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Atoke’s Monday Morning Banter: The Legitimacy of Illegitimacy

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My cousin, Bayo started his career as a robber by nicking jewellery from my Aunty’s house. Bayo was a loose cannon – every time he came to the house, there was an unspoken red alert: hide all your valuable possessions.

Every time my aunties and parents tried to understand why Bayo turned out to be such a ‘bad’ child, they narrowed it down to the fact that nobody actually confirmed his paternity. His mother got pregnant for my uncle in the late 60s, and the family just did ‘the right thing’. As he got worse – growing more wayward, more reckless – the whispers increased about how his mother was known for having children for different ‘big men’. Iya Bayo was reportedly a professional ‘Baby Mama’. She apparently had a litany of illegitimate children around South West Nigeria – a fact she boasted about. For the Mama Ke!

My Aunties seemed to believe that Bayo turned out the way he did because he was the product of an unverified gene pool. You’d hear them snigger “O tie ti pupa ju” {He’s even too light skinned} As if there was no way there’d be a recessive light skinned gene somewhere.

They refused to believe that a child who was truly theirs would be such a notorious thief, thug and tout! But my cousin had been accepted by my uncle, before he died, so they had no choice but to accept him as one of theirs.

The concept of a ‘Baby Mama’ is a culturally accepted phenomenon; and so, there’s a very high chance that every Nigerian family has one half brother/sister somewhere – outside of the marriage band. We may kid ourselves from now till kingdom come; thump the foreign Holy Books about what’s right and what is wrong from here to the other side of the Atlantic, but illegitimate children have been here from time immemorial – and they’re not going anywhere.

Atoke CheeriosSo, how does the concept of illegitimacy affect the society? Well, other than the fact that the incumbent wife goes through 5 stages of grief, sorrow, betrayal and heart break, there’s the not-so-little issue of inheritance.

There’s also the psychological impact of being an ‘outsider’, which the child might grow up to be. Of course different families have different ways of assimilating the children, thus legitimizing the illegitimate ones; however, ever so often, there’s that thing that pops ups which makes them want to seek validation – to be recognized as more than just “Daddy’s child from his girlfriend in Kano.”

My friend was telling me about his siblings, and mentioned that he had 4 half brothers. I said “Oh, your Dad had more than one wife?”

He laughed and said, “No, Papa was just a rolling stone.”

“Ahn, ahn, and he rolled 4 times in the same direction?”

Although there was no social media in the 60s, 70s & 80s to amplify the concept of having children outside of wedlock, Baby Mamas were a thing! Whether a person then chose to stay and accept the situation, was now a factor for consideration.

In some cases, you’re aware of the presence of the child, and you have to make a choice whether you want to throw yourself into the mix. {Remember I wrote about it here… the choice to date/marry someone who had a child}

At the point of accepting an illegitimate child, it is presumed that that automatically legitimizes the child. But who ensures that the child is well subsumed and allowed to grow up in a ‘normal’ family environment. It will be very difficult to ask that the incumbent partner to willingly stare at the living and breathing evidence of their partner’s betrayal.

Either way, the person who draws the shortest end of the straw in all of this is the person who had no choice in the circumstance of his/her birth.

Do I believe that my cousin was a rascal because he was illegitimate? No! Do I believe that he had a lot of integration issues having to live with people who constantly saw him as an outsider? Yes!

People can choose the direction of their lives – free will, maturity and general common sense, helps with that. What becomes unfair is the idea of selfish decisions negatively impacting the lives of others. Shaming illegitimate people and calling them names isn’t the way to go. How does your being born into the confines of a marriage – good or bad – make you a better person than a person who had no choice as to the circumstance of his/her birth?

It all comes down to doing what is right, just and equitable – always!

Have a great week ahead. Live. Laugh & Be healthy.

Don’t forget to share your thoughts on illegitimacy and the existing social construct.

Peace, love & cucumbers!


Photo Credit: Dreamstime |  Flashon Studio


You probably wanna read a fancy bio? But first things first! Atoke published a book titled, +234 - An Awkward Guide to Being Nigerian. It's available on Amazon. ;)  Also available at Roving Heights bookstore. Okay, let's go on to the bio: With a Masters degree in Creative Writing from Swansea University, Atoke hopes to be known as more than just a retired foodie and a FitFam adherent. She can be reached for speechwriting, copywriting, letter writing, script writing, ghost writing  and book reviews by email – [email protected]. She tweets with the handle @atoke_ | Check out her Instagram page @atoke_ and visit her website for more information.

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