The Alaigbo Development Foundation (ADF) has expressed discontent with the new wave of Southward movement of Northern Almajiri children in the light of COVID-19 lockdown, noting that governors of the North ought to take responsibility for the children instead of shifting the burden to other regions.
Spokesperson for the group, Chief Abia Onyike who stated this in this interview with OBINNA EZUGWU, also argued that the Almajiri poses security threat, even as he criticized the leadership of Southeast Governors Forum for failing to engage their Northern counterparts over the development.
There are concerns over the recent movement of Almajiris into the Southeast and other parts of the South. Are you worried about the development?
At Alaigbo Development Foundation, we are not happy with the development. Since the beginning of the Kano crisis, we have taken note of the negative impact the Kano issue would have on the rest of the country. The Alaigbo Development Foundation is strongly opposed to the shipment of Almajiri youths to the Southern part of Nigeria, and more especially to the Southeast geopolitical zone, and even the South south. We are opposed to it. We believe that the Northern governors should have met to solve the problem of Almajiri because that problem was essentially created by them on account of their anti people educational policies.
Now, the Northern ruling class over the years shied away from human resources development. They created very negative social and political awareness among the citizenry. They shied away from enabling their people to embrace western education and it was an elitist strategy of impoverishing the masses. While the children of the elite went to western schools, and even travelled abroad for further studies, the children of the masses, the Almajiris were sent to Quranic schools only. And the essence of that was to make sure that the children of the masses were not intellectually developed such that they would continue to be dominated. That has been the reason behind the Almajiri. But over time, we have seen that such policies are counterproductive because in the recent past, the Almajiri became instruments in the hands of terrorists. They were easily recruited by terrorists.
Now, in the particular case of Kano, because of COVID-19 and the health challenges that came with it, the Kano State government is not comfortable with the millions of street urchins who are there masquerading as Almajiris. So, they have started transporting them to other states of the federation. But what we are saying is that they should not export them to Igbo land because they should be the ones to contend with the problem. The problem reflects the unprogressive and anti people policies of Northern governments from time immemorial, beginning from the First Republic. You cannot talk about development if you are not ready to develop human capital; if you are not ready to educate your people, if you are not ready to ensure that each individual is intellectually and mentally able to cater for himself or herself. That’s what they have done.
But now, they are turning back to share the problem with other people. That problem cannot be shared with us because that has not been our own approach to development. They should quarantine them because people are afraid that since they are coming from those areas, they may have been infected with COVID-19 and thus may spread it to people where they are going to. Moreover, some of them have been known to be associated with terrorism. We don’t know what they are being brought in for, especially in the light of the dangerous activities of armed Fulani herdsmen who have now come to populate Igbo land and Southeastern part of Nigeria. As we speak, more than 139 villages are presently occupied by armed herdsmen in Igbo land. And these are the issues we are contending with. So, to add to the problem by bringing almajiris children from Northern Nigeria would be unacceptable and we have to resist it.
What is your guess as to why these people are moving down South?
That’s what I am saying. The Northern leaders, especially in Kano State; the Kano State governor now feels that it has become a burden to him, especially with the number of people dying on a daily basis, the mysterious deaths in Kano, which some people are saying is because of COVID-19. So, for whatever it is, the Kano State government may be looking at almajiris as carriers of the virus. Thus, they want to transport them to other places. We heard they started transporting them to Jigawa, from Jigawa to Borno, Yobe and other places. Now, we hear they are being transported down to the Middle Belt en-route the South. We are of the view that it is one of the reasons.
The other reason some people are suspecting is that they are being used as instrument of terrorism, because there are people in this country who are harbouring very dangerous ideas about the Nigerian State. Some of them are committed to Islamisation. So, when you are talking about developing Nigeria, and enabling the country to rise on its feet and be liberated so that we can join the rest of humanity in the technological world, there are some elements that are very backward who are only thinking in terms of religious jihad and internal conquest of other territories and other ethnic nationalities.
So, any little opportunity they have, they latch on it and use any other instrument they can find to destabilize the Nigerian state, to create havoc for people of other ethnic nationalities in order to undermine the peace and stability of the Nigerian state. In that regard, people are thinking that is what it all amounts to. But it depends; we have to keep watching to be able to actually appreciate the reasons behind these latest developments.
