Deportation of Almajiris: Scratching the surface





By Okofu Ubaka


For years, the tantrums condemning the practice of Almajiri in northern Nigeria have been that of disappointment, government malfeasance, protracted religious ignorance, pity for the victims and knocks for  parents who had more children than they could possibly take proper care of.  But, no one had anticipated a deportation.  Now, almost everywhere in the 19 Northern states of Nigeria, there is a manhunt for almajiris. Already, a large number of them are  being hounded and deported  to their ‘home states.’

Whether as destitute children or Almajiris, the truth is that children thrown into the streets under whatever religious guise without proper home structures and other basic living provisions constitute a nuisance to society.  The Almajiri practice has its root in Islam. It’s home only to Sub-Sahara Africa. The system has gained much ground in the 19 states of northern Nigeria because successive governments in the northern part of the country have been complacent. However, one voice against the practice was, and still is that of the deposed Emir of Kano, Sanusi Lamido Sanusi. Sanusi spoke vehemently against the practice as much as he could. He is of the view that giving birth to children one could not properly care for is the reason the Almajiri system is unchecked in those parts of the country.

At the base, the almajiri is a little boy who  travels far to an itinerant Islamic scholar known as Mallam to study the Quran.  At the earliest times of the system, an almajiri was seen as an ambassador of his community. He must be diligent and morally adequate. Almajiris under a Mallam were never abused at that time. Yjet were only to be subjected to undertaking basic house chores and little work in the farm. But all that has changed. Today, the almajiri system is most vilified because the interest of the child in particular,  and that of society in general, are undermined.

The whole concept of the almajiri system has been expropriated and debased. Indigent parents, who have more children than they could care for, see the system of almajiri as a leeway out of their economic doldrums. It is unfortunate that Northern Governors didn’t see this coming. They were too ensconced in the political gains to be derived from the almajiri system to have noticed the danger that the system posed to the children themselves and society at large. Needless to say that the almajiri system became a breeding ground for political thuggery, under-age voters, and tools for sowing and fecundating inter ethnic and  religious crises.

The decision by the Northern state Governors to repatriate Almajiris to their states of origin also goes to expose their short sightedness and malfeasance; especially as it has to do with the ragtag approach to things of public health. The almajiri system as a menace, has been there even before the global scare of COVID-19. And for what looked like ages, these Governors – including their predecessors – were playing possum with the almajiri system. No serious measures was taken to arrest the trend until the need to get rid of our streets of persons, and other coterie of protections against COVID-19. Unfortunately, these almajiris had no homes in which to lock themselves in, in the wake of the clamour for lockdown.

The bickering over what state owns what almajiri in a sense also sadly rehearses the inhuman slave trade in the 15th Century  by the Europeans. Some of the Northern Governors are said to have rejected some of the Almajiris, obviously on health grounds.  The question one should be asking is, who determines the state of origin of each almajiri and how? Apparently, by interrogating them in the Hausa language, right? But then this is not watertight as many would have lost their memories in the course of the run of events. Some were given out by their parents at tender ages of about 4 and 5 years. Unless, in exceptional cases, it is unknown that the intelligence of a 4 or a 5 year old could hardly recognize his state of origin after a long period of time, especially after some  wild adventures which include the abuse of alcohol and illicit  drugs  in crowded cities such as Kano, Sokoto and Kaduna.

Recipient states are already taking delivery of almajiris and isolating same in evacuated school compounds, ironically, where they ought to have been.  The right question to ask the Governors of the various northern states is:  What next?  Have notices been sent to the poverty-stricken parents of  destitute children  to come  for them? Or, is the state government going to adopt these kids as ‘children of the state and make comprehensive arrangements to ensure their well-being going forward?’ If they opt for the latter – which is the proper thing to do – how soon can these kids be rehabilitated and reintegrated into the larger society?  If this is successfully done, then we might just be on our way out of the menace of almajiri in Northern Nigeria. But will they do what is right?


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