One of the functions of the media is to communicate information on issues that can bring about development, peace, and growth in family, society and the nation at large. The media: both audio and audiovisual have helped in the promotion and sustainability of culture especially that which has to do with marriage and motherhood. The Nigerian nation and the African continent have rich cultural traditions relating to marriage, motherhood and family issues. In African culture, a woman is defined by her ability to bear children. According to Devi (2017), in most African countries, motherhood defines womanhood and a woman is considered as adulterous or cursed when she fails to get pregnant. Also, the success and failure of her marriage depends on the number of children she is able to bear.
In many cultures, the word procreation is also known as giving birth and nurturing whether physically or otherwise in some quarters is seen as a sacred and powerful path for a woman to take in all cultures and religion. So also do religions all over the world accord an important place to motherhood, it is widely an exalted realm for the woman hence religious imagery sentimentalization and idealization of motherhood.
This highly exalted state of motherhood has made every woman desire the experience of giving birth as well as nurturing to have a sense of completion as a woman. In order to allow women who are going through a form of infertility or a couple in need of a child in their homes to have one, technology has advanced and is still advancing in so as to bring succor to such family. Amongst such medical technological development is the use of surrogacy which requires the use of another woman referred to as a surrogate to assist in carrying a pregnancy to term for the desired parents known as commissioning parents. Surrogate motherhood refers to a situation whereby a third party female is elected or is commissioned to carry a pregnancy on behalf of another couple, delivers a baby and hands the child over to the commissioning parents at birth, Chang (2004).
Jovic (2011), explains the two forms of surrogacy discernible, depending on the existence or non-existence of the genetic link between the surrogate mother and the fetus. When there is a genetic link, the surrogate mother is inseminated with the semen of the commissioning father or donor sperm, this is referred to as “traditional surrogate motherhood” and she is biologically the mother of the baby. When pregnancy is as a result In vitro fertilization in the woman, and she has no genetic contribution to the fetus, it is regarded as gestational surrogacy (Bello and Olayemi, 2014). .In-vitro fertilization is defined in Collins English dictionary as a method of helping a woman to have a baby in which an egg is removed from one of her ovaries, fertilized outside her body, and then replaced in her womb. However, in the case of surrogacy, the fertilized egg is planted in the womb of the surrogate mother
Although surrogacy is not new to Africa, yet the act and the benefits accrued to it is yet to be understood by Africans especially Nigerians due to cultural and religious belief. However, the media a body saddled with acquainting the people with new development through their communication medium especially the screen medium and this include the film industry has a big role to play in communicating surrogacy. Nollywood, the Nigeria burgeoning film industry has presented surrogacy in many of the movies that emerged from it mostly in the negative light since these movies often adopt the use of violence, betrayer and conflicts in the presentation of surrogacy. Examples of such movies are: The Surrogate (2016), Ija Iya Meji (2017) meaning ‘Battle between two mothers’ and Omo Iya Mi (2017) meaning ‘My sibling’. However, a movie from the Kannywood branch of Nollywood made an exception in the presentation of surrogacy in the film Noor. This paper therefore critically analyses how the movie Noor communicated surrogacy to its audience in Nigeria.
Motherhood in African Culture
According to Akujobi (2011), Motherhood is often defined as an automatic set of feelings and behaviors that is switched on by pregnancy and the birth of a baby. It is an experience that is said to be profoundly shaped by social context and culture, (Sanders, 1992). In African culture, mostly in Nigeria, when a woman fails to conceive and bear children in marriage, her position in the home and society is degraded and at times such a woman is rejected by her family, husband, mother-in-law and others while the man is advised to marry another woman who can bear him children.
Some members of the society will even encourage the woman to marry another wife for her husband as practiced in the northern part of Nigeria since it is believed according to African culture that a woman is married for the purpose of motherhood alone. The most available option for a woman who finds it difficult to conceive and bear children in marriage in Nigeria and perhaps in Africa in years past has been an acceptance of a second wife who will bear children or more children for her husband not minding the humiliation or degradation that comes with such action that is if the second wife turns out to be a peaceful woman which seldom be in most cases in Nigeria.
