By Gbenro Olajuyigbe
At a time when virus comes with its own horror, you don’t pull another trigger of cruelty to beatify it. When, a problem is solved, is as important as why and how it is solved. A virus that reduces rulers and leaders to imbeciles and paralyses all immediate solution is not a virus you throw children at its jaws. Almajiri System is not a new phenomenon.
It can be traced back to over seven hundred years (700 years) backward. Astonishingly, its origin could be linked to tales of Islamic adherents who migrated from their habitual residence in search of knowledge, Islamic Knowledge. Almajiranci is a system run to further Islamic Education. The Male learners are called Almajiri and the female is Almajira, It was not originally hausa-fulani culture. It was a practice and a system in places where Islamic invasion gained traction. It was regarded as a critical aspect of Islamic virtues, particularly that of sacrifice, in search of knowledge. The Yoruba moslems had it inform of ‘Ile-Kewu, which unlike in the North is combined with formal education.’
The way Almajiri is practiced today in the North has moral issues of slavery, deprivation child abuse and adverse implications for child development.It breeds delinquency and encourages begging and other practices inimical to the child. Unmistakably, the way the system is run today has set it in collision with civilization to the extent that Almajiris are excluded from basic formal functional education and with highly oiled indoctrination to sustain the exclusion and justify such abuse. Most almajiris today are from poor and rural background without appropriate guardians or counselors to plant their feet on part of formal education, whereby they can learn skills or even become professionals.
Disengaged from productive child development activities, almajiris are weaved together in common fate of exclusion from formal education and from acquisition of skills that make upward class mobility easy. The dogma of Islamic faith and the comfort of fatalism that poverty provides have created large pool of adoptable children that end up in the almajiri system over the years. Extremely popular in practice and characteristically fits in into the age long oppressive feudal system in the north, conservative northern elites preserve it as recruiting pool for ego worshippers.
While historians of Islam could find convenience of faith-culture preservation in this, it is incumbent on the elite Governors of Northern states to begin to appreciate its potential for wildfire outbreak, potent enough to consume anything along its way.
The immense consequence of leaving a system that that is characteristically unproductive and that has inculcated culture of begging in large population of youth unreformed is frightening.
There is need to divert the earth-cracking energies of young persons in pursuit of productive ventures such as accessing functional education, skill acquisition and economically viable livelihoods engagements that can guarantee life long support.
Nevertheless, nothing prove the fragility of a country better than what happens to her child. Children, accompanied or not, are not object. They are subjects of rights and protection municipally, internationally and under humanitarian laws. Under no condition must they be exposed to danger. It is height of child cruelty to be massively transporting large number of children from one state to another under any guise during a global pandemic with fast speed and rate of infection. It is sad that many Almajiris in the course of transportation from one place to another contracted COVID-19.
Governors of the North should not be allowed to make their cruelty to children smell like roses. You striped Almajiri children naked, violated their rights and increased their vulnerability by carelessly moving them from one state to another. It is vulgar governance to think you can reform a historically supported conservative system without a comprehensive thoughtful plan of action for the children and youthful population concerned! Under what law are you moving Alimajiris across states without first thinking of their protection Which law in any of the states in Northern Nigerian enables children in one state to be dumped on another? Do you know how many children in the north that have been orphaned by Boko Haram alone? Do you have any data that will make linkage with families easy? Do you know the responsibilities of your government under Child Rights Act? Assuming that you (governors) are right without conceding, is it right to expose children to vagaries of COVID pandemic at this perilous time? Couldn’t it have been better to assume the responsibility of the children in your state while planning a low risk return after COVID?
Nigeria has signed up to the declaration and even to other treaties committing to protect children from violence, including the Convention on the Rights of the Child (1989), the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child (1990), the Optional Protocol on the involvement of children in armed conflict (2000), and the Optional Protocol on the sale of children, child prostitution, and child pornography (2000). At a national level, the enactment of the Child’s Rights Act No. 26 of 2003 (CRA) was particularly important, as it marked the domestication of the Convention on the Rights of the Child. The Child Rights Act provides an implementation framework of key principles relating to children’s rights, incorporates existing laws relating to children’s rights, and specifies the responsibilities and obligations of government, parents and other authorities and organizations. The Child Rights Act also explicitly enshrines the right of children to be protected.
I reflected on the intention of moving vulnerable children about at this pandemic season. The intention cannot be noble. It is the most awkward response strategy if it is considered as one. I agree, the North, nay, Nigeria is in trouble without getting together to address the issue of almajiri system. If it cannot be discarded entirely, we must find a way of integrating it into formal school system. The Federal Government under President Goodluck Jonathan kick started with building of Model Tsangaya/Almajiri schools across Nigeria as an integral part of the Almajiri Education Programme. We can improve on it. Personally, unlike President Jonathan’s initiative, I do not believe Almajiri School should be separated from other schools of equal curriculum. It should be integrated into the formal education system. Isolating it will raise class concerns in a country already struggling with consequences of inequality.
What the Governors of States in the North did by forcibly moving Almajiri from one state to another amounted to self-help. The power equation that tilts in their favor will obstruct their sight from seeing this lawlessness as such. However, let them close their eyes and imagine another person ‘deporting’ their own children without initial consultation with them within a constitutional Nigeria. The social sphere in the North must be restructured. Governance systems that does not strongly interrogate a practice that perpetually keep the children of the poor in non-formal learn center but promote and sustain children of the rich and privileged in formal school system has fatal future. The danger of further falling into irretrievable crisis is clear if nothing is done to integrate almajiri system into productive functional formal education system. It is true that a blind person needs assistance of a sighted person to cross a furious river. You don’t help him by throwing his guide stick into river! The Governors that deported Almajiris exhibited child cruelty! They erred in law and they sinned against morality!
Gbenro Olajuyigbe is the Executive Director of Emergency & Risk Alert Initiative.