Beyond the Repatriation of Almajirai
While it is commendable that those in power and outside the power corridor have finally realized the potential threat pose by the army of almajirai to the nation's peace and unity. Particularly, in the light of the growing number of death and economic quagmire occasioned by the coronavirus, at the same time, it is disheartening that the almajirai are being deported to their State of origin without adequate re-orientation and provision.
The governors under the auspices of Northern Governors Forum (NGF) had on 21st April, 2020, at a meeting via teleconferencing agreed to repatriate the almajirai to their State of origin in order to prevent the escalation of COVID-19 in the region.
Specifically, the Director of Press and Public Affairs, to the Chairman of the Forum, Macham Makut, noted that the governors unanimously agreed on this after discussing the risk that the almajirai children are exposed to due to the global pandemic and vowed never to allow the system to persist any longer because of the social challenges associated with it including the perpetuation of poverty, illiteracy, insecurity and social disorder.”
Superficially, this seems to address the long term menace which so many people have described as a "time bomb" and a tsunami that will soon consume the nation if not resolved. However, looking at it critically, it seems the governors are only postponing the evil day by repatriating the almajirai to their State of origin without giving them knowledge or skills that will make them forget their "begging business" and contribute positively to the society.
The United Nations Children's Fund (Unicef) had in 2014 estimated the number of almajirai in the country to 9.5 millions out of which assumably 50,000 have been repatriated to their State of origin in the recent time by the Kano State, Kaduna State among others. From this number, it is obvious that some almajirai are still hiding among the people or have left the region through illegal means.
A telling reference to this is the increase in the numbers of almajirai hiding in the consignments trying to enter the southern part of the country intercepted by the government officials in the recent time. Just of recent, men of the Traffic Compliance and Enforcement Agency in Ogun State intercepted a truck loaded with goods and 30 persons suspected to be almajirai from the Northern part of the country covered with tarpaulin trying to gain entrace into the State at Sango-Ota.
Also, the Obi of Onitsha, Igwe Nnaemeka Achebe and other monarchs in Anambra State, condemned the influx of almajirai into the South-East and implored the governors of the geopolitical zone to take a stand to curtail the trend.
This might also be happening in the camp of Boko Haram as the almajirai continue to look for safe haven. Prior to the repatriation order by the governors, some people have alleged that the increase in the strength of Boko Haram and sister groups cannot be annihilated from the growing numbers of out of school children and unabated poverty in the country.
For instance, the last survey conducted by Unicef in 2018 put the number of out of school children in Nigeria to 13.2 millions, of which 72 percent of them going by the report released on almajirai by the organization in 2014 are almajirai which some of them are now vectors of COVID-19.
The Governor of Jigawa State while disputing the figure released by the Nigeria Center for Disease Control about his State stated that 31 out of the almajirai deported to his State are COVID-19 positive. Equally, Governor Nasir el-Rufai of Kaduna State said that 65 of the almajirai repatriated to the State are COVID-19 positive. This is not to talk of those that have escaped to the other parts of the country through illegal means.
To worsen the case, most of the almajirai don't even know that coronavirus exist not to talk of observing social distancing or applying sanitizer. Making them highly susceptible to the deadly virus.
This is part of the things foreseen by those that designed the nation' Constitution by making education part of the fundamental objectives and directive principles of state policy in Chapter II of the 1999 Constitution and frown against persecution by itemizing the inalienable rights of every Nigerian in the chapter IV without any class distinction.
Specifically, the section 41, guarantees the right of every Nigerian to reside anywhere in the country without any persecution. While the section 42 totally condemned the discrimination of any form either towards an individual or social group.
Beyond the shore of Nigeria, the Article 2 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights (Ratification and Enforcement) Act also condemned this kind of inhuman treatment meted on the almajirai under the disguise of war against COVID-19.
Therefore, the Northern Governor Forum should meet again and replace the repatriation policy with re-orientation, reacculturation, re-integration policy by giving free education, free food among others to the almajirai, even, if it warrant soliciting the help of the Federal government and international organizations instead of treating the almajirai like prisoners of war in their father's land.
Femi Oluwasanmi writes from Ibafo, Ogun State.