The insecurity in Northern Nigeria today is not accidental. It is the product of a deliberate social decadence systemically incubated over time and became a way of life for the society. The political leadership, the oligarchy and the proletariats accept the talakawa and almajiri’s poverty concept as God’s will. This has been the way of life for the North.
No nation in the world neglects its youth and expect to be at peace. The Almajiri system being practiced in the entire Northern enclave was a nuclear bomb waiting to explode and is now exploding.
I predicted the present insecurity in the North 25 years ago when i was doing my national youth service (NYSC) in Borno State. I have traversed the North East, North West, North Central, and have witnessed the Almajiri phenomenon. My personal encounter with them remains scary till today. I remember telling people around me and even wrote an article about it in a national newspaper in 1998, warning that if the federal and northern state governments failed to find a quick fix to the Amajiri issue, the future would be bleak for the North and the nation at large. We are now in that future today.
In our NYSC Camp in Potiskum, Yobe State, the almajiris were allowed to invade the camp at will. The Military manning the gate were instructed to always open the gate for them especially in the afternoon when lunch was being served. Most afternoon, the authorities ensured we are served a local diet that majority of the corps members (majorly from Southern part of Nigeria) did not like (Brabiscu).
The young boys, dirty, unkempt, trooped in with their plates in their hundreds. We had no choice than to give them the brabiscu as soon as we are served at the kitchen. We were always wondering about where they came from. When I couldn’t eat brabiscu, I would go to a restaurant in the Mammy Market in the camp to buy and eat better meal. There was a day I was in the restaurant eating. As I looked back to request for water, my plate of food was gone. I couldn’t believe my eyes when I peeped outside and saw 4 young almajiris eating my food hungrily without scruples. The restaurant owner quickly went on her knees begging me to leave them, warning that if I beat them, the consequence might be bloody. She had to serve me another plate of rice free.
On another day, I had a near conflict encounter with a fellow corps member in same platoon over the almajiris that invaded the camp. He wanted to fight me because I shouted on some of the boys who were putting their mouth directly in the tap to drink water; same source of water for all the corps members in the camp. I reproached them to get a cup to fetch the water instead of putting mouth in the tap. But alas, my fellow corps member went wild telling me that we southerners always think we are better than them. He said President Muhammadu Buhari was once an almajiri before he was picked up and sponsored into the army; that he himself was an almajiri before he was picked up on the street and sponsored to school. He was so vexed in his spirit that he brought out knife from his jackboot, to the shock of everybody and I had to beat it.
How will you manage a situation where millions of children as young as 4 years are left by their insensible parents to go and survive by themselves on the streets where they are at the mercy of Islamic teachers who are ready to indoctrinate them with religious extremism? Unfortunately, this Islamic teachers become the only guardian they have; mould their faith by their own beliefs; provide food and sometimes shelter them under a tree in harsh weather. When there is nothing to feed them, they are sent to beg on the streets.
In other cases, the moment their polygamous father realises they are old enough to beg, he gives them plates and send them out to cater for themselves. They leave home at that early age, and become wild on the street. The children lack parental care and never know any family values.
From the streets, they form groups and move gregariously and menacingly about towns and cities. Some of them are groomed by radical Islamic scholars who radicalise them. Majority grow up and become enemies of the state; and social renegades to the society. Former Emir of Kano Sanusi Lamido Sanusi at various fora condemned this regional societal menace that breeds criminality.
Unfortunately, with Nigeria’s return to democracy in 1999, unscrupulous politicians found them as valuable human resource for political thuggery to rig elections and terrorize oppositions; they are cooked for criminality, armed with guns and machetes to kill, maim and destroy.
If northern leaders fail to find solution to the almajiri system, they will continue to breed banditry, kidnapping and all kinds of criminal acts and the region may never know peace. They must begin to invest in their people, start orientation campaigns about responsible parenting, family values, and come together as a region to re-invigorate the almajiri and nomadic education program started by former President Goodluck Jonathan.
Adetola Odusote is Director, Re-Ignite Public Affairs Limited, a strategy driven research- based solution provider in the Public Affairs space for businesses and governments in Nigeria.