By OLUSESAN LAOYE
The almajiri syndrome which was before now regarded as the problem of Northern Nigeria is now gradually becoming the problem of the whole country with their aimless influx to other parts of the country, especially the South. And the rising rate of the coronavirus pandemic has exposed their danger as they have proved to be the potential vehicles for its spread.
Reports from the Kaduna state and the NCDC suggest that there is as much as 80 per cent infection prevalent rate among going by tests conducted on those recently repatriated from Kano state to Kaduna state. The northern governors had last month decided that the almajiris should be repatriated to their states of origin to ensure adequate attention given to them.
Last week, over 20 of them were arrest in Makurdi, Benue state, who had beat the nationwide interstate travel ban to enter the state and holed up in a small shanty but for the vigilance of the residents who soon raised alarm which brought the Taskforce. Every day there are reports of several of them concealed in food-lorries attempting to enter Lagos, thus raising fear of community spread.
Their desperate migration to the Southern parts of the country and their mode of movements is becoming worrisome at the time when Nigeria is facing serious national health challenges posed by COVID-19, which is currently ravaging the whole world.
What is also giving the people of Southern Nigeria serious concern is the fact that their mass movements to their regions were being carried out at a period when the whole nation was at lockdown and when movements were restricted and they still found their ways out despite the strict compliance in all the southern parts of Nigeria.
As it was argued by analysts, the way they are carrying out their movements may have confirmed the notion that Nigeria operates different rules, one for the North and the other for the South because most times they feel unconcerned about national interests and what binds the country together.
It was further argued that probably they act out of share ignorance based on their lack of education and exposure, as a majority are confined to their areas where they live and see things differently in their world.
Although people of the North have been identified with transporting themselves through trucks and trailers conveying goods, foodstuffs and animals to the South, they have not been in the magnitude which Nigeria now witnessed within the last few weeks of the lockdown.
These new sets of migrants on interrogations had no mission and their action is now being viewed as a big danger and security threat to the South. It was argued that their influx if not checked could increase criminality and all sorts of atrocities and with insurgency currently going on in some parts of the North, it may be extended to the south.
Already more than five thousand Almajiris who claimed they had no mission but just wanted to leave the North for the south have been sent back from different states in the regions.
For sometimes practice northern leaders had turned a blind eye to the danger posed to the almajiri to the social-cultural development of the region. It was one of the issues that former emir of Kano, Mohammed Sanusi, spent a lot of time addressing and which caused his disposition. However, last month, the governor vowed to deal with the matter once and all with reservations.
Available records of the almajiris who have been sent back to where they came from a show that in Lagos alone over 1,000 have been sent back; Ogun, 60, Oyo, 50, 0sun over1,000, Ekiti, 60, Ondo 45, Edo 39, Enugu 100, Eboyin figure not specified, Kwara 50.
It was even said the figures are not accurate as some of them are moving with the herdsmen through the bush parts to infiltrate the south especially the South West which shares direct borders with them in Oyo, Osun Ogun Ondo and Ekiti through Kwara and Kogi states.
Presently, the UNICEF statistic put the figure of out of school children in Nigeria as at 2018 to 13.5million of which 10million are from the north which constitutes about 80 per cent of the out of school children who are known to be Almajiris.
It was said that the word Almajiri which means seekers of Islamic knowledge started from the time of Prophet Muhammed when he moved from Mecca to Medina and those who migrated with him were called Al-Muhajirrum–meaning migrants
.But in Nigeria, Almajiri means those who left their homes, villages, towns, friends parents in search of Islamic Knowledge and scholarship. The record shows that it started in Kanem Bornu empire and this was later copied in Sokoto caliphate by Uthman dan Fodio. The practice was on for a long time in Borno and Sokoto till 1904 when the British invaded and colonised the North.
This was the beginning of the Almajiri crisis in the North. Since the British took over power the Emirs who were hitherto in charge of revenue and funding these quranic schools had no access to those funds which have been taken by the British.
The British it was said, on the other hand, felt they had nothing to do with the Islamic education, abolished it and stopped the fund from getting to the emirs but established what was called Boko- which means Western Education. With this, the mallams were not fit for employment anymore but refused to allow their pupils to seek the British Education which only the children of the rich and elites at that time embraced, including the children of the emirs who saw it as a way forward to keep dominating the people.
With the large number of Almajiris to cope with, the emirs who had been funding them with the resources of the state which was no more available became overwhelmed, as the almajiris became a burden and they were left alone with their mallams to look for the funding.
This eventually led to the almajiris to seek solace elsewhere and had no option than to hit the streets to beg for arms, food and clothes for sustenance. With this scenario, they were indoctrinated to believe that what they were doing was the best way of life.
Other people in the society subsequently identified them with their ways of life but were neglected without care, for decades, even during the Regional governments when the Southern Regions which they now want to pollute were busy educating their children to create wealth for their developments.
The population of the Almajiris is so enormous that they are now ready tools for all kinds of atrocities and opened to all kind of vices such as homosexuality, paedophilia, exploitation, and have been brainwashed as slaves for destructive violent activities.
Since they have been identified for being used for nefarious activities, the leaders in the north to are now having the fear that things are fast changing as the region is presently heading towards anarchy.
Even some of the Northern governors are beginning to see why they have to curtail the rise of out of school children. The Governor of Kano Abdullahi Ganduju who deposed Sanusi has now seen the need for education and is making efforts to enrol more children in school.
The Governors of Katsina Alhaji Aminu Masari and his counterpart in Kaduna Mallam Nasir El-Rufai are also adopting the same options regarding the need to intensify education in the North as a means of checking the danger and chaos in the North posed by a large number of out of school children. For instance, Alhaji Massari argued that the terrorists in the Northern forests came as a result of children who were denied an education.
