Chinese soothsayers and Nigeria’s population explosion

 Published in THE PUNCH on 04 March 2007

Casmir Igbokwe

The atmosphere was colourful. People from different nationalities came in their rich national costumes. Some brought their local foods and danced to their traditional music. Ladies, in a symbolic display of emotion, cuddled, kissed and admired the two little children in attendance. It was as if to say, “God, give us more babies.”

This was during the celebration of the Chinese year of the golden pig by my department three Fridays ago. The year falls once every 60 years. And it supposedly brings good luck. Some soothsayers in
China were reported to have said that the pig (the last of 12 animals in Chinese zodiac) could bring a baby boom in the year.
Beyond the realm of superstition, nobody, except perhaps the soothsayers, can say how this boom will come about. China, with a population of 1.3 billion people, has a one-child-per-couple policy. The state imposes severe penalty on anyone who contravenes this law.

This has led to what the BBC described as a severe shortage of wives for Chinese men. It quoted the State Population and Family Planning Commission last month as saying that 118 boys were born to every 100 girls in 2005. By 2020, it is estimated that about 30 million men of marriageable age may find it difficult to get wives. This is because women allegedly abort female foetuses. And couples traditionally prefer boys who will look after them in their old age.

One positive thing about the one-child policy is that parents do not have to worry about training many children. Hence, they have the ability to train the few they have in universities abroad. In Cardiff, for instance, Chinese students outnumber others in most departments. In my own class, out of about 66 students, about 18 are of Chinese descent. The rest are from other Asian, European, North American,
Caribbean and a few African countries.

Of course China’s economy is also not doing badly. It has become a beautiful bride to international retailers. Its devalued currency makes its exports cheaper in most parts of the world. In Europe, Asia, and Africa, Chinese goods drive others out of the shelves. In October 2006, China was reported to have posted a trade surplus of $110.9billion in the year through September. This exceeded the full-year total of $102billion in 2005.

Recently, a Chinese firm, CNOOC, reportedly paid $2.7billion for an oil block in Nigeria. China has also made some forays into such countries as Venezuela, Iran, Russia and Saudi Arabia. The rising living standard in this former communist enclave has created what The Economist called masses of new consumers. “On today’s trend, the consumer market there, measured in PPP (Purchasing Power Parity), will overtake America’s by 2020,” the magazine predicted.

Some advocates of many children per couple attribute this economic boom to China’s large population. They also mention some lesser-populated countries that have called on their citizens to have more children, as evidence that having many children is preferable to having less. Granted that great population is strength, does this also suffice when the majority of the people are hungry and desolate?   

I do not think so. Many Nigerian cities are brimming with human beings, but how many of them are gainfully employed? How many can afford at least one meal a day? And how many have access to decent housing? The current census figure put our population at over 140 million. Out of this number, how many want to remain in the country? How many will be patriotic enough to die for the country if need be?                                                              

I have a friend in Lagos who, by his looks, should be in his 50s. The man has a family. Everyday, he agonizes over the fact that he cannot meet his responsibilities as a father. One day, his eight-year-old daughter was hungry. She asked for food. The man told her to go to the fridge and take some bread. “Daddy, I won’t eat that bread again. Every time, bread, bread, bread. Is it only bread we eat in this house?” the girl protested. The man is frustrated and each time he flashes me to call him, I already expect to hear the usual “please make a way for me in London o!” 

Many parents fall into the temptation of breeding children because they want mixed sex. Sunday, an oil magnate in Port Harcourt, had four children in five years of marriage. He was not satisfied because the four kids are boys. To have a girl, he went to work again. This January, the wife gave birth to another boy, bringing the number of his children to five. Last week, I spoke with him on the phone. He said he had called it quits with bearing children, but advised that I make mine five. I thanked him for his advice even as I quickly reminded my wife of the need to continue fasting. The moment she eats to the fill of her womb again, I will call an emergency meeting.

Telling people to have as many children as they want amounts to advising them to buy five pairs of Dubai-made shoes instead of two good Spanish or Italian shoes. In other words, preferring quantity to quality. Except you are a multi-millionaire or a politician eating from the public till, it will be a miracle to cater for the interests of those children.

The hope of most people who indulge in this excessive breeding of children, is that their brother, uncle, aunt, or sister will train some for them. Some hope that their first child will grow to take care of their siblings. This seems to be more pronounced in the eastern part of the country. Somehow, people could do that some years back. Now, almost everybody is feeling the pinch.

I am yet to be swayed by the things-are-getting-better singsong of the present administration. Irrespective of the economic theories to the contrary, more people are getting frustrated in Nigeria. Many do not know where their next meal will come from. Many have become armed robbers and many are escaping to even lesser endowed countries, including African countries.

I am worried for my country. I am worried for some of my siblings who, in spite of their university education, cannot find gainful employment. I am worried for my three children because I can’t see a bright future for them in their fatherland. I am worried because I may not meet the expectations of relatives who, on my return to Nigeria, will come for their children’s school fees, or for money to bail their wives from the maternity ward. I am worried that our population keeps increasing without a commensurate rise in people’s standard of living.

I only pray and hope that the Chinese soothsayers did not have us in mind when they predicted a baby boom this year.

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1 Comment »

  1. 1
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