A recent proposition by three prominent traditional rulers Emir of Kano, Mohammed Sanusi, Ooni of Ife, Oba Adeyeye Enitan Ogunwusi, and the Sultan of Sokoto, Muhammadu Sa’ad Abubakar III that parents of Almajiri children should be arrested and not their children, for constituting a nuisance to the society is not only timely but in order.
The proposition came on the heels of a recent report by the World Bank that states in the Northern part of the country account for 87 percent of the poverty in the country while the south accounts for 12 per cent. According to the report, titled “Advancing social protection in a dynamic Nigeria”, inequality and poverty are mostly concentrated in the North which lags far behind the South in human capital outcomes. The report shows that in the North, the insurgency torn North-West zone, expectedly, is worse hit.
The north has become the epicenter of terrorism, armed banditry, kidnapping and other forms of criminality over the years and this has often been attributed to the high poverty in the area which has over two million internally displaced persons as a result of crisis.Sociologists and other experts have attempted to link the poverty in the region to the family system, which directly and indirectly, also accounts for the highest number of out-of-school children in the country.
Emir Sanusi has been consistent in his condemnation of the Almajiri system and has advised parents to have the number of children they can cater to, to reduce the poverty rates in the country but the calls appear to fall on deaf ear. Speaking at the recent Joint National Conference of Nigerian Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs (NSCIA) and Future Assured Initiative on Repositioning the Muslim Family for National Development, Sanusi said “…If a child is found on the streets, it’s the father that is responsible and can the state hold him accountable? These are Sharia and they are all more important than cutting off the hand of a thief… Justice means that everyone is given his rights. If a man takes the privilege of being the head of the family, he takes the responsibilities of being the provider of the family. You cannot take that privilege and abandon the responsibilities.”
Previously, he has implored Nigerians, especially Muslims, to give birth to the number of children they can cater for and that the ‘Almajiri’ challenge in Northern Nigeria is not a religious concern, but a social issue that needs urgent attention. “If we continue this way, about 40 per cent extremely poor people will be in Nigeria. Poverty in the South West is 20 per cent, in the North, it is 80 per cent, Lagos is 8 per cent and Zamfara, it is 91 per cent. We have been talking about Almajri for over 30 years. Why are people having family that they cannot maintain? Why are people marrying wives that they cannot maintain? The condition is that you are able to provide for your family. Instead of having many children, why not have the ones you can cater for? These are the fundamental questions we should ask ourselves. Most of these children roaming about the streets will be adult in the next 20 years and they will be the ones recruited as political thugs by the politicians in the next twenty years, if we don’t take good care of them now.”
We agree with him and as the Sultan said, “Nobody will come and solve this problem for us.” The leaders in the North, elected, political and traditional need to stop playing the ostrich, come to terms with the prevailing situation in the region and its attendant consequences and come up with practicable solutions to the problem. One way to go is for the state governments to through the Houses of Assembly come up with legislation that will make it punishable for any parent to keep their child out of school.