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Monday, February 08, 2016

Nollywood and the One Child Syndrome

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A film crew on a movie set

One thing I've always found puzzling about Nollywood, Nigeria's burgeoning movie industry, is its portrayal of family life and size in the country.

Avid watchers and fans of these home videos and films (and there are millions in the country and abroad), must have noticed a strange thing: when you watch the average Nollywood film, most of the couples you see in it have just one child. 

Sometimes, and in very rare cases, they make it two children, especially in movies where the pint-sized duo, Aki and Pawpaw*, act in.

It does not matter the class of the couple featured- whether poor, averagely poor, middle class or wealthy. It's the same one child per couple. And this begs the question- if as the movies portray (and art which includes movies/films is supposed to be a reflection of life), that most couples in Nigeria have just one child, then how come we are so many, making us the most populous black nation on earth? With over 150 million population?

Where did the other babies come from? The moon? Or we found them when we broke firewood?

It becomes even more puzzling when a traditional ruler and his household are portrayed. It's only in Nollywood movies you will see a traditional ruler of a large, prosperous kingdom having just one wife and one child.

Now, as we all know in this country, this is far from reality. The average traditional ruler or king in Nigeria whether an Oba, Obi, Emir or Amanayabo has probably never heard of T.M Aluko's popular novel, One Man, One Wife. Most of them are firm disciples of their ancient counterpart King Solomon in the Bible, who married so many women and had an equally large number of concubines, it's a miracle how he recognised them all or had time to spend with all of them.

Agreed, today's kings in Nigeria might not have Solomon's extra large harem, but many are not doing badly in that regard with fair sized ones of between two to seven or more wives. And that is minus the concubines and mistresses. And simple logic states that wherever there's a harem, there will also be a truckload of children, enough to fill several nursery and primary schools.

 Besides, until a few decades or so ago, the birth rate in the country was about 8.5 children per woman, one of the highest in the world.

 And that's for the women. For the men, there is no limit to the number of children or wives they could have as ours is a polygamous society. Infact, back in the day, the more wives a man had, the more respect he had in the society. It showed he was a strong man who could control his women well.

My father for instance, a civil servant and community head (on his retirement) had three wives, producing twelve of us (minus the ones that died). This was the norm in his generation and that of our grandfather and forefathers.

 Ok, polygamy is not as popular among young men of today as it used to be in the past. But it still thrives in many parts of the country particularly among Muslims, whose religion permits them marrying four wives. In such places, it's common to see a man with several wives having 20 or more children.

 To such people, the concept of family planning or the 'one child policy' of the Chinese is an alien concept. 

 As you can see, we are a nation just like the average African country that love big families, in fact, the bigger the better.

 Indeed, there was once a man, (he's late now), who founded a village with his offsprings and wives alone. The village in Delta State, is close to my hometown. My father told me that at a point, his children were so numerous, numbering over 300 that he found it difficult recognising many of them, much less remember their names!
Strangely, all these are not reflected in Nollywood movies. So, what could be responsible, you might wonder. 

A Nollywood actress friend of mine, whom I discussed the issue with, gave this explanation:
 "It's simply stinginess. Using more children in a film will cost more, add to production costs. That's the reason they feature just one child though they are aware it's not a real portrayal of the society. It's a matter of economics," she noted.
 Whatever it is, I believe these producers should look for other ways of cutting costs as it gives a wrong impression of family size in Nigeria. Any foreigner watching our movies might even be forced to believe that Nigeria is practising China's one child policy. It's far from the truth.

While the birth rate has fallen over the years (to about 4.5 children per woman) as more couples are seeing the importance of family planning, it has not reached the level of one child per couple as shown in the movies.

Methinks, the producers need to rectify this as its a wrong depiction of an average Nigerian or African family size.

 By Patience Saduwa, Blog Author

Note: Aki and Pawpaw refer to Chinedu Ikedezie aka Aki and Osita Iheme (Pawpaw), Nollywood actors who hit the limelight after they starred in the movie Aki Na Ukwa in 2001 in which their characters were named Aki and Pawpaw.

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