By Babatunde Jose
“Nigeria can produce food for 600million people through the application of the right technology. Commitment is needed by stakeholders dedicated to increasing food production for the country, as well as regaining her position as a net food exporter.” Danish Ambassador
For thousands of years famine has been humanity’s worst enemy. Until recently most humans lived on the very edge of the biological poverty line, below which people succumb to malnutrition and hunger. A small mistake or a bit of bad luck could easily be a death sentence for an entire population. Misfortune or stupidity on the collective level resulted in mass famines. Human history is full of horrific accounts of famished populations, driven mad by hunger. Some say it is nature’s way of correcting the population. During such events provisions become scarce; and governments are far too weak to save the day or provide for the people. We see it happening today, especially in this our clime where governments abdicate their roles and the masses are usually left in the lurch.
At such times people cry to God to ‘Deliver them from hunger’. But God does not send down ‘manna’ anymore. The ‘sinful’ nature of man has made God to withdraw to the high heavens and we should not expect such prayers to be answered today. Now it is ‘work and eat’ as we read in Psalm 128:2 “For thou shalt eat the labour of thine hands: happy shalt thou be, and it shall be well with thee.”
What this means is that governments should look out for the welfare of their people; not the Church or the Umma. During the last hundred years, technological, economic and political developments have created an increasingly robust safety net separating humankind from the biological poverty line; except here in Africa where we are being left behind.
At the first World Food Conference held in Rome in 1974, delegates were treated to apocalyptic scenarios, particularly about China and India. Then, Deng Xiaoping just started opening up China and there were 700 million Chinese living in extreme poverty. The conference concluded that there was no way for China to feed its billion people, and that the world’s most populous country was heading towards catastrophe. But they were proved wrong; China performed the greatest economic miracle in history by lifting hundreds of millions out of poverty, not by divine intervention, occasioned by fasting at the ‘Camps’, or ‘prayer cities’ or reading copiously from Chairman Mao’s ‘Little Red Book’ but by the dint of far reaching socio-economic policies and micro-management by successive Chinese leaders. In 1974, China had only 8million university graduates: Today, she has more than 300 million graduates, roughly the entire population of the United States of America. Yet China is not an Islamic or Christian nation.
Are we prepared to do what China did to conquer the debilitating consequences of the population bomb? Are we prepared to stop the obnoxious social and cultural practices that still prevail among some sections of our society such as child marriage; a most ungodly and unholy practice which is not supported by any scripture known to man. The same goes for the institution of polygamy which the faithful usually attribute to an injunction of the Quran but which in context, is about doing justice. “If ye fear that ye shall not be able to deal justly with the orphans, Marry women of your choice, Two or three or four; but if ye fear that ye shall not be able to deal justly [with them], then only one, or [a captive] that your right hands possess, that will be more suitable, to prevent you from doing injustice.”(Quran 4:3)
Permission to have more than one wife is not a substantive law in the Holy Qur’an, but a remedial or emergency law. It should not be brought into operation unless circumstances justify it, such as times of war when many men lose their lives, women are widowed and children are orphaned. The objects of marriage are four-fold: Protection against social, moral, and spiritual maladies (2:187; 4:24); secondly, a source of progeny (4:1); thirdly, a source of a loving companion providing peace of mind and comfort (30:21); and finally, the social and economic protection of orphans and widows of war (4:127).
To discourage polygamy, the Holy Qur’an first limits the number of wives to a maximum of four, before imposing a strict condition of equality: “If you fear that you will not be able to deal equitably then (marry only) one.” Later in verse 129 we are told, “It is not within your power to maintain perfect balance between wives, even though you are so eager.” To deal equitably is an injunction; any violation of this is a significant sin and against Quranic law. Thus, this permission of a maximum of four wives nonetheless imposes considerable restriction and severe conditions on males that makes taking another wife almost impossible.
Apart from proclivity to polygamy and child marriage, there are other hindrances to concerted population control, one of which is the Christian attitude to birth control and contraception.
