15 October 2012

Nigeria: Five Kids in Three Days


This weekend, when I sat down to punch something into the computer that will pass for the Monday Column, I found my mind drifting away from the big issues of the day. Presentation of the 2013 Federal budget, the flood waters in many states, the failed North East leaders' meeting in Bauchi or even yesterday's deadly attack on a mosque at Dogon Dawa in Kaduna State may, in the long run, tell less about our national psyche than an obscure event that merited only a passing mention in the newspaper.

I was thinking instead of the man in Zamfara State whose two wives gave birth to a total five children in a matter of three days. According to a small story filed from Gusau and published in the Daily Trust of last Friday, 45 year old Malam Ahmed Mahuta of Anka Local Government, described as a peasant farmer and a tutor in a Qur'anic school, was the father of the kids.

Malam Ahmed's senior wife Amina, 34, gave birth to a set of triplets last week and 72 hours later, his second wife Sa'ida, 31, gave birth to a set of twins. Now, before these events, the first wife already had 11 children and the second wife had three. Within a few days, the total number of Ahmed Mahuta's children shot up from 14 to 19. Add the three parents and you have exactly two football teams under one roof.

In truth, neither Mahuta nor his wives are as yet close to making it into the Guinness Book of World Records for either male or female records in human fecundity. When I was in Form Two, one day during the Library Hour when we were herded into the School Library, I lifted off the shelves a very dusty 1971 edition of the Guinness Book of Records. No one had opened it in years. When I leafed through its pages, I saw that the male record for fecundity was held by King Hassan I of Morocco, who had 888 children.

The human female fecundity record, on the other hand, was held by the 18th century Russian peasant woman Fyodor Vassilet. She bore a total 69 children, made up of 16 sets of twins, 7 sets of triplets and 4 sets of quadruplets. This great woman apparently never gave birth to a single child at a time.

Last week, the deputy governor of Zamfara State Alhaji Ibrahim Wakkala Mohamed visited Ahmed Mahuta in his village and donated to him N100,000, 20 brocades, 5 bags each of rice, maize, millet and guinea corn as well as 5 rams [apparently, one for the naming ceremony of each child, a tradition that Hausa men often uphold above feeding].

The deputy governor's gift is a lot of food, but how far will it go into feeding a family of 22? In gratefully receiving the items, Mahuta told Wakkala, "I did not even have money to buy bathing soap for the babies. I am very lucky that they were delivered successfully without any complications."

Subhanallah. You didn't have even the money to buy soap? Why? It couldn't have been for lack of adequate notice. Of the many things in our lives that could happen suddenly, delivering babies by our wives is not one of them.

Back in the 1980s, when we were young university lecturers, one of our colleagues went to the University Bursar, Alhaji Tijjani Yakubu and sought a salary advance because, he said, his wife delivered suddenly. The Bursar was surprised and he said, "Suddenly? I thought you had nine months' notice."

What our friend meant by suddenly was that she delivered a week earlier than her EDD suggested. Now, I don't think there is a gynaecologist anywhere in the world who will tell you the exact date on which your wife will deliver. "EDD", as the doctors stress, is but an "expected" date. They always underline it with a "plus or minus two weeks" margin of error. For a man like me who did a degree-level course in Statistics, margin of error is a qualification to be taken seriously.

Now, Mahuta said he was lucky that all the babies were delivered without complications. We thank Allah for that. In all things in this world we can do with the luck element. However, I think the responsible thing to do is to pray for luck after you have done all that you possibly can. In the matter of a pregnancy, going for ante-natal care at the hospital is something one should do. If there is no clinic in or near Mahuta that does ante-natal, ZMSG should please endeavour to build one.

Ahmed Mahuta also told reporters that he almost ran away when he realized that he had 5 babies in three days. What does that tell us? The two genders' contribution to child bearing is highly disproportionate. All that a male contributes is a single sperm cell, some parts of it already fallen off. Biologically speaking, a sperm cell is a very cheap product, less than two a penny, when you remember that there are more than 500 million sperm cells in a single ejaculation. No wonder that men splash them around.

Compare that to the female egg, only one of which is produced in a whole month and which is viable for only a few days. [Knowledge of this biological fact is often abused by young girls who speak of "my free period"]. In addition to the costly egg, Mahuta's wives had been physically weakened, anatomically bloated, physiologically reorganized, endocrinologically topsy-turvied and psychologically up-ended by 9 months of carrying two and three embryos respectively. So, Mahuta's real contribution to child bearing is to use the nine months during which he could see his two wives' tummies bulging to assemble the food. He somehow failed to do that either at his farm or at the Qur'anic school where he teaches, maybe for reasons beyond his control. But to now contemplate running away means to saddle the weakened mothers with the task of also finding the food.

In his speech at the occasion, Deputy Governor Wakkala, who is a family friend of mine, described the births as "a pride to Zamfara State." In what way? I am not aware of any competition organized by the National Population Commission to prove which states in Nigeria have the highest citizen fecundity.

I am beginning to fear that Wakkala sent the wrong message to the state's people. There was no indication in the story that the deputy governor so much as mentioned "family planning" to Mahuta. Especially for the senior wife Amina who now has 14 children [10 more than the maximum prescribed by IBB in 1989], I think the Zamfara State government should mobilise a gynaecologist to visit her and warn about the dangers of any attempt to bring more pride to Zamfara State.

I noticed that Mahuta's neighbour Aliyu Kawaye was a bit more dubious in his assessment of the situation when he said, "It is a great blessing but there is the difficult task of nurturing them ahead and it is the collective responsibility of this community to assist him in bringing up the children well."

Is it? Certainly community members in the rural areas in this country still play important roles in bringing up children, mostly by helping to scold them when they do something naughty. I don't think neighbours worry too much about the economic well being of someone else's children. In fact, many of Mahuta's neighbours would be looking for a cut in the bounty brought by the deputy governor.

So, while we so often vent spleen on what Nigerian leaders should do that they are not doing, I think it is time for us followers to do a few things on our own.

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