The northern governors must ensure that the children do not return to the streets

No fewer than 50 of the 59 active cases of coronavirus in Kaduna State have been traced to the repatriated Almajiri pupils from Kano State, according to Governor Nasir el-Rufai. The revelation came at a time governors of the northern states have been exchanging among and between themselves hundreds of these unfortunate children who have for years been abandoned on the streets. Now that many of these boys are confirmed to have fallen victims to Covid-19, we hope the authorities in the states concerned will nurture them back to recovery.

Almajiri is a system of Islamic education practiced in northern Nigeria for young boys between the ages of three and 12 who leave their parents and are brought under the tutelage of some religious teachers. Ordinarily, the idea of sending children to seek deeper Islamic education is not bad. But over the years in many of the northern states, these boys have been left to fend for themselves hence they grow up to be a social menace. They also account for more than 80 per cent of the reported 10.5 million children that are out- of- school in Nigeria.

To address the challenge, the administration of former President Goodluck Jonathan constructed 115 model schools to reduce the number of Almajiri children roaming the streets in the northern states. But most of these schools have either been abandoned or have not been put to proper use. It is therefore no surprise that in this era of coronavirus, the unhygienic lifestyles of these children have exposed them to the pandemic which in turn has engendered a spike in community transmissions of the virus. We are already witnessing this in many states, especially Kaduna and Kano.

But with the repatriation of these children to their home states presents a new opportunity to enrol them into schools so as to give them a new lease of life. Since many of the Almajiri schools are still there, it would not be out of policy to refurbish and bring them to proper use. This new opportunity presented by the Covid-19 pandemic should not be missed. The northern governors must work to ensure that these young boys do not return to the streets. The solution is to ensure a full compliance with the provisions of the Universal Basic Education Act, 2004 which made formal education compulsory for school age children from basic one to nine. All that is required is the political will on the part of the governors.

In June last year, the National Security Adviser, Major-General Babagana Monguno, identified the almajiri system in the north as a breeding ground for insecurity in the country. As we have seen with Covid-19, leaving them on the streets also endangers all of us. It is against the foregoing that we hope that the Kano State Council of Ulamas would review its recent opposition to the ban on street begging. It is indeed unfortunate that rather than deploy the power at their disposal to promote child education and put machinery in place to give these boys a promising future, many have exploited their misfortunes.

To rid our society of this menace, incentives that will motivate these children to attend and stay in schools should be provided by the governors in the northern states. Transporting them from one state and dumping them in another offers no practical solution to a problem that has festered for decades. However, the root of the Almajiri system is the production of many children without commensurate economic power to take care of them. There will be no sustainable solution until there are deliberate moves to address the issue of irresponsible procreation in our country.


The repatriation of these children to their home states presents a new opportunity to enrol them into schools and give them a new lease of life