A significant neglected group of children referred to as Almajiri, whose plural form is referred to as Almajirai, have over time constituted one of the most socio-economic problems in northern part of Nigeria. The United Nations Children Fund(UNICEF)put the number of almajirai in the North by 2014 at 9.
The Almajirai constitute the bulk of Nigeria’s out-of school children.Apart from the fact that most of these children are without Western education, they roam about the streets without means of livelihood, with most of them resorting to begging and engaging in menial jobs as a means of livelihood and have as a result, constituted great nuisance to the society.
The outbreak of COVID-19 pandemic has compelled those in authority to shift attention to the plight of this group of neglected Nigerians.
The 19 Northern state governors recently took a step to ban the almajiri system, a decision that is generating controversy. The northern governors, who initiated the move explained that they took the decision to “totally ban” the almajiri system in the region because of what they termed the “risk that almajiri children are exposed to because of the coronavirus disease” .
At a recent meeting, the 19 Northern state governors unanimously resolved to send the almajirai to their parents or states of origin as COVID-19 ravages several states in the North and the rest of the country. The governors resolved further not to allow the long discredited tradition to continue because of its contribution towards perpetuating poverty, illiteracy, insecurity and social disorder.
Alhaji Atiku Bagudu, Governor of Kebbi State, said the action “ is for the common good of the states and the country as a whole. “As lofty as the decision to ban the Almajiri system may appear, its implementation has been faulty and problematic. In pursuit of the “total ban” of almajirai, three northern states immediately commenced its implementation, with Kano State taking the lead, and returning 419 almajiris to Katsina; 524 to Jigawa and 155 to Kaduna, totaling 1,098. Weeks later, Governor Nasir El-Rufai of Kaduna State admitted returning some 30,000 to their “own states”, with 40 going to Kebbi State, while Benue State returned 17 to Bauchi and 42 to Katsina State.
But no sooner had the human cargo dispatched from Kano to Kaduna arrived than Gov. el-Rufai disclosed that 65 out of the 169 almajiria tested positive for the coronavirus. Other states announced similar findings too. Incidentally, as at May 14, aside from Lagos, the epicenter of the coronavirus, with 2,041 out of a total 4,971 confirmed COVID-19 cases, the next five biggest cases were from the North (FCT included): Kano 707; FCT 370; Katsina 224; Bauchi 206 and Borno 188. Obviously, the almajirai have become indeed vectors of coronavirus as feared. The manner these less privileged Nigerian youths were herded into trucks and other vehicles left much to be desired. We condemn in very strong terms the further dehumanization of these hapless young people. The timing of the decision is wrong just as the implementation strategy, if there was one are all.
It is also disturbing that some of the so-called Almajirai are being ferried to other states outside the North, and this suspicious development is causing tension among the governors, especially in the Southern part of the country. It is difficult to understand why governors from the southern part of the country, who were not part of the decision to settle the almajirai are being made to receive these human cargo.
Against this background, we call for a halt of the Almajirai movement until a more realistic modus operandi for their return is worked out.
In all, there can be no more meaningful approach to addressing this human tragedy than ensuring that these children are properly educated, as poverty and ignorance thrive in illiteracy. It is therefore, a great tragedy that the Almajiri education for which the erstwhile President, Goodluck Jonathan spent not less than N15 billion to build across the northern states to ensure quality education for these neglected children have been abandoned.
We feel the decision of the former President, which has been jettisoned on account of politics is ruinous to the future of these children and the North as a whole. We believe the best means of addressing the almajiri challenge remains getting them properly educated, and the respective governors of the region should ensure the revival of the schools built by the Jonathan administration.