A Peek into Northern States Expulsion of Almajiri Children

A Peek into Northern States Expulsion of Almajiri Children

AREWA AGENDA – The COVID-19 pandemic has once again brought the Almajiri discourse to the front burner, as Northern Governors, during the week, started deporting children to their various States across the Region in a bid to curb spread of the Coronavirus outbreak.

Many of the street kids searching for Islamic knowledge across the north have been infected by the deadly virus in recent days as state governments scramble frantically to send them back to their respective states.

The Northern Governors’ Forum has insisted that the Almajiri system in the region be banned.

The governors stated this on Tuesday while discussing the region’s response to the coronavirus pandemic.

The meeting, which was the second of its kind, was presided over by its Chairman, Governor Simon Lalong of Plateau State and convened via teleconferencing with 17 participating governors.

According to Lalong’s Director of Press and Public Affairs, Macham Makut, the governors discussed COVID-19 test centres within the region and noted some improvement but insisted that all states in the region should have at least one centre in order to make the detection of the disease and its management easier and faster.

The statement read in part, “On border control and lockdown measures, the governors retained their earlier decision for each state to decide on the measure to adopt but reaffirmed the need for border closure to stop the inter-state spread of the disease in the region.

“The governors also discussed the risk that Almajiri children are exposed to due to the virus and they unanimously decided to ban the Almajiri system and evacuate the children to their parents or states of origin.

“They 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.”

Almajiri is a system where kids leave their homes in search of Islamic knowledge. But over the years, the practice has been criticised for the neglect and abuses suffered by children under this system as they constitute a significant portion of Nigeria’s 13.2 million out of school children.

Almajiri System Has Not Worked for the North – El-Rufai

Reiterating the Decision of the Northern States, Kaduna State Governor Nasir El-Rufai has on Wednesday on Channels TV Politics Today’s show said that the Region is determined to ban the system because it has totally failed.

Admitting that the COVID-19 pandemic provided the opportunity to determine the state of almajiri education, Mr El—Rufai said the decision has been a subject of deep deliberations in the Northern States Governors’ Forum under the chairmanship of the Plateau governor, Simon Lalong, for the past 12 months.

“We’ve been looking for the ways and means to end this system because it has not worked for the children, it has not worked for Northern Nigeria and it has not worked for Nigeria. So, it has to end and this is the time,” he said.

Northern States Swing Into Action

As at May 2nd, at least three states in the north had started implementing the decision with Kano, Kaduna and Nassarawa State leading the pack.

No fewer than 524 school children popularly known as Almajiri were returned to Jigawa state from Kano state as at Wednesday.

On Tuesday, Kano State Commissioner of Education Muhammad Sanusi-Kiru had explained that the deportation was to safeguard public health and stem the spread of the pandemic.

Stressing that the exercise would be continuous, he said in a statement: “The Almajiri students will be evacuated to Katsina, Kaduna, Jigawa, Yobe, Bauchi, Zamfara, Gombe, Nasarawa States and the Niger Republic.”

The Kano State Commissioner for Local Government, Murtala Garo, last Sunday, disclosed that 419 almajiris had been deported to Katsina, 524 to Jigawa and 155 to Kaduna, totalling 1,098. The Kaduna State government has also reportedly deported 40 almajiris to Kebbi State government while Benue State government has evacuated 17 to Bauchi and 42 to Katsina states, respectively, bringing the total to 59.

As at Friday, the Kano State Government said it has arrested and repatriated over 1,500 Almajiris back to their states and countries of origin.

According to statistics available, Kano is currently the second highest State with COVID-19 cases in the country after Lagos.

Following suit, the Kaduna State government says it has so far deported over 30,000 Almajiri children out of the state to their states of origin.

The state Commissioner for Human Resources and Social Development, Hafsat Baba, said that the action is to ensure that the vulnerable Almajiri children do not pose a threat to the battle against COVID-19 in the state.

She added that the outbreak of coronavirus disease in the Kaduna State and other parts of the country made the decision necessary.

Kaduna is the gateway and transportation hub that connects the northern part of the country to the south. On a daily basis, thousands of children roam the streets of the state capital begging for alms.

Many of the children who spoke with Channels Television in separate interviews revealed that they are not aware of the existence or inherent danger of the virus as they move from motor parks to markets and other public in search of food.

Also, Nasarawa, the state government repatriated 788 almajiri kids to their various home states.

The state governor, Abdullahi Sule announced the repatriation of the kids addressing the first batch to be sent home on Sunday, May 3, 2020.

Yobe state government on Thursday took delivery of 51 Almajiris from Nasarawa state bringing the number to 176 after the first set of 125 was received two weeks ago from Gombe State.

Similarly, the Gombe State Government has sent 700 Almajiri children in the city to their states of origin across the 19 Northern states of Nigeria.

The state’s Commissioner for Education, Dr Habu Dahiru, made this known in Gombe, the News Agency of Nigeria reports.
He said the first batch of 700 Almajiris had been conveyed to their various states in the North in 60 buses accompanied by security personnel.

The Niger State government had earlier this week said arrangements had been concluded to repatriate all almajirai to their states of origin.