Have you been impressed by the response of the Southeast governors in this regard?
The truth of the matter is that the Southeast Governors Forum has almost collapsed. It is almost moribund because the leadership is not only weak but also double faced and unreliable. So, in the light of it, they are gradually losing their voice, because you cannot continuously lead your people on the route of perfidy and expect yourself to remain relevant. So, the moment it was clear that these people were not serious, or that the leadership was not focused, people started losing interest in them. I mean, the last Ohanaeze meeting on the 9th of February where a decision was made to set up a Southeast regional security platform, just like the Southwest set up Amotekun, was eventually betrayed by the leadership of the Southeast Governors Forum. And up till today, nothing has come out of it.
When the Imeobi of Ohanaeze has spoken, and Ohanaeze has spoken, the Igbo intelligentsia in their political platform has spoken, and they have a right to make certain political decisions, and somebody just comes out to betray them. What is that? So, as far as I’m concerned, since that very incident occurred, I’m not sure that Igbo people still regard the Governors’ forum as a veritable platform capable of solving their problems. And recently, I have not been hearing them intervene on issues. Otherwise, they are the people that should have met to engage their Northern counterparts on some of these things.
But they cannot do that because their hands are already soiled. You cannot be going to the North to pretend to be their surrogate and at the same time, run back to the East to tell the Easterners that you are representing them. That’s the problem they have now. I’m not sure they can continue to speak for us because we don’t rely much on them.
The Supreme Court judgment that sacked Emeka Ihedioha and brought Hope Uzodinma may have helped to disorganise the forum?
Well, maybe. But one cannot say for sure. Regardless, I’m only talking about the leadership of the forum itself. When Peter Obi was leading the Southeast Governors Forum, it was focused because Peter Obi was a more forthright individual who is well groomed in leadership. Leadership is not something you just dabble into anyhow just because you want to use power and have access to money, No. You have to be groomed and have the proper temperament, especially if you are coming to lead the Igbo people, a very complex group of people who are highly sophisticated. You can’t be dictating to them anyhow. It’s not a question of dictatorship; it’s a question of being level headed enough, and being capable and diplomatic. But the leadership of the Southeast Governors Forum is at its lowest ebb now because of the contradictions and the inconsistencies which have been observed in its pronouncements, it’s activities, policies and so forth.
Let’s talk about developments in Ebonyi State. There was this recent killing in Afikpo. You issued a statement in that regard. What really happened?
Well, the people of Edda clan which make up Afikpo South Local Government Area have been having problems for some time; and sometimes, the problem degenerate into killing of innocent people, killing of political figures, killing amongst cult groups and so on. But the recent one that occurred on the 27th of March was when a 19-year-old boy was killed and the killing came as a result of altercations between members of the local government COVID-19 task force and villagers in Edda community. The COVID-19 task force went there to enforce the no burial policy of the state government, which was made as part of the lock down measures for COVID-19. But somewhere along the line, the group loyal to the chairman of the local government who made up the COVID-19 task force was reported to have mismanaged the situation and the young man was shot dead by suspected terrorists and armed vandals.
However, according to an Abuja based Human Rights Commission, the killing was as a result of the activities of the COVID-19 task force. Then, the Commissioner for Information in Ebonyi State said the killing was as a result of the age long communal problem between two Edda communities. But the Chairman of the local government said the young man who was killed was a criminal and an armed robber and that was why he was killed that day. And that the killing was done by army units who were there to provide security in the headquarters of the local government.
But our own reading of the situation is that, because I was trained as a sociologist and as a journalist, and because I’m a social scientist, I’m not moved by the immediacy of the problem. The fact that people shot themselves or that other people came and shot other people is not the issue. I’m looking at the circumstances surrounding the conflict. And I came to the conclusion that the local government chairman, Mr. Eni Uduma Chima has not been running the local government properly. He operates a squad known as More Can Be Done Squad. This squad is a squad of criminals, bandits and terrorists. And they have been killing people, maiming and whipping people with Koboko. They have been raping women, kidnapping people, stealing money and he has sustained this group for a very long time.