Pangolo Junction
Life, arguments, and kunu... with Max, Nat and Zack

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Pushing up the Population

(It's that time of the day when office workers head home on overcrowded buses... when area boys count the takings after a hard day's work extorting money off motorists... and when our three friends congregate in Pangolo Junction to chew the fat.)

Max: So what are you guys up to this weekend?

Nat: Well, my cousin's wife has just given birth, and he's invited me to attend the naming ceremony.

Zack: Ah, that's good news o!

Nat: Well... not really. You see, my cousin already has six children, and...

Max: Six children! Wow, he must be very wealthy to be able to look after them.

Nat: Actually... no. His job as a clerk barely brings in enough income to cover the cost of their accommodation alone. His wife has her own business as a seamstress, but still they struggle to find enough food to put on the table for their children. So you can imagine why he's not exactly shouting hallelujahs now that his wife has given birth to triplets.

Max and Zack: Triplets!!

Nat: Oh yes. In fact, I suspect that this 'naming ceremony' is really a fund-raising ceremony in disguise. I met my cousin just before coming here, and he was dropping some very broad hints like "I hear that they are paying you well well at that your bank" and "You know, times are hard here, my brother" and "You are lucky that you have no responsibility".

Zack: I really feel sorry for the man. How is he going to look after nine children?

Max: Sorry? What do you mean? Hasn't he heard of contraception? I mean, why bring children into this world if you can't afford to look after them?

Nat: I don't really know... I 've not thought to ask him exactly why he's had child after child, despite the increasing difficulty in looking after them. I suspect that it's a combination of the cost of contraception and the inconvenience in using it. Or maybe he really isn't aware of what's available out there.

Max: I find that hard to believe. This is why if I had my way, I would introduce a policy of issuing parenting licences, just like the government currently issues drivers licences! Only parents who could prove that they had enough money to look after a child would be allowed to have one.

Zack: Ha! This is really surprising, coming from Mister Freedom himself.

Max: Well, this is different. Remember that I spoke of using that freedom responsibly? (getting angry) How responsible is to bring a child into this world if that child is just going to know hunger, poor health and poor education all his childhood, because the parents don't have the money to look after him? I've seen too many children suffer because their parents weren't thinking when they decided to do the horizontal dance without protection!

Nat: Max, sorry - but your idea is a complete non-starter. Who decides how much exactly someone needs to look after a child? What happens if things change down the line and the parents are not so comfortable? Or what if someone disobeys the law and has children anyway without one of these licences – do you kill the child?

Max: Why are you talking like this? Don't we have laws that govern the adoption of a baby to decide whether a couple are suitable to act as parents for the baby? Why can't we use the same laws to decide whether a couple are suitable to have a baby the natural way? And as to your question about what happens to babies of offending couples... they can always be given up for adoption.

Zack (alarmed): Kai, Max! That is absolutely draconian! Anyway, your idea will be so unpopular that there is no way on earth that it will ever be implemented. I pity the policeman who they send to a community to come and seize a baby from its mother when the whole community confronts him with their machetes and broken bottles.

Max (wearily): I know... so let people continue to have as many children as they want, as long as they don't invite me to any fund-raising... sorry, child-naming activities.

Nat: But Max, as usual you're looking at the matter purely from a naira and kobo perspective. There are other things more important than money when it comes to looking after children... like love, for example?

Max (scornfully): Love? What's love got to do with it?

Nat: Quite a lot. You see the children of many rich parents who end up with their lives messed up because they didn't have any one who showed them enough love when they were growing up... they didn't have someone who paid enough attention to them to care about whether they grew up right or wrong, because that someone was busy jetting off to this conference or chairing that meeting.

So I have a problem with your 'money equals good parent' attitude, because you end up excluding many good parents who aren't fantastically rich but who would show the care and love that the child needs while growing up.

Zack: And you include many parents who have more money than sense, who just regard children as toys they can buy even though they lack the maturity to raise them properly.

Nat: But I do share your concern about people having children anyhow and causing uncontrolled population growth, although for another reason.

Max: What reason?

Nat: Well, just look around you. Twenty years ago, this town was a pleasant place to live in. There were open spaces, the traffic flowed freely, and the public infrastructure was enough to support us all.

Now look how things have changed. All the open spaces are gone – and in their place we have all kinds of ugly, illegal structures which even encroach on public footpaths. The traffic is now absolutely horrendous – it used to take an hour to get from one end of this town to the other, but now it takes nearly five times that time. And infrastructure? That's now just an absolute shambles. Leaking sewage pipes, non-functional water supply, cratered roads, libraries that are just reading rooms, hospitals that are just consulting clinics. Why? Because there are too many people in this town!

Max: Well, I don't agree with you at all. If the government was doing its job properly, it would be collecting taxes from each household depending on the extent to which it was using public services. So people who had more children would be taxed more. Then it could use the money to expand and maintain the infrastructure. It's just bad planning, that's all.

Zack: You make it look like it's an easy thing to expand infrastructure. If a school was serving a community of ten thousand people before, and the population goes up to fifty thousand, and there is no more land in that community to build new schools because it's all been taken over by illegal structures, then what? Does the government tear down the old school and build a multi-storey school? Does it build additional schools on land that is so far away from the community that the children will find it difficult to get there?

