NIGERIA: A Busy Nation Breeding Imbeciles for the Future
by Tunji Ajayi
The time I vowed never to visit the hospital again was in 1994. It is not that I am oblivious of the danger inherent in failing to consult a physician promptly, to diagnose occasional ailments which do break down man’s nerves. I am aware that the past and present governments do spend lavishly on media slogans and jingles, aimed at educating and encouraging the sick to promptly consult the physicians in the hospitals. To do otherwise is a subtle attempt to commit hara-kiri. Nonetheless, since 1994 I have become hospital-phobic. Not because medical doctor would merely prescribe the drugs I needed to buy from my lean purse, nor because of that female nurse who would prefer my Adamic nudity, while she heartlessly injects the intravenous liquid into my buttock as I hollered and sobbed profusely like a two year old baby does.
Before I boycotted the hospital, there was no time the doctor’s prescriptions would not include this unpleasant hackneyed advice: “Use these drugs morning, afternoon and evening after each meal.”And the last day I ate three times daily may not be readily known until perhaps I find my 1983 pocket diary. Even then, like millions of other poor Nigerians, I ate what I saw and able to afford, and not what I loved to eat because salubrity had to be sacrificed for affordability this harsh time. Up till today, millions of Nigerians still struggle for what they can see to eat for at least once daily just to fill their stomach.Indeed, when last time a dietician friend of mine drew a recipe for me to encourage me feed on sumptuous and nutritious dishes, I could not help laughing so hysterically that I eventually suffered stomach pain to the marrow. According to my dietitianfriend, I should regularlyfeed on egg, milk, beverages, fresh vegetables, meat, fish, beans, etc. It is needless saying that my whole monthly salary can hardly feed me for 3 weeks let alone add these luxuries to my regular meal for now.
But the inability of families to afford feeding on nutritious food regularly is grave without mincing words. Feeding on only what we see does not only result in malnutrition and breed serious illness; it also reduces the potency of the brain. Indeed, while emphasizing the need to feed on varied diet, Awake, a highly educative magazine states: “A child needs protein-rich food to grow physically, and mentally. Poor nutrition slows a child’s mental development in school, and the child may become apathetic and weary, unable to pay much attention or remember what is taught.”Thus, the damaging effect of malnutrition on the body chemistry and the brain is grave as it stultifies memory retention power and hampers learning process of individuals.
The economic quagmire which impoverishes millions of Nigerian parents today has made scavenging to feed their children a concomitant circumstance. But then, the resultant effect should be re-echoed here.Awake magazineemphasizes that “by the time a person is 6 years old, the brain has reached its full weight of about 3 pounds (1.4 milligrams). Most of the brain cells are present at birth, and so the increase in weight comes mainly from growth of the cells. During this six-year period, a person learns and acquires new behavior patterns at the fastest rate in life.” The gestation period during which the child’s brain is formed in the foetus and the first six years after birth are periods during which his sensory systems are made or marred. Therefore, “even if the child enjoys a good diet after the sixth year, relatively few additional brain cells will be developed.”
But then one may be tempted to argue that during gestation period, the baby feeds via the placenta, thus relies on what the mother feeds on. Yes; but it is sad to observe that thousands of expectant mothers today are themselves malnourished and anemic and have little or no nutritious food on which the unborn baby can feed from. Though there are slogans and jingles by the health sectors aimed at encouraging nursing mothers to feed babies with breast milk at the early stage, I am yet to understand how an undernourished mother who cannot afford to eat nutritious food, even only twice daily can produce nutritious breast milk to feed her new baby. The web of poverty inside which Nigerian parents have been entangled now is a good breeder of malnourished children whose sensual systems are being damaged stealthily right from the wombs. Such congenitally malformed babies among whom hundreds of Nigeria’s Albert Einstein of tomorrow, Isaac Newton, James Watt, Otto Hahns, etc. could have emerged are now being wasted away albeit surreptitiously for lack of nutritious food caused by poverty.
Geniuses are made but not born. Intellects are developed right here on earth. If Albert Einstein had been sensuously malformed, there could have remained unknown the Theory of Special Relativity or the Emission of Radiation Theory; and an abysmally deep vacuum in scientific world thus created. And no James Watt, no steam engine; neither would there be a perfect formulation of theories of Gravitation and Motion if Isaac Newton were an imbecile. Military warfare and technology could have suffered the pang of mystery without Otto Hahn’s discovery of the Fission of the Atomic Nucleus.
A nation that does not concern itself with the food intake of its people will not only breed and be populated by dunces and imbeciles; such a nation will also suffer the monstrous effects of a weakened labour force, sharp decline in production, and work output. One of the major concerns of the government now should be on how to make food available to the hungry masses of this country at affordable prices. Nothing thrills a hungry man better than food. This should be an urgent assignment for the government, otherwise in the next ten years this nation would have succeeded in breeding more imbecile youths and dunces than brilliant children. "Verbum Satis Sapienti"
**Post Script:This feature was first published in the *Daily Sketch of April 17, 1995 entitled “Making Food Available for the Masses” by this writer. The fact that it is still found relevant today (viz 28 years after) is sadenning. But it confirms Fela Anikulapo Kuti’s apt assertion that Nigeria is like a man on “Perambulator”. According to the prophetic music maestro: “He dey go dey come. He dey come dey go. But if you look the man well na the same place he dey. He no go anywhere”. Was he wrong?
*Tunji Ajayi, a creative writer, author and documentary producer writes from Lagos, Nigeria. (+2348162124412; +2348033203115)
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