A man like Aliko Dangote giving birth to twelve children is more likely to become a bigger problem for the society than a certain Mallam Abdullahi Tanko whose reliance for wealth is a simple one-acre farm where he plants maize and cocoa yam giving birth to 30 children.
Challenge that if you can!
I know what you will do: you will quote numbers and figures, you will show pictures of Almajiris in the North, you will talk about the drug epidemic and how all of these are the outcome of having more children than they can cater for; and when you say “cater”, I know you mean “financial capability” because every other capabilities I can think of is independent of the number of children you have.
You know what I will do? I will tell you a story, and before that an introduction.
I would like to tell you a little about my elder brother: a 2018 nominee for African Writers Award, 2018 and 2020 nominee for the Kreative Diadem writers prize, a 2020 nominee for the PIN Poetically-Written Prose Prize, a 2020 Google Africa developer scholar, a Black Belt holder in Taekwondo, a civil engineering student at the university of Ilorin, and more importantly, a teacher who teaches people differnet arts and crafts, teaches the Arabic language, and hopes or strives to improve the lives of many people.
Does that sound like the kind of failure you fear the North is breeding “apparently because they’re giving birth to more than they can cater for?” Does that sound like the biography of a bandit, a drug addict?
My brother is the second of the fifteen children our father has had, and his success on various secular fronts is not an exception or rarity; my oldest brother, a chemical engineering undergraduate at Unilag, boasts of a CV almost as clean, if not cleaner, save the fact that he makes jest of poets (until my brother won a prize of course), but even then, what he lacks in poetical competence, he makes up for in speaking. As for the brother after me, he was as a winner of the Barjeel prize after he wrote a piece on the Palestinian struggle and made the Foyle young poets list for 2020.
I am sure what you think is “your father was capable of having so many children and taking care of them and so he went for it, so it’s okay.”
My father was a farmer. Period. Let that sink.
The kind of farmer that had tractors, hundreds of employees, acres of land? Nope. He had one bus, two stores of less than a plot, and four employees who rotated going with him to the farm. Three of those employees were us, his first three children.
Our father was a firewood seller who fetched firewood from the bush and delivered to roadside bakeries. And no, he did not go to the farm on weekends, he went on weekdays; while all of our mates were in school, we would be busy loading the bus with firewood. I and my brothers rotated going to the farm with him. If any of our “overpopulation policemen” were to ever see us as 13, 14, 15 year olds unloading truckloads of firewood while our mates were in school, we know what would they would have said: “child labour, why give birth to children you can’t send to school? These are the kinds of children who become bandits…” Balderdash!
Do you know the irony of it all? Our father has an Engineering degree from Obafemi Awolowo University but he refused to work with it, turned to selling firewood so that he would not have to send us to school. Pause. Let that sink in.
You think what determines how educated and responsible children will be depends on the financial capability of the parents? I tell you that my father turned down lucrative working opportunities that paid handsomely, and preffered to be financially crippled in order to educate us and raise us responsibly. Ironical, won’t you say?
My point is: we have stigmatized, bastardized, molested, raped education in our society and this misconception about what education truly is has led people to prescribe beheading as a solution to headache. When most people think about the problem with a poor man having many children, their biggest fear is: “he won’t be able to give them proper education”.
In my nineteen years alive, one of the biggest lessons I’ve learnt about life is that education is not a thing we pay others to give our children. Hold that dear. Education is not limited to classrooms. Hold that dear. Education is not something we use money to buy for our children, it is something we give money up to inculcate in our children. Hold that dear. Our biggest fear about education should not be whether we can afford to pay others to give our children, but whether we can acquire it and have the time to give them.
