforced sterilization that's frankly barbaric as are forced abortions. Material incentives for those who limit their children coupled with subsidized birth control could work.

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    Comment number 14.

    Overpopulation is causing huge environmental damage in Africa & else where, war & AIDS aren’t making a dent in numbers, it will take something like the medieval plague to bring numbers down to sustainable levels.

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    Comment number 13.

    And do you inforce legally-controlled birth control?
    Will there be a policeman beside every bed?
    The people must buy-in to the rationale; they must understand the rationale, especially in a country where children are seen as "gifts of God".
    Will licences be given out specifying number of children permitted, & thereafter the govt will count heads and kill off the excess?


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