The Church and Population Control
Despite the changing attitude of other churches, Catholicism maintains its traditional opposition to population control. The Church holds contraception to be sinful and contrary to scriptural teaching. Thus, St. Augustine declares that “intercourse even with one’s legitimate wife is unlawful and wicked where the conception of the offspring is prevented”. Onan, the son of Juda in the Bible, did this and the Lord killed him for it. See Genesis 38:3-10. The punishment for breach of the levirate marriage law however, is laid down elsewhere in the Old Testament (see Deuteronomy 25:5-10). The Old Testament also contains the general injunction to “increase and multiply”: Licence to procreate. Contraception, Catholics maintain, is corrupting to the individual, since it reduces self-control and its employment in the majority of cases will be for selfish reasons. Marriage will be degraded to a legalized form of prostitution. Furthermore, contraceptives undermine public morality by removing the fear of pregnancy, which is a powerful deterrent against promiscuous intercourse.
There is however an argument which stands to reason and cannot be easily faulted: “We must strive to multiply bread so that it suffices for the tables of mankind, and not rather favor an artificial control of birth, which would be irrational, in order to diminish the number of guests at the banquet of life.” This imposes an immense responsibility. And whose responsibility is it to multiply the bread; our governments of course by their policies, which in the end might entail some social engineering.
Can we trust our leaders to make enough bread available on our tables? Can we guarantee schools for our children and employment after graduation? What of those who for one reason or the other could not get to the Uni, are we making provisions for them to become artisans and self-employed technicians? Are we making provisions for girl-child education, instead of sentencing them to early, premature marriage or as gifts to their father’s friends? Are we encouraging the nomads to get educated instead for roaming the forest and destroying the farms of innocent people and in the process provoking mayhem and communal strife? Are we expanding the base of healthcare for our people and making provisions for improvements? Are we investing in the future; when only 350 Nigerians are responsible for more than 80 per cent of the N5.4 trillion debt portfolio of AMCON?
Presently, the figures are not good: Rise in the number of internally displaced children and a corresponding increase in birth rates have led to a surge in the number of out-of-school children in Nigeria. A Demographic Health Survey (DHS) conducted by UNICEF and the Nigerian government revealed that the number of out-of-school children rose from 10.5 million in 2010 to 13.2 million in 2015. Terry Durnnia, education chief, at UNICEF said 45 percent of out-of-school children in West Africa are Nigerians, 60% of them are in the North and majority of them are girls due to early marriage. Azuka Menkiti, UNICEF education specialist, said 50 percent of pupils in the north do not further their education. According to Femi Falana; “Having failed to fund public education, the children of the poor are roaming the streets, hawking goods while the rich are educating their children in private schools at home and abroad. But to the detriment of the society, the abandoned children of the poor are being recruited to criminality by terrorists, kidnappers and other criminal gangs.”
By some estimates Nigerian tertiary education institutions produce up to 500,000, half of these graduates are sentenced to the unemployment queue. What will then happen when we become the third most populous country in the world? These are unimaginable scenario to contemplate.
By 2050, 80 per cent of all the poor people in the world will live on the African continent; 50% of that will be in Nigeria and the Democratic Republic of Congo. Two countries will account for 40 per cent of all the poor people in the world. Yet, in 1960, the per capital income in Nigeria was higher than what it was in South Korea, and China.
Currently we are not making serious efforts to expand and improve education and health and create enabling environment for employment nor are we making strenuous efforts to invest in the future? Yet, some people have enough money in their war chests more than some states. If care is not taken, says the Emir of Kano, we risk the chance of becoming the poverty capital of the world. Those countries that escaped the poverty trap achieved the feat because they planned for the future. We too can avert the coming eruption if we start now, but we need leaders who are committed to the Nigerian Project and not sectional and ethnic demigods and jingoists.
O Allah; “Guide us to the straight path.” Quran 1:6
Barka Juma’at and Happy weekend