I have never put on a school uniform, and neither has my elder brother or younger siblings. I read most parts of my junior secondary textbooks at the farm house. We would finish loading by 11am sometimes and sit in a mosque where we would read our books until 9pm when there would be no Lastma officials go disturb us on the drive back. Our father would sit there with us in the mosque, reading and keeping an eye on us. I learnt a considerable part of the Quran during the long drive to the farm house. I learnt a lot about life from the farm. I learnt so much security measures from the nights our bus would break down on a bridge past 11 PM. I learnt a lot about integrity from how my father related with police officers. I learnt more than you could possibly ever learn in a classroom and yes, I learnt everything you could learn in a classroom.
We must redefine education; we must redefine our problems in the country, and particularly in the North. The problem is not that poor people give birth to many children: until I was nine, I and four of my brothers shared a room and parlour apartment with our parents, let that sink. We were educated in the parlour. We learnt to speak English there, we learnt mathematics there.We learnt poetry there. We did not learn martial arts there, but we practiced it there, of course.
Today, we are twelve children in the family, three of us in the university, another almost done with his secondary education (I have a problem with that word) and eight are still little children. Our father no longer has to deal with the kids, it is the responsibility of the older ones amongst us now. Even while far away, we have to keep tabs on them online. If we were 20, or 30, or 40, our father would not need a significant increase in his income to educate each one of us; each person sees the younger ones as his responsibility; this is not something we were taught in school, it is something our parents took time to inculcate in us. Dangote might not have that time, and so even if he has all the education and money in the world, coordinating ten children might be a problem.
We must stop prescribing the wrong medicine to the problem of the North. The problem – from a secular perspective – is not that the men who give birth to many children can’t afford to pay to educate them, but that they do not know how to educate the children.
We must understand that the problem with the North is not peculiar to the area and hence can not be a product of their penchant for many children. We have our South-West here littered with thugs, robbers, area boys. Every family having one child can not solve the problem of a man who can’t educate or pay for the child to be educated, and having many children can not affect the ability of a man to educate his children; in fact, educating many kids in the right manner would mean more sound minds in the society.
If we understand the problem from this perspective, we would find a differnet and better solution. Our solution should be to demystify education, make it easier for the people by making them understand that it is something one can acquire by oneself and not necessarily in the four walls of a classroom which is not always affordable. Our solution should be to make the northerners see the need for education, not for their children yet, but for the parents themselves. We must stop painting an image that it is upon the parents to seek money to pay for their children’s education, but taht it is upon them to be educated in order to educate their children.
The basis of education should be something we teach our children ourselves, but if we are unfortunate to not have the time, then we pay others.
When I say education, I do not mean mathematics and English; Al-Awlaki speaks good English and he was a leader of Alqaeda. Azzawaahiri led Alqaeda after Osama and he was a medical doctor. Ability to solve calculus or speak good English can not stop one from banditry or terrorism. When I say education, I mean teaching children to have confidence, self-worth, to have a wide and exposed view of the world, to relate with people in perfect manner, to dissect ideas, to create ideas, to curate ideas, to have empathy. These are all things that they might never learn in even the biggest schools, and this is why I fear that an Aliko Dangote with many children is worse than a poor Hausa man who understands the real definition of education, knows how to inculcate it and has the time to do that.
Education is not teaching your children poetry or paying to have them taught, education is teaching them to be open to exploring with words, with anything. My own father never knew or fancied poetry, but he educated us on the need to read widely, express our ideas, and to explore with whatever interets us without waiting for a teacher.
Education is when our father noticed us hiding from our mates so they would not see us loading trucks of firewood and he educated us on self-esteem. Education is when our father taught us how to relate with people, how he scolded us for not calling our aunts frequently, for not speaking up when we should, asking us to interprete situations. Education is when we teach our kids of their responsibility to be the society.
The education that makes a difference and refines people is not the one they often pay to acquire; it is often the one they can’t give children even when they have all the money in the world.
Our aim should be to make parents more aware of the need to spend time with their children and teach them themselves and not “dump” them in schools, whether Islamic or secular.
Our solution is not to encourage people to seek more financial stability if they want more children, but to be able to give financial stability up to be able to give children the proper education, time, and attention needed.
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