Olakunle Olafioye (Lagos), Sola Ojo (Kaduna), John Adams (Minna), Mohammed Munirat Nasir, (Gusau) and Abdulrazaq Mungadi, (Gombe)
Recently, there have been apprehensions over the claims of influx of displaced Almajirai from the northern states into states in the South despite the subsisting inter-state lockdown announced by the Federal Government.
The governments of Cross River, Lagos, Edo, Ebonyi and few other states in the South had recently raised the alarm over exodus of northern migrants into their states with the interception of vehicles bringing northerners suspected to be Almajirai into their respective states, while security operatives at state borders are getting the knocks for allegedly compromising government’s efforts to contain the spread of the Coronavirus by aiding inter-state movement of people.
The Cross River State government on Saturday, May 9, reportedly intercepted and sent back trucks carrying no fewer than 30 Almajirai at the Gakem-Benue border in Cross River.
Dr Betta Edu, chairperson, Cross River COVID-19 Taskforce, told newsmen in Calabar that the trucks were intercepted by the Commissioner for Youths and Skills Acquisitions, Mr Signor Idiege, with a team of security operatives enforcing the directive on inter-state lockdown at the border.
She said that Idiege also sent an escort to move with the trucks to ensure that they did not divert through any other route to the state. The state government had on Wednesday, May 6 intercepted and sent back five trucks with goods and suspected Almajirai at the same Gakem-Benue border.
A similar scenario played out at the border between Lagos and Ogun in the penultimate week when security operatives arrested about 60 Lagos-bound northerners, who hid in a truck conveying cows to Lagos at the Berger end of the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway. The travellers were reportedly coming from Zamfara, Sokoto, Kebbi, and Kano states. Some of them were reported to have jumped down from the truck and ran away upon sighting security operatives at the border.
Similarly in Edo, police intercepted a trailer conveying 84 persons from Kaduna at Irrua along Benin-Auchi Road with another 26 suspects arrested in Benin, the state capital. Three of the travellers were said to have tested positive for COVID-19. The state government, it was gathered, ordered that they be escorted out of the state to the Southwest where they claimed they were going at the time of their arrest.
In Ebonyi State, 700 persons were said to have been arrested for entering the state illegally despite the ban on inter-state travel. The violators were being quarantined at the Pa Oruta Ngele Township Stadium in Abakaliki.
Curiously, the influx of people from the northern part of the country became more noticeable since the governors of the 19 northern states resolved to repatriate Almajirai to their states of origin. However, rather than return to their states of origin, a good number of them are bent on travelling southwards, thus fueling speculations over the motive of their choice of destination.
So many opinions have been expressed by concerned Nigerians with some adducing it to socio-political and economic reasons. Not a few are, however, of the opinion that the exodus of northerners to the South is not without a secret motive.
Chief Executive Officer, Women Connect Initiative (WCI), Hajiya Murjanatu Suleiman Shika, believes many reasons may have led to the mass migration from the North.
“Many reasons can be ascribed to why they are fleeing the North. One of them is the fact that there are more COVID-19 infections in the North now and the southern part of the country appears to be safer for them.
“These are children who are exposed to hardship and all of the safety measures, lockdown, social distancing, are affecting their survival in the North. They are now going elsewhere to look for other means of survival. The painful thing is that the North allowed the Almajiri system to get to this point. The practice is old and is injustice to the rights of children. That they are now rejected by their own in the North is something that is painful!
“They are fleeing the North because they have been rejected by their own – some of the people they worked and won election for.
“Well, this is Nigeria with porous borders and corruption. Even with the inter-state lockdown, people are still travelling; they are having their way with the situation and the Almajarai know that if others are travelling they too can,” she said.
In his contribution, Country Director, Global Peace Foundation (GPF), Rev. John Hayab, said that the whole idea of sending Almajiriai to their states of origin during this pandemic was a bad decision.
To him, what the northern governors should have done was to agree that every state government should gather Almajirai within their states in one place where they can be controlled and catered for.
“The time they will spend in that camp and during this lockdown period can be used to properly sensitize them as well as to come up with better plans on how to return them to their states of origin after the pandemic.
“Governments have built many schools for Almajirai in Northern Nigeria which they have not yet started utilising. These schools can serve a useful purpose at this period.
