MISINTERPRETATION OF FAMILY PLANNING IN NORTHERN NIGERIA
By Haruna Mohammed
Haruna Mohammed in this special report captures how negative cultural norms and religious misinterpretations affect family planning in Bauchi State, Northern Nigeria.
Hamza Abdu Katangan Warji, hails from Warji LGA of Bauchi state. He is a father to 40 children; married to three wives and only owns a donkey which he uses to fetch firewood to feed his family, i.e. three wives, his aged mother and the 40 children. He owns a farmland which he inherited from his ancestors and farms during the rainy season.
Abdu has only four rooms; one for each of the three wives and the fourth for his mother. Young male children and unmarried female sleep with their mothers, while the matured male ones squat with friends and neighbours outside his house.
With his donkey and support from his matured children, Abdu strives to provide two square meals for the household, which they eat at night and rewarm the remaining food in the morning for breakfast. In the afternoon, everyone, including the kids is left to hunt for their lunch, sometimes at the mercy of neighbors who drop portions out of pity for the younger children.
Some of his children who attend primary schools are left with no uniforms and books, and they only attend free government primary schools.
Among his 40 children, only Isah Hamza the 13th son holds a Diploma in Shariah and Civil Law from AD Rufai College of Legal and Islamic Studies, Misau.
Despite the glaring poverty that characterises the household, Abdu is hoping to marry a fourth wife and produce as many children as the wife could bear. His reason for marrying many wives and producing more children is simple, God feeds and provides for every child.
Neither does he believe in child birth spacing nor birth limiting to enable him have moderate household that he can feed and educate.
To him, the whole concept of family planning is a western idea that tries to upset decades of cultural heritage where husbands take pride in the number of wives and children they have.
Although they live approximately150 kms apart, Abdu from Warji and Muhammadu Yusuf from Lafiyari village in Bauchi LGA share many things in common.
The duos maintain polygamous households with many children amidst dwindle purse to address their needs.
They believe that birth limiting for economic or social reason is a direct affront to their understanding of Islamic religion.
Albeit Muhammadu Yusuf has 23 children and do subscribe to the idea of birth spacing, he does not believe in limiting the number of children one should have and his reasons are simple; “you aren’t the one to feed the children, it’s God that does that.”
“I told you earlier that those with moderate households do borrow money from people with larger households and more children; which implies that the many wives and children is not a factor to one’s economic status,” he argued.
Abdu and Muhammadu’s views explain the long held cultural believes and religious misinterpretations surrounding the concept of family planning in northern Nigeria.
It perhaps explains why the concept is still facing resistance amongst some Nigerians who believe that it is a western agenda to depopulate the country.
……HOW THE LIKES OF ABDUL TRANSFER BURDEN TO OTHERS
The costs of Abdu’s decision to have more children than he could cater for does not only lie on him, many innocent people also bear the brunt of his indiscretion of having many children and lean economic power to address their basic needs. For instance, Aminu Adamu is Abdu’s neighbor who is a victim of the resolve of many people like Abdu; “with their reckless behavior, they put a very serious burden on people like us. For instance, I’m a civil servant with a certain salary that may not necessarily solve my basic needs and my immediate family, yet, these kinds of people, being relative or neighbours will be demanding things that you can’t afford to do.”
Aminu said on many occasions, “They ask for money to buy food, drugs when they’re sick and sometimes clothes to put on.
“In some instances they can request you to pay their children’s school fees and if you refuse, they see you as wicked man that doesn’t help his people, that makes you an enemy automatically,” he grudgingly lamented.
Kabiru Suleiman from Boto in Tafawa Balewa LGA also lamented how his refusal to sponsor the children of his elder brother affected their relationship despite being siblings.
“He said I have to sponsor two of his children to write WAEC since they could not pass the aptitude test conducted by the state government that would have enabled them benefit from government scholarship.
“My salary is only N36, 000 a month, I have a wife and two kids who are equally in need, where will I get the money to sponsor two people to write WAEC.
“I told him I don’t have money, he picked offence and that’s how our issues with him started,” he said.
Suleiman’s brother who has two wives, 16 children and still counting, is a local butcher whose capital does not exceed N3,000.
“I have told him that he should at least allow his wives to rest so that they would be able to take care of the children they have instead of adding more, but he vehemently rejected the suggestion and insisted that it’s God that would take care of everyone,” Suleiman added.
Efforts to get Suleiman’s brother Aliyu for an interview could not yield result despite visiting his house three times on different occasions.
He was said to have left for farm each time this reporter visited the house. His wives did not agreed to grant an interview because, according to them, they were not permitted by Aliyu to speak to the press.
