Almajiri
Almajiri children

By Olusesan Laoye

Hidden mostly in trucks conveying food items, the new wave of Southward movement of Almajiri children from Nigeria’s North has continued to fray nerves across the South of the country.

Particularly of concern to many is that the movement is happening at a time the whole nation is on lockdown in bid to contain the spread of Coronavirus pandemic, even as many Almajiri relocated to their states of origins by various Northern governors, have tested positive for the ravaging virus.

Many questions beg for answers: What is the motivation for the movement? How are they able to beat checkpoints and travel all the way to the South?

The answers depend on who you ask, and they have comprised of simple economic reasons to the conspiracy theories about a certain plot to populate the South with Northerners in view of 2023 elections. And even possible attempt to deliberately spread Covid-19 to the South, especially the Southeast.

No one probably has the answer. But the authorities are doing what looks like the only sensible thing amid the growing pandemic: Send them back. So, far available records show that in Lagos alone over 1,000 have been sent back, Ogun, 60; Oyo, 50; 0sun over 1,000; Ekiti, 60; Ondo 45; Edo 39; Enugu 100; Ebonyi figure not specified and Kwara 50. Some, however, say the figures are not accurate.

A National Problem

Once considered a problem of the North made by the North, a new reality is dawning.

“The Almajiri are now a national problem,” says Barrister Bisi Ade Ademuwagun, former Chairman of Nigeria Bar Association (NBA) Ikeja Branch.

“It a problem caused by the unseriousness of the Northern governors and leaders. What do they do with their allocations on education every year? Now it’s a challenge for everyone.”

Last week, over about 16 of the Almajiri ‘deported’ from Kano to Kaduna tested positive for Coronavirus. Kaduna officials say 90 percent of cases in the State presently are same Almajiri. Other Northern states where they have been deported to and from have similar stories.

It was North’s problem, until for some unknown reasons, some of the Almajiri decided to head southward.

“Lack of forsight by the Northen leaders has now put the enture country in danger,” said former Deputy Chairman of the Peoples Democratic party (PDP) in Ondo State, Engineer Johnson Alabi.

“The sadder reality is that as they are moving down South, they have no skills. We won’t have found ourselves in this mess the Northern leaders hadn’t put us here. Are they planning Ruga in another form?” he wondered.

Two days ago, the Ohanaeze Ndigbo Youth Council (OYC) said the the movement was being organised rogue individuals. And that while the region was not rejecting genuine northerners wanting to come to in and live, the present movement was suspicious.

The group alleged 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.

In his own reaction, leader of Yoruba Professor Banji Akintoye called on the southern governors to tighten the securiuty network in their respective states to check the desperate movements of Northern youth into tgeir states
He argued that if there was no motives behind their movements towards the South now, when they are expected to obey lockdown in their resoecrive states, there won’t be exodus of youths out of the Region. ”I think it ia now glaring that Northern youths have been neglected and COVID-19 has exposed their leaders.”.

He argued that the south West is not calling for seperation. 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 South West believed that there should be total devolution of power and that, “once there is proper seperation of powers, each zone would know how to manage its resources accordingly and there would be an end to this kind of problems”

The coalition of Northern Youths has, however, kicked against the ways “Northen youths moving to the South were being maltreated and sent back,” arguing that “they have the right under the cinstitution to migrate to any part of Nigeria.