“Tracing the parents of some of these Almajirai may take a long time. If you send them to a place where though you say is their state of origin, but some of them had left that town when they were little children and may not know their way back home now.
“What our governors did was to expose these children to greater risk and also export the virus to many places thinking they are fighting to stop the spread of the virus. Let us stop using wrong tactics to fight wrong actions. It only complicates matters,” Hayab cautioned
President, Northern Youth Council of Nigeria, Isah Abubakar, on his part, blamed the northern state governments for failing to seriously enforce Federal Government’s directive on inter-state lockdown.
His words: “In the first place, inter-state borders are not closed as directed by the Federal Government. We understand it is just the normal attitude of our governors to lie and take credit for nothing. People travel every day. We are not serious people as a country.
“Coming back to the issue of Almajiri, it’s time we tell ourselves the truth. The Almajiri issue is the result of carelessness and attitudinal problem of not taking responsibility by a section of the northern tribe. You hardly see other tribes from the North, for example, Fulani children moving on the streets as Almajiri.
“In my opinion, states in the North should have a law that will discipline any parent who allows his child to be adopted as Almajiri in any part of the region. Parents must take responsibility for their children.
“There is no community in Nigeria that does not have Islamic scholars. Every child must stay and learn in his immediate environment. Parents found guilty of this should face the consequence of their actions.”
But a renowned Islamic scholar in Minna, Niger State, Mallam Yauza Mohammed, disagreed with the report that northerners fleeing to the southern part of the country are Almajirai.
“First of all, are we sure that those people moving in large numbers to the southern parts of the country are actually Almajiri, who I have known in my 22 years of teaching in Quranic schools.
“If the answer is yes, which I am sure it is not, who gave them transport fare? Who organized the journey for them because these are underaged children who don’t work and, therefore, have no money, they beg to eat.
“Secondly, they don’t know anywhere apart from where they have been all their lives. So, the question is this: how do they arrive at the decision about their destinations in the South? How do they know the motor parks to their destinations? If nobody can provide answers to all these questions, then I want to say that those people moving in their large numbers to the southern states are not Almajirai, but adults seeking greener pastures because of the present economic reality”, he submitted.
Meanwhile, the Zamfara State government has dismissed insinuations that Almajirai from the North, including the state are fleeing to other regions of the country despite the lockdown imposed on states.
Governor Bello Mohammed Matawalle said that the state has not expelled any Almajiri from the state. “No Almajiri has been sent out of Zamfara State, so we don’t have Almajirai fleeing our state to neighbouring state not to talk of the Southeast and other parts of the South,” he said.
Matawalle who spoke through the Director General (Media), Government House, Gusau, Alhaji Yusuf Idris Gusau, said that there are a lot of misconceptions about the Almajiri in the society.
He said though the northern governors have agreed to repatriate the Almajirai in their various domains to their respective home states where they would be properly sheltered and taken care of by their parents, Zamfara State is yet to receive or send Almajirai from the state to anywhere. According to him, his administration is working on a modality and would soon come out with its elaborate plan about the Almajirai.
Also the chairman, Zamfara State Hisbah Commission, Dr Atiku Balarebe Zawiyya, said the concept of Almajiranchi (studentship) is being misunderstood by people.
He explained that most of those people from Zamfara and other northern states going down to southern states are menial job seekers and not Almajirai.
“If an Almajiri goes to the Southeast or South-south, which tsangaya school will he attend when there are no tsangaya schools there? An Almajiri does not have any reason to go to a place where he cannot study,” he said.
Similarly, managers of tsangaya (Almajiri) schools in Gombe State have debunked news making the rounds about Almajirai fleeing to southern parts of the country.
Goni Shuaibu Danbolawa of Madaki quarters in Gombe metropolis dismissed the report as untrue. He told Sunday Sun that though there could be a number of Almajirai travelling to the South. “Even though we don’t have such thing happening in Gombe, I believe those going to the South could be travelling back to their parents who are northerners but reside in the South”.
“There was a time we had a number of Almajirai brought by their parents from Lagos to Gombe. But following the recent stance of the 19 northern governors to repatriate Almajirai to their states of origin, we have returned about 3,000 Almajirai to their states, but no one is from the South,” Danbolawa stated.
He explained that the about 3,000 Almajirai were those returned by their malamai (teachers). “That is after the about 700 officially returned by the government of Gombe.”