By Dr. Bayo Arowolaju

I have been following the invasions by the Almajiris of the southern part of Nigeria that is, south-east, south-south and south-west states with keen interest and I found it highly astounding and scandalising, coming at a time the global community is afflicted with the novel malaise of Coronavirus.

This should call for concerns of every patriotic Nigerians, especially from the southern Nigeria. In the north, these are children of some faceless parents , who have become wanderers and vagabonds, without a place they can call home and anyone they can call parents. In the south, these unprovoked incursions are giving us concerns because these Almajiris are not made in the south.

Most traumatising was the fact that these miserable population have no meaningful means of livelihood. Even in their states of origin in the north, they are beggars roving the streets maraudingly in search of foods and where they sleep to wake up for another day’s job of begging.

It is no longer disputable that in the south therefore, they will easily turn into miscreants and malefactors posing great and grave dangers to wherever they found themselves. This is where our fears lie and it would be disservice to play ostrich to this looming danger.

Here, the truth cannot be more told that the devil finds job for the idle hands. We don’t need additional problems in the southern states to the ones we are currently grappling with, which revolve around kidnapping, unabated ritual killings, robbery etc.

The founding fathers of the Almajiri system meant well for the first set of children recruited. It was for the sole purpose of providing Islamic Education for children, who later graduated and became successful and prominent members of the society. Nothing good lasts forever. Today, the Almajiri system has been bastardized; turned into a scourge everywhere it is found in the north.

To be fair, not all northern leaders have closed their eyes and ears to the plight of these unfortunate children. It is on record that some like the deposed Emir of Kano, Sanusi Lamido Sanusi had also expressed concerns over this undignifying practice that is fast reducing our society to a beggarly state and uplifting social evils to a statecraft .

In 2012, the Federal Government under President Goodluck Jonathan invested a whooping N15 billion to build more than 400 Almajiri schools in the north. The schools were equipped for both Islamic and Western Education. Many of these schools had facilities better than schools in the south, such as “language libraries, recitation halls, classrooms, dormitories, clinics, vocational workshops and quarters for teachers among others. Unfortunately and unexpectedly , the humongous investment has gone the way of a rain wasted in the Sahara Desert. They have been abandoned, neglected or converted to other unintended uses or purposes.

Today, Kano city has become the epicenter and capital city of Almajiris in the north. The current Coronavirus has exposed the wickedness, lack of vision, inepititudes and misgovernment of the past and present governments of Kano State in the neglect and handling of their children.

Veracious statistics indicated that there were over three million child-beggars called Almajiris, lining up the streets of Kano city, without families, homes and parents. It’s horrifying to note that the governments and the governors of Kano State could be living with such ugly perturbing sights of these children begging as a means of living and a way of life over the years.

In my opinion, the governments and governors of Kano State deliberately kept these children in their states of neglect and depravity so as to deploy their ignorance to feather their political nests. How do they deny this impression, when we see the Almajiris lining up in their thousands to vote even as underage at every election for the candidates of the government’s choice?

Putting it succintly, this is nothing other than crass child abuse. But are the children human beings in the eyes of their oppressors? Are they not kept and merely used and dumped periodically at election times? Yes, they were.

Now, with the pandemic of Coronavirus hitting Kano and other parts of the north and spreading like abush fire in the harmattan, the Governors have suddenly woken up from the bad sides of their beds. They have just realized that these child-beggars have to leave their streets. Who knows in their dreams they concluded that Almajiris should be sent packing from their streets and deported to the southern Nigeria in their thousands.

The northern governors erroneously believe that surreptitiously shipping out their Almajiris to the southern states under the covers of the night is the best solution as that will abate their problems created decades ago. They are also using their strength of been main suppliers of food items to the south by hiding the Almajiris and Fulani Herdsmen in trucks purported to be carrying food items to the south. This is the kernel of my write-up.

The media reports about shipments of hundreds or thousands of Almajiris and Fulani Herdsmen into the southern Nigeria states are as follows. About three hundred of them came in by the Enugu-Benue boundaries. In Abia state about 100 Almajiris were intercepted, while Enugu State government intercepted and turned back nine busloads of Almajiris. Enugu-Abia boundary and Enugu-Port Harcourt Expressway are experiencing similar criminal invasions.

The Cross River State turned back five truckloads of Almajiris and other passengers from the north.
In the SouthWest, there have been reports of illegal exportation of the Almajiris and Fulani Herdsmen into Lagos, Oyo, and Ondo states , also in their thousands. There was also a report that about 200 Almajiris left Katsina but were caught in Kwara state on their way to Lagos.

Though the reports are highlighting the known or seen cases, who knows how many successful expectations have safely landed?

The trucks and the Almajiri cargoes move between 11:00 p.m and 3:00 a.m to avoid detection. This is where the greatest danger lies. I hope we will not suddenly wake-up one day in our neighborhoods to discover that our town and villages, forests and farms have fallen into the hands of the invaders, hence becoming aliens in our own lands.

Another major danger is in not knowing the COVID-19 statuses of these unlawful migrants especially coming from Kano, Nasarawa, Bauchi and other heavily infested states.

It has just been reported that over 400 Almajiris have been quarantined in Kano. What about those in other states?
The good thing is that President Muhammadu Buhari has explicitly banned interstate movements of persons except for essential services. These are deliberate contraventions of the laws and presidential order against this ravaging pandemic.

The big question leading to my fear is: what is the purpose of these illegal shipments into our midst? I guess there must have been a conspiracy by the northern governors, yet unknown to us. We should not just ‘siddon look’ a la Bola Ige.

In addition to the national restriction of interstate movements, the Governors of South West States have also imposed such restrictions via stringent border closures. Let me applaud our governors for the lofty jobs they are currently doing to mitigate the dangers and risks of spreading the Coronavirus pandemic.

But the new phase of importing already infected Almajiri children and Fulani Herdsmen from the northern states to the southern states will definitely pose a grimmer and graver danger, if we are not more careful. The Coronavirus infection is increasing in geometric progressions, especially in Lagos and Kano. How are we sure the Almajiris are not spreading it?

Let me alert our southern state governors on the imperative of being alive to the task of returning to the sender, every Almajiri being shipped or has been shipped to any remote part of the southern Nigeria.

In similar vein, I call on Governor Kayode Fayemi, the Governor of Ekiti State and Chairman, Nigeria Governors’ Forum, to use his position in any way possible to restrain the northern governors to refrain from abdicating their responsibilities of training their children and perpetual habit of transferring their encumbrances of familial neglect to the southerners.

He should also ensure that no single Almajiri is left behind on our land. This responsibility should be added to those of the Amotekuns, especially in the South West.

Our leaders, irrespective of political affiliations, should listen to the Biblical warning : “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it” (Jeremiah 17:9).

Anything unforeseeable but in the minds of the northern governors or leaders may have started surreptitiously without our knowing. I heard one of them saying that if the Almajiris were returned, there would be war. The Almajiris are the breeding grounds for violence and insurgency. Should we therefore wait, fold our arms and watch others spread coronavirus pandemic or other viruses or violence and insurgency to us?

This should be a very good opportunity of starting growing all what we need to eat including rearing our own cattle and cows. All these I met in the Western Region growing up as a kid. A word is enough for the wise.

Dr. Bayo Arowolaju Sr. writes from Ado Ekiti.