This act of marrying a new wife on behalf of a husband by a wife who is having fertility problem is demonstrated in the life of Ọṣun the Yoruba river goddess in the Yoruba movie titled Ọṣun Ṣẹngẹṣẹ (2017) when the beautiful woman named Ọṣun had to seek and marry a wife for her husband to bear him children since she could not after several years of trial and failure. The act of accepting another woman as a wife to the husband is seen in Buchi Emecheta’s ‘Joy of Motherhood’ (1979) which is focused on the plight of an Igbo woman who could not bear her husband a child for her husband and had to give in to her husband taking a second wife as depicted in the case of Nnu-ego the central character. Nnu-ego in Emecheta’s ‘Joys of Motherhood’ (1979) never considers herself a woman until she started giving birth, Efuru in Nwapa’s ‘Efuru’ (1966) is frustrated by her inability to procreate and as such becomes a priestess after marrying a wife for her husband to bear him children. In life as in literature, motherhood is the only thing in which a woman’s worth is measured. A woman without a child is viewed as a waste to herself, to her husband and to her society (Akujobi, 2011).
Very few couples in Nigeria would agree to adoption especially if the woman is the one with a fertility problem and if such is to happen in most cases, extended families are not involved. It would be a sole decision by the couple. The next form of help to overcome infertility or childlessness in marriages came in the form of surrogacy which has been accepted in the western world but yet to be boldly accepted in Nigeria.
Surrogacy in Nigeria:
Surrogacy comes from the Latin word “subrogare” meaning to substitute. Surrogate motherhood refers to a situation whereby a third party female is selected or is commissioned to carry a pregnancy on behalf of another couple, delivers a baby and hands the child over to the commissioning parents at birth (Chang, 2004). According to Bello and Olayemi (2014), surrogacy hardly forms a topic of public discourse in Nigeria, and studies have not documented any prevalence of surrogate motherhood in the country, though surrogacy forms part of the artificial reproductive technique offered to infertile couples in Nigeria and has been adopted privately by very few couples, yet the Nigerian acceptability of this method is still at a very low level.
This is because of Nigeria as much as other African countries celebrate pregnancy and for communities where surrogacy is not accepted, it might be construed as an abomination to hand over a child right after delivery to a total stranger for money or out of goodwill. Moreover, the surrogate mother may be culturally and socially stigmatized or ostracized by society (Anu, Kumar, Inder & Sharma, 2013). It is in a bid to curb if not total put an end to the act of stigmatizing and or ostracising surrogate mothers that Mallam Gombe the producer of the movie Noor pronounce as ‘Nuuri’ meaning the light, subtly endeavor to communicate surrogacy and all that is involved in it to his audience by adopting the technique of story within a story in the movie.
Synopsis of Noor (2016)
Noor is produced by Umar Gombe, directed by Faika I. Rahi and written by Aisha Halilu. The movie is a modern-day Hausa movie which elicits the effect of modern technology and medical developments as well as the positive effects on homes and marriages through the female sex when given the opportunity to be used as a means to happiness. Umar Gombe the producer of the movie is from the Northern part of Nigeria and as a movie producer has adopted the use of movie to communicate surrogacy to his people through the movie Noor.
Noor is the story of a young university graduate, Nura, who does not know that he is a product of surrogacy and attended the same university with the biological daughter of his unknown surrogate mother. While in school, he falls in love with the Huma and decides to get married to her before proceeding to his place of primary assignment for National Youth Service Corp. The wedding process begins in earnest and Nura’s father sends a delegate to make inquiries about his in-laws to be and to make his intention known to the prospective bride’s family. The delegate returns with satisfactory information about the family: the good news about the type of family they met is that “The father is from Maiduguri but he is not a government official like you. He is, however, focused and respectable and is hospitable.” This report excites Nura’s father who says he is willing to patiently wait for the reply from them in a month’s time as reported by the delegate.
After receiving a positive response from the prospective in-laws, Nura’s father decides to pay a visit to the home of his in-laws only to discover that the mother of his son’s fiancé is Fanta, the young woman who offered herself as the surrogate mother to his son, the discovery shocks and saddens him. Then Nura gets to know during a discussion between his parents that he is given birth to through the help of a surrogate mother who happens to be the mother of his fiancé. The family is thrown into confusion about what has to be done. They need to inquire if the Islamic law or the civil law against a surrogate son and a biological daughter can get married. This discovery saddens Nura who weeps uncontrollably but his parents, while consoling him says they would not have been called parents today but for the assistance rendered by Huma’s mother who then was not married and offered to be a surrogate mother to them since Hajia Hadizat’s womb is too fragile to carry a pregnancy to term. After Nura’s birth, they never saw her until now.