Findings by BusinessHallmark revealed that what led to the present situation has been the attitudes of the Northern leaders over the years. It was learnt that they earmarked allocations to education and set aside a specific amount for Almajiri schools and yet was there no result because the money was never utilised for the purpose.
It was also learnt that since the present political dispensation, the two Southern Presidents had expended more and were concerned about the out of school children in the North than the Presidents who were from that region. It was pointed out that former President Olusegun Obasanjo spent billions on nomadic education, yet they refused to patronize the schools and some of the schools are now abandoned.
Also, it was noted that former President Goodluck Jonathan committed whopping N15billion specifically for Almajiri schools in the North to provide Islamic and Western Education. The 400 schools were built with facilities such as libraries, hostels, vocational workshops language halls, modern halls for reciting Quran and well-provided teachers quarters.
But rather than utilising them for the purpose for which Jonathan built them, they were converted to conventional schools. For instance, the one in Zamfara was turned to Government Girls Secondary school in Talata, Mafara Local government. The same thing happened in Kaduna, Bauchi, Sokoto and Kebbi States
It was argued that if the Northern leaders were serious they should have gladly embraced the golden opportunity provided by the schools and not regard Jonathan’s gesture as political. They even politicized it by insisting that a Christian president should not be one to determine how to resolve the problem.
No doubt now, Nigeria is getting doomed with the population of the Almajiris and that was why people like Senator Adamu Ailero from Kebbi Central was worried and introduced a bill in the Senate for the integration of Almajiri system into the modern education system. The Senate President Lawan, too, said the high rate of out of school children has constituted a bug challenge for Nigeria.
Meanwhile, Barrister Bisi Ade Ademuwagun, former Chairman of Nigeria Bar Association (NBA) Ikeja Branch, who spoke with BusinessHallmark on the issue said that the North had had enough and there was no need for the Federal government to spend more money on Almajiri education with what former Presidents Olusegun Obasanjo and Goodluck Jonathan had done., saying that the problem was caused by the un-seriousness of the Northern governors. He asked, “What do they do with their allocations on education, every year?”
According to him, they should have known that the Almajiri syndrome would create problems for them “and now, the entire country.”
The former Deputy Chairman of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in Ondo State, Engineer Johnson Alabi said, lack of foresight by the Northern leaders has now put the entire country in danger. He said if they had taken care of the Almajiris who are now becoming a big thorn in their flesh ‘”we won’t find ourselves in this mess the Northern leaders have put us”.
He wondered what the Almajiris are coming to do in the South when they have no skill to make them employable. “Or are they planning Ruga in another form,” he asked?
Also the Ohanaeze Ndigbo Youth Council, Worldwide, OYC, has reacted to the interception of Almajiri children from Kano and the other Northern States at Enugu State border by the State COVID-19 task force. OYC described the move to bring in Almajiri children into. the East as collaborative rogue operations and nefarious activities of notorious Islamic extremists and Northern Elders.
According to the apex Igbo youth organization, it was a deliberate move to bring in Almajiris with index coronavirus cases to the South East with the evil intent to infect Igbo and make the region suffer what is being witnessed in Kano today.
OYC noted that the recent ban on Almajiris by Northern Governors and their forceful evictions from urban areas to rural areas or their States of origin is a deceptive ploy and rogue assignments hatched by Northern Elders and governors but executed by Northern musketeers to secretly export millions of COVID-19-carrying Almajiris to the South East under the guise of cattle conveyance.
OYC appealed to the Southeast governors to review the circumstances surrounding the decisions of Northern governors on the ban of Almajiris from anywhere they are found back to their states of origin.
Ohanaeze wants the governors to decide to ensure that all Almajiris begging on the streets of South-East are sent back in line with established decisions of their Northern Governors.
OYC said it will not tolerate any kind of Almajiris system in the South East.
The organization said that this obnoxious policy seen in some Hausa quarters in Igboland will no longer be entertained.
“We will accommodate any Nigerian, especially from the North and West doing genuine businesses in the south East”, he said.
In his reaction, leader of Yoruba Prof. Banji Akintoye called on the southern governors to tighten the security network in their respective states to check the desperate movements of Northern youth into their states
“’I think it is now glaring that Northern youths have been neglected and COVID-19 has exposed their leaders.”
He argued that the Southwest is not calling for separation. We believed in the unity of Nigeria but what we are saying is that there should be restructuring and we shall continue to press for that”
The General Secretary of the Yoruba Council of Elders, Dr Kunle Olajide said that the southern leaders in the East, South-South and the Southwest believed that there should be total devolution of power and that” once there is proper separation of powers, each zone would know how to manage its resources accordingly and there would be an end to this kind of problems”
Senator Shehu Sanni said that the present situation in the North has vindicated some of them who have been clamouring for the proper education of the poor, especially the Almajiri who are now constituting serious problems for the North and now entire Nigeria because they could be easily convinced to engage in crime because they are hungry.
The coalition of Northern youths has however kicked against the ways Northern youths moving to the South were being maltreated and sent back, saying, that they have the right under the constitution to migrate to any part of Nigeria
The police commands in Lagos, Kwara, were some of these Almajiris were sent back said they violated the law. The Police Public Relation Officer in Lagos Bala Elkana said “the over 40 Northern youths apprehended during lockdown violated the law.
‘”They were accosted at Berger in a truck going to discharge cows at Agege Lagos and they were more than the required seven passengers supposed to accompany the truck.”
He said they are now more vigilant in the state and directed all Divisions to look out for offenders.
His counterpart in Kwara Mr Ajayi Okasanmi said the police in the state have been directed to be on the lookout for trucks conveying food items from the far North to the South and ensure that they did not violate the law.