Six years ago, precisely in 2014, the United Nations International Children Emergency Fund (UNICEF) put the population of Almajiri in Nigeria to 9.5 million, while about 13 to 15 million children are out of school bringing the total number to about 72% of children not schooling in Nigeria.
Six years down the line, the number would have surged and this scary number of children are all in the Northern part of Nigeria. There are 19 northern States in Nigeria with all the States having the Almajiri children challenge.
The former Emir of Kano State, Sanusi Lamido Sanusi II has been preaching against the culture of Almajiri system in Northern Nigeria. At different fora and at any slightest opportunity afforded him, he would condemned the culture of Almajiri system whereby parents give birth to children without parental care. They are allowed to roam the streets begging for survival thereby vulnerable to attacks and all forms of child abuse. Northern Nigeria which is the epicentre of Almajiri system has witnessed these children turned into nightmares.
The plight of Almajiri children is a sad story, pathetic and heart bleeding. They go around scavenging and get involved in stealing of people’s domestic property and later turned into armed robbers, bandits, terrorists and other criminal gangs.
Because of their nomadic nature, since they are not schooled and can’t reason on their own, politicians use and dump them. These politicians have their children schooling abroad and even sponsoring children of their uncles and those of their immediate families in high flying schools across the country. What the political class are out to do at all times, are the use of Almajiri children for their political interest. They ensured that during voters registration, they are brought back from states they have gone to scavenge to their State of origin to register awaiting for electioneering year to vote them into political offices. When it comes to election, Almajiri children are a critical mass for politicians to use them.
When Sanusi Lamido Sanusi, a foremost economist and a former Central Bank of Nigeria governor was sermoning the elite and the political class on ending the Almajiri children culture in northern Nigeria, he made more enemies than friends. Sanusi’s view on Almajiri system was an unwanted development most politicians in the north wouldn’t want to hear. It brought him in direct confrontation with ‘powers that be’ on ideological grounds. Of course, as an Emir, he was a very powerful monarch who’s words sticks and wields influence, hence, he became an endangered specie to the political class. In times past nobody dared to kick against Almajiri culture in the north. The culture has been tied to Islamic religion and any attempt to condemn the culture of Almajiri system is automatically a condemnation of the the religion, and these same Almajiri would be sent after your life. The Almajiri children have been the machineries of religious crisis in the north sponsored by politicians for political reasons. They go about unleashing violence on the orders of their paymaker.
The former Emir knew the repercussion of his stand on Almajiri system. He risked his soul for the impossible. He faced all forms of intimidation, physical and spiritual attacks, he didn’t bother because he has been wired for such patience. If not for a person of Lamido Sanusi Lamido’s standing, no less mortal in the society dare talk about Almajiri pupils on the wrong side of the society; you are a dead person hours after.
Unfortunately, therefore, neither any governor in the north has pushed for legal instruments criminalizing the Almajiri system, nor any State House of Assembly in the 19 northern States has legislated on laws abolishing or ensuring compulsory education for Almajiri children.
Meanwhile, what the northern political leaders ignored in Sanusi Lamido Sanusi was what the COVID-19 has brought to their doorsteps.
In what seems to be unease among governors of the 19 Northern States, a meeting of Northern governors was held at the Ibrahim Kashim House, Kaduna recently with the Chairman of the Northern governors forum, Simon Lalong on how the issue of Almajiri system be handled in the Northern States. The horrendous issue of Almajiri children was precipitated by the COVID-19 pandemic and it was resolved among the governors that Almajiris be moved to their States of origin from wherever they may be. This is because, they are most vulnerable. Since they are highly mobile, they are easier prey in transmitting the disease.
Unfortunately, governors didn’t discuss the issue of transporting them in ways and manners it should be. When the exercise begun, they were being transported in trucks in ways ordinary goods are being transported. What would have been a dignified way of transporting them would have been for each governors releasing funds for buses to convey them as against what we have seen. These are the set of children that have no means of livelihood and it is doubtful if they would have what to eat while on transit.
There wasn’t adequate publicity on relocating Almajiri children back to their States of origin; a situation that looks discriminative when the trucks carrying them were being intercepted at various States. Also, the Almajiri Children were not enlightened on the development that affects them. While some were being moved to their States of origin, others were travelling from the northern States to other parts of Southeast, Southwest, South South and so on against the lockdown directive.
As sad as the plight of Almajiri children are, it’s noble for governors to plan for the post COVID-19 regime for the vulnerable Almajiris in such a manner that they wouldn’t be left roaming the street as it use to be. The best way to end Almajiri system to come up with educational plans that would compulsorily absorb them. In the 21st century society education is light and when society is educated, sanity would be restored.
Samson Atekojo Usman writes from Abuja
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