However, it was his sperm that fertilized his mother’s egg; the medical personnel only helped using technology to implant the fertilized egg in the surrogate mother. Nura’s parents then decide to find out and confirm the legitimacy and legality of such a union as their son’s happiness is paramount. So Nura’s family seeks the help of the civil court which recommends a DNA test to determine the status of both parents and children. The civil court rules that it is only in a case whereby both intending couple is siblings sharing the same DNA that the law prevents from getting married; none of the DNA results matched. Even so, they cannot get married except it is approved by Islamic law through the sharia court. According to the shariah court judge “there is the need to confirm from the surrogate mother if she had at any time after the baby’s birth breastfed him or be in constant contact with the child for at least five years.
These will determine whether they can marry each other or not”. Huma’s mother consents to an interrogation session which establishes the fact that she neither breastfed the child at any point in time nor was she in contact with him consecutively for at least five years. Malama Fanta states that she had a contract with Alhaji Shariff Kano and his wife Hadiza to bring them joy through surrogacy, she adhered to the contract and happy that she has been a source of joy and happiness to a fellow woman. However, destiny which surpasses human power has brought them together again through her biological daughter’s engagement to her surrogate son and at this level she expects justice to prevail.
Since all investigations satisfy both the civil and sharia laws, Nura, the medical doctor goes ahead to marry Huma right after both the civil court and the sharia court rule that they are not siblings.
Engaging the Film:
From the movie, at the point, it was discovered that the central character is a child from the act of surrogacy. The producer engaged the use of flashback to narrate the process and the reason for the adoption of the process. Malama Fanta’s willingness to be a surrogate mother to both Mallam Shariff and Hajia Hadiza due to the fact that Hajia Hadiza after five miscarriages is an expression of the love a woman can show to a fellow woman in a dire need. Especially, as Huma was able to continue her life without any itch to the extent of getting married and having her own biological children. Medically, seeking a surrogate mother was an option Hadiza and mallam Shariff decided to adhere to as advised by her medical doctor if they really desired to have a child and if Hadiza is to remain alive since another attempt to conceive again could lead to her death. This shows that medical doctors in Africa and Nigeria to be precise are aware of how advantageous surrogacy is to a woman’s safety and the joy of motherhood.
The surrogate mother delivers the baby through cesarean section; this is revealed to the audience through the flashback technique an indication of the precautions taken to avoid blood contact. The baby was handed to the commissioning parent right after birth without any objection and the surrogate mother never fed him with breast milk neither did she had any form of contact with him consistently for five years as expected and stated in the shariah law and revealed in the film at the shariah court.
The movie is set in the Northern part of Nigeria where the dominant religion in practice is the Islamic religion which has various views on surrogacy one of which is through the shariah law. Gombe employed the use of the Shariah law to adjudge the act of surrogacy which according to Al -Mubarak (2014) is permissible for couples who are experiencing fertility problem. According to the shariah law as ruled by the shariah court in the movies, the commissioning parents own the child as long as the surrogate mother did not feed the baby with her breast milk at birth and after birth.
Since surrogacy is yet to be regulated and legalized in Nigeria, the civil court in the movie obtained its judgment through the use of medical examination to determine the biological mother of Nura by a DNA test. The movie shows that as long as the child shares the parents’ DNA, then the child is considered the biological child of the commissioning parents. Therefore, the civil court ruled that the child is absolutely that of the commissioning parents; an indication of the fact that both bodies support surrogacy although not yet legalized
Presentation of Surrogacy in Noor:
Gombe from his movie has shown that Africa, especially Nigeria is aware of the surrogacy act and the rejection or denial of it is a result of cultural belief about pregnancy and motherhood. This is also reflected in Christiana’s (2013) view on surrogacy when she pointed out that traditional culture in Nigeria places a high value on natural conception and rejects western notion of surrogacy because they see surrogacy as a risk to the stabilized family lineages which are highly regarded in Nigeria and I would say, and Africa as a whole.