Max (sighing): Are you listening? I just said that the problem is bad planning. Every town should have a master plan which sets out which spaces should be used for which purpose. But we just build anything anywhere, so it's no surprise when there's no space left to build further schools.

Zack: Your solution is good where the town hasn't been designed at all – we can then say "this area should be used for this purpose" before even a single block has been laid. But what happens where we already have a town that came into being without a master plan? Do we level everything and start all over again?

Nat: But even leaving that aside, there's an even bigger reason why I see uncontrolled population growth as a problem. And that's the environmental impact.

Max: Oh lord! You've been watching too many wildlife documentaries. Those western naturalists may preach about saving the lesser-spotted hunchbacked silver gorilla, but over here in Nigeria, that is the least of our problems!

Nat: Well, you can laugh – but the eradication of species is a serious matter. I remember talking to an elderly relative a few years ago about how life was in the olden days. He was telling me of a particular plant that used to grow near his village when he was still a young boy, and how the villagers used to use it as a medicine to help them with their rheumatism. I was quite excited about this, and when I asked him more about it, he replied sadly that the forest that the villagers used to get the plant from had long since been cut down for farmland, and he didn't know where else it grew.

Zack: That's a shame! I suppose the only consolation is that at least, the land that the forest used to stand on is now producing food for the villagers.

Nat: Yes, but at what price? My relative was lamenting about the methods that farmers now use in farming – he says that they are now more dependent on heavy fertiliser usage, because to use other methods would simply not yield enough crop for them, given the smaller areas of land that they have to farm. I worry about the effect that excessive fertiliser use will have on the quality of the soil and the rivers that the farmland drain into.

Max: Now that's interesting – Mister New Technology is expressing misgivings about the use of technology! But I see what you mean now.

Nat: But I do wonder that people can't see that uncontrolled population growth has these negative effects.

Zack: Well in the past, in most Nigerian cultures, infant mortality was high, So it was a good idea to have many children, because it assured the parents that after Death had had his share, there would at least be some children around to help with the farm work, or fishing, or whatever. And the idea of many children being a blessing has entered many of our traditions.

But in the urban areas at least, things have changed, and infant mortality has improved. Unfortunately, our traditions haven't quite kept pace - people have kept on having children even though there's less of a likelihood of dying earlier, so we've had this explosion of large families. I think as people realise that there is no cause for alarm, tradition will change again and the number of children per family will reduce to manageable levels. It won't need any dictatorial laws from you, Max.

(Just then, a haggard-looking man enters the Junction looking here and there until he spots Nat. Then he comes over with a smile on his face, arms outstretched. Nat looks at him in shock, while the others look on in wonder.)

The Man: Ah... Nat, my cousin! How are you? I just thought I should drop in and see what this Pangolo Junction that you are always talking about looks like.

Nat (embarassed): Er... yes. Guys, this is my cousin, Peter.

Peter: Ah, this must be Max, right? Nat said that you are a big businessman, that you do deals worth billions of naira! And you must be Zack. He said that you were a deputy commissioner in the state ministry. It's good to meet both of you at last o!

(Max and Zack gape in astonishment.)

Peter: I just wanted to invite both of you to the naming ceremony I will be having this Saturday for the triplets that God has blessed me with.

Max: Er... I think I may already have an engagement on that day.

Peter: Hm... that's a pity. Still, if you can't attend... (brings out a white envelope with 'MAX' written on it) you can put whatever God moves you to contribute in here.

(Max reluctantly brings out his wallet, carefully counts out some notes and puts them in the envelope. Peter then inspects the envelope, decides that the harvest has been good, expresses his hope to see Zack and Nat on the day and bids all three men a cheery farewell.)

Max (spluttering with rage after Peter has left): What the hell did you think you were doing telling him that he could meet us here?

Nat (cringing apologetically): That guy is a sneaky devil! He knew many months ago that I usually come here after work to meet you guys. After we spoke, he must have followed me by bus here to the Junction and waited for an opportune moment to introduce himself. He must have really planned ahead to have prepared an envelope with you name on it.

Zack (grinning): Serves you right. You should have just kept your mouth shut like me – you would have got away without having to make any contribution. Yes, that's right Nat – I have no plans to attend your cousin's ceremony.

Max: Well, I am now officially broke as of this evening, thanks to Nat's cousin. So I am excused from kunu-buying duties. Oya Zack... forward march to the bar.

Zack: Me? I'm just a poor civil servant – you are the billion naira business man.

Max (with an evil grin): Oh, you don't want to go, deputy commissioner? I'm sure that Peter hasn't got very far, so I could still rush out and let him know that you have other plans for that Saturday... I'm sure that he has another envelope on him with your name on it...


  • This is a wonderful comment on the effects of population growth. Never have I read such an intelligent and thoughtful discussion on these issues in any newspaper or heard television.

    Thanks - appreciative reader

    By Anonymous Anonymous, At November 19, 2006 8:58 am  

  • "Don't we have laws that govern the adoption of a baby to decide whether a couple are suitable to act as parents for the baby? Why can't we use the same laws to decide whether a couple are suitable to have a baby the natural way?"

    I wonder how that kind of law would be enacted....with secret camera's in people's rooms??

    Interesting and great as usual!

    I saw a comment by Max here that you used on some other blog.....

    By Blogger Nilla, At January 17, 2007 5:33 pm  

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