Almajirai’s provocative exodus to southern Nigeria
It is indeed curious that the northern governors’ decision to relocate the Almajirai to their states of origin to control the spread of a pandemic has become an anticlimax. The ostensible logic is to contain the spread of COVID-19, which might spread by the nature of living of the Almajirai with no fixed address who eke out a living in the streets largely by begging and on the benevolence of would-be philanthropists. As explained by Dr. Umar Abdullahi Ganduje, the governor of Kano State, the relocation was not based on politics but the belief that, “What they need at this critical point in time is care giving.”
The exercise still ongoing has virtually turned arbitrary beyond the reciprocity of repatriation of Almajirai among the states in the North. The trend is that they are now being relocated to the South and Middle Belt that are not native to this social practice in the country. While states in these parts have taken corresponding steps to relocate these socially vulnerable persons by denying them entrance, the matter is accentuating hitherto underlying issues of national significance such as the Almajirai and the seeming orchestrated swamping of the South and the Middle Belt by able-bodied men coming from the North and some reportedly from Niger Republic.
In the last couple of weeks, there has been a well-coordinated mass movement of persons who bear little resemblance to the well-known Almajirai, able-bodied men some who are the well-known herdsmen flocking the South and Middle Belt of the country despite lockdown regimes in most of the states. For example, a truck full of herdsmen from Zamfara and Kano State, one of the epicentres of coronavirus in northern Nigeria, was stopped at the Ojodu-Berger in Lagos. In Akure, Ondo State, 20 Almajirai from Sokoto and Kano states who sneaked into the state in a truck belonging to Dangote cement were arrested and sent packing. In Edo State, a truck and tanker loaded with able-bodied men at variance with the well-known Almajirai were intercepted at Jetu junction in Auchi. In the Eastern state of Enugu, the government intercepted and turned back nine busloads of Almajirai attempting to move into the state through the Enugu-Benue boundaries at Udenu, Igbo-Eze North and Nsukka Local Government Area. Also, trailer and some buses loaded with the same neglected people were intercepted by community leaders at Opi in Nsukka. Similarly, Abia State intercepted some buses bringing in about 100 of them into the state. In Cross River, the state government reportedly turned back five truckloads of the beggars and other passengers from the North. The Benue State’s COVID-19 Action Committee intercepted 14 of the social wastrels allegedly being smuggled into the state.
This movement clearly breached the order banning movement between states emphasised by the president in his April 27 broadcast and has also drawn the attention of the Presidential Task Force (PTF) on COVID-19 that observed lapses in enforcing restrictions aimed at containing the pandemic. The PTF had then urged the various commands of the security agencies to enhance their monitoring machinery to ensure that the objective of stopping the spread of the virus was attained.
This apparently well-organised mass movement appears to have gone beyond the Almajirai phenomenon, as many of those seen and relocated were herdsman and able-bodied youths who are at variance with the commonplace beggars. This understanding has led to a security interpretation of the phenomenon. Viewed against the background of attempt by Boko Haram insurgents to infiltrate the South and Middle Belt of the country, the ongoing atrocities of herdsmen in the South and Middle Belt that have seen carnage of indescribable proportion, the current trend becomes really worrisome.
Leaders of the South and Middle Belt Forum (SMBLF) have raised the alarm over the level of insecurity in the country occasioned by the influx of teenagers from a certain section of the country despite the ban on interstate movements. To be sure, the roaming and movement southwards by all manner of people including the Almajirai pose security problems to these parts of the country in many ways. One, the South and the Middle-Belt of the country have been grounds for brutal killings by suspected herdsmen for a long time. And so this curious mass movement despite the prevailing lockdown portends ill for the security and mutual wellbeing of the component nationalities of our country.
It is important to note that there has been extant Boko Haram threat of invading the southern part of the country. This is not to be treated with kid gloves as an attempt to put Lagosians in harm’s way was reportedly foiled by the Fashola’s administration in Lagos State. Therefore, there is a veritable basis for the palpable fears that this mass movement might serve as an avenue to implement some sinister designs. The ease with which these seeming irregulars move across state borders with security cordons and the irredentist calls that they should resist and occupy forest and everywhere underlines the notion of collusion. This is scary.
What is worse, not a few believe that this exodus might aggravate the existing ethnic fault-lines in the country and degenerate into something awry for the peace and stability of the country. Therefore, the Federal Government needs to be proactive and take steps to halt this provocative migration. Nigeria is a country of indigenous people for which swamping poses a threat.
In any case, some have underscored the counterproductive nature of the Almajirai system, which cannot be justified on the basis of religion or politics as young men are allowed to grow as Almajirai in ways contrary to the original concept that is, being young learners who seek Islamic knowledge. Considered within this logic, many of them do not have knowledge of the Koran let alone modern education or vocational training. Thus, without mincing words, the practice is synonymous with child abuse.
It is therefore very critical at this moment for government at all levels to consider the Almajirai and provide them with opportunities and access to Basic Education Programme. The special Almajirai schools established by the Jonathan’s administration should be freed from crude politicking and revamped to accommodate the unfortunate citizens to be groomed into responsible members of the society.
Meanwhile, there should be total support for calls by concerned Nigerians for the arrest and prosecution of security operatives at the borders between states who have allowed the ‘‘abandoned students’’ to be concealed in trailers like cargos to be smuggled to the southern states. More important, governors of the states being flooded with these dangerous strangers should wake up and halt this unhealthy phenomenon before it is too late. The state-border control is clearly too important to be left to the men in uniform alone – at this time.