• Concerns over security as foreigners infiltrate them
By ISAAC ANUMIHE
From a reasonable distance, you can distinguish them from the rest of the crowd. Ever holding tight to their plates, you know them by their knack for moving in groups of not less than five, but not more than 10 in most cases. They are all boys within aged between eight and 17.
Food for the belly
Their mission is usually harmless – search of free food for the belly. Some wads of naira may not also be a bad idea, except that only few motorists bother to give. In this part of the country, and indeed in the entire North, they are called the Almajiris.
Until lately, they were seen mainly in the core northern states. Now, like every other Nigerian in desperate search for better life wherever it is happening, these teenage beggars have invaded the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) and not a few residents see their influx as worrisome.
Investigation by Abuja Metro revealed that the boys roam most of the major streets of the city and its environs with plates, begging for alms and food. They are often seen in the day near local food joints and restaurants, waiting to collect the leftovers, which are usually gathered for them by operators of the food outfits. At night, they sleep under the bridges and in uncompleted buildings.
They are a common sight in Nyanya, Kuje, Kubwa and some of the busy parts of the metropolis.
Some of the residents recalled that the almajiris were first noticed during the administration of Mallam Nasir el-Rufai as minister of the FCT, which in a bid to rid the city of their menace, set up a rehabilitation centre.
Consequently, they were arrested by officials of the Abuja Environmental Protection Agency(AEPA), whose duty was to sanitise the city and rid it of miscreants and street urchins. It was gathered that during this period, few of the kid beggars were seen in the city.
El-Rufai’s successors also followed his footsteps and curtailed the nuisance posed by the activities of the boys. The immediate-past administration of Alhaji Bala Mohammed went a step further by engaging a Non-Governmental Organisation (NGO), Society Against Prostitution and Child Labour In Nigeria (SAP-CLN), to arrest and take them to the rehabilitation centre in Bwari, where they were trained in various trades.
Change of location
Unfortunately, most of the almajiris later escaped from the rehab centre into the society. This time around, instead of finding their way back to the streets of Abuja, they moved over to the neighbouring towns of Mararaba in Nasarawa State; Madalla in Niger State and Lokoja in Kogi State, where existing state laws are not very stringent against destitution and begging.
In these areas and lately in the FCT, they swarm their targets hungrily like starving locusts with bowls, begging for alms. Sometimes, these children follow their targets to eatery points and would almost struggle their food with them.
Most of them are foreigners
According to the manager of SAP-CLN, Dr Grace Adogo, some of the almajiris are not Nigerians. Many of them are from neighbouring countries, including Chad and Niger, while some come from Kaduna, Katsina and Kogi states.
Her words: “There is a recent scourge we discovered lately – that most of these children you see on the streets are not even Nigerians because they do not speak English, neither do they speak Hausa. They just do signs for you because they cannot speak your language. So, it brings in the issue of immigration.
Call for probe
“They (authorities) have to get into it and see who is bringing the children. And you see, with the insurgently in some African countries, there is bound to be an increase in such incidences in FCT because Abuja is a Mecca of some sort for other African countries. They feel that there is so much here, you can get anything you want.
“So, these children, like the ones we have been able to take off the streets, some have reconciled with their families; not even in FCT but in Katsina, Kaduna etc. Some are still in the training centre in Bwari and they are undergoing various trainings. Some of them are physically challenged.”
However, with the coming of the present administrations in the FCT and at the federal level, the almajiris have invaded the capital city again and the authorities seem not in a hurry to dislodge them.
As earlier observed, the teenage beggars are common sight in most of the northern states. According to statistics released by the Ministry of Education in 2009, Kano State alone harbours 1.6 million almajiris. Sokoto, Kaduna, Niger and Borno states have over 1.1 million, 824,200, 580,000 and 389,000 almajiris respectively. They are also present in neighbouring Mali, Togo, Niger, Chad and Cameroon from where some of them migrate to Nigeria.
Handling the foreigners
Adogo stated that some of the foreign young beggars had been handed over to the Social Development Secretariat on several occasions.
“We usually write a letter to the Social Development Secretariat (SDS). When they get to SDS, they hand them over to Immigration officials because they too cannot handle the issue of foreigners. These people came from a country and most of them do not have papers.
“The idea planted in them (children) is that if you see the buses with round logo, they should run away. We park very far and then walk up to them and arrest them. We have a psychologist there(centre). The principal of the school is there. He is a comrade and he speaks their language. It is through him we have to investigate and know where these children actually come from because he has a house there. After school hours, he strolls to their hostel and chats with them individually”, the manager said.
Investigation by Abuja Metro revealed that under the present FCT administration, SAP-CLN has been incapacitated, a situation the almajiris seem to have capitalised on to invade the city. Although they appear harmless, some residents have accused them of some of the atrocities at night in the capital city and the environs, especially at nights.
For these residents, unrestrained influx of almajiris into the nation’s capital is a dangerous development because of the security implications.