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The Almajiri Conundrum

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For years, Nigerians have questioned the Almajiri practice that sees hundreds of thousands of children inducted into a system by local preachers purportedly to teach them tenets of their religion but in actual fact, are used to beg for alms to support the religious clerics. Governments of several Northern States have condoned the system for no real reason, other than the religious. Critics have pointed out the danger of using these children for this purpose, as several of them are abandoned by their parents to religious folks and experience no other form of teaching or education. These children grow up with no education, unemployable and really ready tools for extremist religious sects. It would appear that the biting economic atmosphere around the country, exceedingly high levels of insecurity and terrorism is beginning to create a rethink, especially with the chicken coming home to roost. The COVID-19 pandemic has indeed brought full realisation across the country to the unsustainability and danger of continued practice of the Almajiri system. Several States across the country have announced a ban of the system with Northern States Governors announcing its abrogation. Painfully however, several of these children are now left on their own and governments of several of the Northern States of Nigeria are beginning to play ‘ping-pong’ with them. So against the Constitution and the laws, these young children Almajiri citizens of Nigeria are being deported back and forth between States that have now disowned them to States where they are purported to be indigenes of. And as the Almajiri children are being thrown back and forth, the Constitution suffers. Under Nigerian laws and the Constitution, every person is entitled to live in any part of Nigeria that they choose and no State is entitled to deport any Nigerian. While States trample on the rights of their citizens, the Federal Government watches helplessly. Or even nonchalantly, making no effort to restrain State governments who are trampling on the rights of citizens, returning children to their States of origin supposedly to curb the spread of COVID-19. There is a call to action on the Federal Government to act decisively to halt this anomalous situation.

The House of Representatives called on the Federal Government to intervene and halt the repatriation of Almajiris to their respective States of origin, as part of its resolutions formed at plenary on May 12. Hon. Aisha Dukku who made a motion to this effect expressed concern over the mode of transportation the children are subjected to, which she described as dehumanising, and argued that the order for their repatriation violates their fundamental rights to reside in any part of Nigeria. The House also resolved to enjoin Northern Governors to include the Almajiri children in the Universal Basic and Technical Education System. Many observers have called for a review of the Almajiri system.