…..THE COSTS OF WRONG DECISIONS ON THE EDUCATION AND HEALTH OF CHILDREN
Abdu’s 40 children and his inability to educate them perhaps explain the consequences of having many children than one can afford to shoulder.
“The health and education of your children is a right. When you failed to give them sound education and address their health needs including nutritious food that would enhance their wellbeing, you have trampled upon their rights and that will continue to haunt them throughout their lives,” said Samuel Sule a lecturer at the Federal Polytechnic Bauchi.
Aminu Adamu, Abdu’s neigbour explained how difficult it was for people with such responsibilities to feed their family, “the kids usually feed themselves in the afternoon through begging and sometimes doing some menial unskilled jobs. “Again, they usually stagnate their education after secondary school for the male, while female obtain primary, junior secondary or Islamic school as the case maybe.
“They almost always ask for money to buy drugs for their sick children, wife, relatives etc. They ask money to buy ram and kolanut when their wives put to bed; they ask for dowry when they want to marry first, second, third or even fourth wives,” he explained.
Aminu said education and food was not the only problem faced by Abdu’s children, “sometimes they resort to staying with neighbours or relatives, like Adda’luHamza, Abdu is one of his children in our house,” citing inadequate rooms to accommodate all the children.
…..HOW SKEWED UNDERSTANDING OF RELIGION AND CULTURE IMPACTS FAMILY PLANNING IN BAUCHI
The story of Abdu and Muhammadu has reiterated how distorted understanding of religion and culture influenced people’s decision on whether to space their children or not. There are many people scattered across nook and crannies of Bauchi State and beyond who strongly believe that accepting the idea to space children or limit the number of children based on one’s economic status is a direct confrontation with religious injunctions and cultural dictates where men procreate as much as they remain sexually active.
For people like Muhammdu, having many children is fulfilling a prophecy bequeathed to him by his dad, who was also said to have inherited the practice.
“Look, my dad had more than 30 children and most of them were males who contributed in making him rich because he cultivates huge portions of land when he was alive.
“He was very proud and respected in the community because of the magnitude of household he controls, and that was the prayer he offered to his children—to have as many children as they can bear—that to us is not a problem, because every child has their individual destiny in life,” he insisted.
Aisha Hamza Abdu, the first wife of Abdu has no problem with many children despite their inability to provide shelter and cater for the children, her reason is that, “if one is destined to have many children, so be it, after all our holy prophet Peace be Upon Him said ‘give birth and multiply in number so that I will be proud of you in the day of judgment,” she maintained.
But Aminu Adamu said such kinds of views are induced by ignorance, adding “they could give rise to a bleak, gloomy future.”
“We are battling with what I call cultural misunderstanding of religion. Most of our religious leaders are conservative who have not really integrated their religious knowledge with secular, western style of education.
“Some religious leaders frown at issues of family planning, child spacing and girl child education,” arguing that they have no justification based on available evidence from Islamic jurisprudence.
He said if such views were not confronted with commensurate behavioural change, “there will always be poverty in the community. There’ll be generational transfer of poverty in the lineage and by extension in the society.
……EXPERTS OPTIMISTIC, SAY TRENDS CHANGING
Regional coordinator of Planned Parenthood Federation of Nigeria, (PPFN), Yusuf Wabi, said innovative approaches such as the use of traditional and religious leaders to preach the gospel of child birth spacing is turning around the misnomers that have clouded the concept for years.
“looking at the realities on ground, different kinds of innovations and methods including meeting the women one on one, going through the religious and traditional institutions who preach the gospel of the family planning, and what we call the new concept of male involvement will play a greater role in addressing some of the issues affecting family planning in the state,” Wabi said.
He added that interventions that focus on behaviour change and incorporating greater role on the concept of male involvement will help in mitigating some of the barriers affecting the acceptability of child birth spacing especially in local communities.
Bauchi State coordinator, Usman Mohammed Inuwa Breakthough Action Nigeria BA-N, Usman Mohammed Inuwa, whose organisation focuses on behavioural change in the aspect of family planning expressed optimism that despite the difficulties involved in changing established beliefs, norms and cultures, obnoxious trends are not beyond reversal.
“Before we came, actually it was like a taboo to hear a religious leader coming out publicly to speak about family planning. “Now, our religious leaders are actually very much involved and you know they are speaking publicly on family planning without generating issues, even during religious gatherings like Tafsir during Ramadan you hear our religious leaders talking about family planning, encouraging people to go for child spacing”, he said.
Inuwa said the erroneous impressions attached to child birth spacing using religion and culture as justification is gradually fading out, “because religious scholars have established that child spacing has been in Islam, and they support those arguments with quotes from the Holy Qur’an,” he maintained.
(Culled from Leadership Newspaper)