The movie is an eye-opener to the cultural society in Nigeria that surrogacy is a lifesaver and a light to sway away the darkness in a home that is suffering from lack of children. Also in African society, mother defines a woman’s femaleness according to:
In a woman’s life, motherhood starts with the pregnancy of a woman and the birth of her baby which is said to be shaped by her culture and tradition. Giving birth and nurturing a new life is one of the dimensions of being feminine. (Devi 2017:1).
This definition of a woman’s femaleness could be a contributing factor to Hajia Hadizat’s desire to prove her womanhood thereby adopting a surrogate mother to help her carry a pregnancy to term. Moreover, it does not deprive the woman the joy of motherhood contrary to the belief that a woman must get pregnant to experience motherhood because a commissioning mother/parent is still saddled with the responsibility of raising the child as Hajia Hadizat enjoyed motherhood while raising her son. Surrogacy also saved Hadizat’s life since she had been advised against another pregnancy which could lead to death. Moreover, it revealed that playing the role of a surrogate mother does not prevent such a woman from having her own biological children and a happy home. Mallama Fanta played the role of a surrogate as a single lady after which she got married and had her own children one of which Nura the surrogate son eventually married.
The producer of Noor has through the movie made an attempt to erode the fear of loss of paternity or maternity through the DNA test. The DNA test on Nura proved that he is the biological son of his parents and not that of the surrogate mother. It also presented an assurance of being a parent biologically as long as the commissioning parents are the donors. His movie has been the only one that communicates surrogacy that is not embedded with strife over the biological right to a child; most of the movies produced from the Eastern and Western parts of Nigeria portray surrogacy in a bad light. Examples of such movies include The Surrogate (2017) directed by Sobe Charles Umeh and Akin-Tijani Balogun from the east and Ija Iya Meji (2017) directed by kunle Afolayan from the southwest. Surrogacy in these films became a controversial issue between the surrogate mothers and the commissioning parents after the birth of the surrogate child or few years after birth which in most cases, ended in the death of either the surrogate mother or the commissioning mother and times in the court of law.
In The Surrogate the surrogate mother died in an accident while trying to run over the commissioning mother who was her sibling, while in Ija Iya Meji, the case was settled in court after the death of the surrogate mother’s friend and a DNA test as a proof of maternity, the surrogate mother was sentenced to jail for her fraudulent act.
Nigeria is a country with multi-culture and various religions; however, infertility is already on the increase despite the multi-religion and culture. Out of desperation and desire to have a child, many couples have resulted to stealing babies with the help of medical personnel. The liberation offered to desperate desire with almost an utmost satisfaction of ownership is seen in the movie Noor. Gombe has successfully communicated surrogacy in an acceptable manner which is contrary to the belief that operates in other African countries and Nigeria that surrogacy cannot be without any itch. This is not to say that it does not have its ups and downs but that they are avoidable itches so long as the contract is properly managed and agreements adhered to as seen in Noor.
In as much it is unregulated in Nigeria, the media especially the screen and screenwriters should endeavor to promote and communicate surrogacy as done by Gombe. Therefore, while awaiting the legal regulation of surrogacy in Nigeria, the media should attempt to communicate surrogacy in a positive light to educate the society and perhaps help the government to come to a point of decision in legalizing surrogacy.
Surrogacy from the movie is a lifesaver, a solace to couples desiring children of their own. It can curb evil acts of kidnapping and selling of babies. However, it should be properly regulated to protect the interests of the child, the rights of the surrogate mother and the commissioning parents. If regulated and culturally accepted, surrogacy could become a means to an end of many illegal practices such as the menace of baby factories and illegal adoption practices in Nigeria and an answer to the desire of some women as represented in a research by Bello et al in Ibadan where it was discovered that surrogacy forms part of the artificial reproductive technique offered infertile couples in Nigeria (Bello et al.). In that same study, almost 38% of women attending infertility clinic in Ibadan, Southwest Nigeria, would accept the surrogacy as a treatment modality.
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Noor (2016) produced by Umar Gombe, directed by Faika I. Rahi and written by Aisha Halilu.
Language: Hausa language
Markted by Kumbo Productions ltd.