Vice President Sambo On Almajiris

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Daily Champion (Lagos)

8 June 2010


Lagos — One piece of good news came from the nation's brand new Vice President, Mohammed Namadi Sambo recently. It was the VP's admission that the nation may not attain the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) agreed upon by world governments including Nigeria, unless the issue of almajiris is adequately tackled. Describing the almajiri phenomenon as a menace, Sambo voiced Federal Government's commitment to tackle the issue headlong for the nation to move forward.

The Vice President made these sentiments public at the meeting of the National Executive Council (NEC) of the Nigerian Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs (NSCIA), whose President-General is the Sultan of Sokoto, Sa'ad Abubakar, in Kaduna. Much as we whole heartedly agree with VP Sambo, it is not however only the almajiri phenomenon that constitutes clear and present danger to the health, stability, and progress of the nation. The equally pernicious sight of millions of able-bodied unemployed youths in the Southern parts of Nigeria who go by the name of area boys, militants or sons-of-the-soil to steal, main and kill, is another. These aberrant phenomena should quickly arrest government's attention if, to quote the Vice President, Nigeria can make any head way in meeting its most basic obligations to citizens and conditions for political stability and economic progress. However, the sight of hundreds of thousands of very young, feral children clutching begging bowls in most major towns and villages in the Northern parts of the country, has never ceased to amaze and alarm first-time visitors, foreign and locals alike, to the region.

Termed almajiris, as distinct from other destitute and infirm beggars, these pre-pubescent and adolescent children could be seen all over Northern cities importuning all and sundry for alms, including food and money, and acting aggressively if these requests are not met. The word almajiri itself is borrowed from Arabic to denote someone, mostly a young male child, who leaves home or is sent out by poor parents, to the net-work of Islamic boarding schools in cities of Nigeria, in search of knowledge of Islamic religion. This ancient practice has a long history and cultural base in Islam. Ideally, these Koranic school children are supposed to be supported by the community when they leave their families to become servants of Allah. So, in terms of originating intentions, there is essentially nothing wrong with the institution of Koranic schools for the poor and destitute. The problem, however, is that some of these schools are run by desperadoes masquerading as Islamic teachers who instead of educating their wards in the tenets of Islam, turn them into social nuisance and menace. Unfortunately, many of these impressionable youngsters fall into the hands of these unscrupulous Koranic teachers who exploit them and expose them to all sorts of hazards. The pupils receive little or no education and no money to sustain them.

Many end up as professional street beggars, sex objects, petty thieves and most often serve as a ready pool for recruitment as foot soldiers for religious clashes, wars as news reports have shown, in the Northern states. A comprehensive population survey has never been done on this segment of Nigerians who live outside the margins of normal society. But a 2006 count states that there are about 1.2 million almajiris in Kano state alone. Extend that figure to the 19 states of the North and throw in the hoards of so-called miscreants in the South and the number will run into millions of potentially dangerous citizens with nothing to lose should the nation burn or, indeed, if they decide to set the nation on fire! Thus, institutionally, culturally, politically and economically marginalized, the millions of almajiris and area boys of Nigeria, who are denied health care, education, basic social amenities, reduced to abject poverty and hunger, die young and homeless, and are prone to crime as victims and perpetrators. Their vulnerability is better imagined than said. All these negate the noble millennium development goals that world governments have vowed to achieve.

We agree with VP Sambo concerning the threat and menace which the almajiri phenomenon poses to the nation. But it is one thing to make government pronouncements and quite another to put those statements into practice. But as long as those in authority and power strive their utmost through kleptomania, greed, and sheer lack of leadership capacity, to promote poverty, it is hard to imagine what VP Sambo's sentiments will amount to in the end. Howbeit, we hope that Vice President Sambo will walk his talk within the limited time his government has with resolve and determination. This is because every chain is only as strong as its connecting links. A society where millions, for social, cultural or economic reasons, are forced to live out of the loop of humanity will become a very weak, vulnerable chain indeed. It is, thus, in Nigeria's interest to rescue, reform and regulate the almajiri practice.

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