The Secretary to the State Government and Chairman, Niger State Task Force on COVID-19, Ahmed Matane stated this in a statement on Monday in Minna, but when contacted yesterday to know how far they have gone, Matane said there was a new development.

Infected…

As at Saturday, May 2, 2020, six Almajiri kids from Kano were reported to have tested positive for coronavirus in Bauchi.

Dr Rilwan Mohammed, the Chairman of Bauchi State Primary Health Care Development Agency said, seven out of 38 Almajiri kids brought to Bauchi from Kano have tested positive for the virus.

The Kaduna State Government also announced recently that 50 of the almajiri children deported from Kano to the state have tested positive for coronavirus.

Rejected…

Following deportations and counter deportation of the Amajirs across Norther States, the Taraba State government has rejected 79 almajiri deported from Nasarawa.

Officials from the state handed over a letter with instructions to take back the Almajirai to Nasarawa Sate.

“The number of pupils brought to Taraba State is 79, not 102 as stated in the letter brought from Nasarawa state. The government of Taraba State wishes to return the pupils to you and requests that the pupils should be properly, profiled, indicating their local government of origin in Taraba State and individual status in respect of the pandemic,” part of the letter read.

Violation of Rights

Many believe that the constitutionality of action of some state governors in ‘deporting’ some non-indigenes, especially Almajiris, to their states of origin under the guise of preventing the spread of COVID-19 may need to be tested in court.

Nigeria has signed up to the declaration and even to other treaties committing to protect children from violence, including the Convention on the Rights of the Child (1989), the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child (1990), the Optional Protocol on the involvement of children in armed conflict (2000), and the Optional Protocol on the sale of children, child prostitution, and child pornography (2000).

At a national level, the enactment of the Child’s Rights Act No. 26 of 2003 (CRA) was particularly important, as it marked the domestication of the Convention on the Rights of the Child. The Child Rights Act provides an implementation framework of key principles relating to children’s rights, incorporates existing laws relating to children’s rights, and specifies the responsibilities and obligations of government, parents and other authorities and organizations. The Child Rights Act also explicitly enshrines the right of children to be protected.

Section 41 of the 1999 Constitution provides that “Every citizen of Nigeria is entitled to move freely throughout Nigeria and to reside in any part thereof, and no citizen of Nigeria shall be expelled from Nigeria or refused entry thereby or exit therefrom.” Also, Section 42 provides that “A citizen of Nigeria of a particular community, ethnic group, place of origin, sex, religion or political opinion shall not, by reason only that he is such a person – (a) be subjected either expressly by, or in the practical application of, any law in force in Nigeria or any executive or administrative action of the government, to disabilities or restrictions to which citizens of Nigeria of other communities, ethnic groups, places of origin, sex, religions or political opinions are not made subject.”

Worried by the development, civil society organisations under the aegis of Human Rights Agenda Network (HRAN), in a statement last Thursday, also condemned the deportations outright and declared the action as illegal.

Violation of Interstate Movement – FG Reacts

The federal government has raised an eyebrow against the continuous repatriation of the Almajiris, saying it is a violation of guidelines issued by President Muhammadu Buhari on inter-state movement ban amidst coronavirus crisis.
Speaking during the presidential task force briefing on Covid-19 on Monday, May 4, Boss Mustapha, Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), said the government will engage the states on the process for the repatriation of Almajiris.

House of Reps Kick

The House of Representatives has called on the federal government to halt the repatriation of the almajiri from northern states to their states of origin.
The lawmakers took the decision on Tuesday during plenary while adopting a motion brought before it by Aishatu Dukku (Gombe, APC).

According to the lawmaker, the repatriation is against the fundamental human rights of any Nigerian to reside in any part of the country.

Northern state governors recently moved to eradicate the almajiri system in the region.

Not All Gloomy

But the Yobe State Government has revealed that the state will not be sending away any Almajiri out of the state.
The chief of staff to Yobe state Governor Abdullahi Yusuf Gashu’a disclosed this to journalists during media briefing on COVID_19 at Government House Damaturu.

The Chief of Staff explained that, Yobe has rather chosen to regulate the activities of Almajiri in the state but would not send them away from the state.

It is the decision of the Yobe State Government not to deport any Almajiri studying in the state. As a government, we are going to regulate their activities,” The Chief of Staff said.

Similarly, the Borno state government has said that the Almajirai have neither been ‘received nor repatriated’ from the state to their respective parents across the country.

Instead of evacuating the street kids over coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, the state’s response team led by Deputy Governor, Umar Kadafur, is to profile Tsangaya schools into a database.

This was disclosed Friday in Maiduguri, while the Commissioner of Information, Babakura Jato, was briefing journalists on repatriation of Almajirai to their respective states over COVID-19 pandemic.

He said while handling the issue of Almajirai, in relation to the pandemic, the government will be guided by “caution and human face approach.”

According to him, they need empathy and sympathy, as they are victims of a situation they did not create.

Records show that there are over 10 million Almajirai scattered across the country under the “care” of malams who do not have the wherewithal to take care of them in terms of feeding and accommodation.

According to a 2014 UNICEF data, there are about 9.5 million children in Nigeria who are in the alternative education system, where parents put them in the care of itinerant Islamic teachers who travel with them to another state or town.

The children mostly survive through begging for food and menial labour.

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