COVID-19: The Plight of Al-Majiri and Northern Leaders

There is no doubt that the world has been thrown into a state of confusion with the outbreak of COVID-19 pandemic. To this end, there have been discourses on finding a lasting solution to the scourge, as concerns grow about world safety and socio-economic stability.

In Nigeria, there have been over 500 cases reported. Consequently, the invasive nature of the virus has forced the Federal Government to announce a total lockdown in Lagos, Abuja and Ogun states respectively; where the cases are on the very high ladder. This is even as some State Governors took measures pre-emptively and also announced similar or same lockdown in their states to avoid its indiscriminate spread among the citizenry.

Regrettably, the emerging crisis has conspired to ensure that many people–already suffering citizens–were robbed-off their source of livelihood. In fact, concerns are mounting about how citizens and residents of different countries will survive the economic downturn occasioned by the Coronavirus pandemic.

Fortunately, the less privileged and vulnerable individuals in society have gained sympathy due to their unfortunate situation. However, another set of persons whose plights should be critically looked into are the Almajiri. These are the people, I believe that need more sympathy and attention at this critical time.

No doubt, in Nigeria, many states especially in the North, have tried to educate people about the abuse of the word “Almajirici”, but this has come with little success. A period like this brings us to sober reflection on how the Almajiri children are surviving.

For example, if you happen to visit some core Northern States like Kano, Sokoto, Katsina, Kaduna, Borno and even Niger State, you will see young children of perhaps 7 to 13 years, with plates begging for survival. In some other situations, you will notice the same people, eating from the droppings or leftovers at restaurants, which are seen as no ‘big deal’.

Although efforts in the past to take these vulnerable children off the streets have met brick wall mounted by elites who wrongly see “Almajirici” as a culture, albeit practised the wrong way.

Nevertheless, in the face of COVID-19, where people have been restricted to their homes, and there is no one to beg for survival nor restaurant to eat droppings from, our concerns should be: Where are these kids now? How are they surviving now? Where are they sheltering?

One wonders how many of the elites, whose kids do not practice this same ‘culture’ by begging on the streets or eating remnants from restaurants remained the “antagonists” against the genuine efforts to abolish or ‘modernise’ Almajirici system. Therefore, with the increasing education rate in the North, it is alarming why bigwigs who are elites have not in a united voice decided that enough is enough for Almajirici.

As a matter of fact, the survival of the children cannot be solved by the purported distribution of Social Investment Programme (SIP) funds also known as the Conditional Cash Transfer (CCT) to households as being practised by the central government. No, it cannot. The peculiar question one should ask is that; how do you give Almajirici children money or food when they do not have households that can be traced?

Therefore the raging pandemic has given us the opportunity for sober reflections. We need to redefine the kind of Almajiri movement we want. Truth be told, we want the legacy of spreading Islam with the best practices to develop, but we must at the same time be wary of not doing so rightly by making their socio-economic wellbeing a reality.

While we may not feel the direct impact of the Almajirici, we must begin to realise that the North is ours to develop and our own children will grow into the society we build. We must, therefore, be awake to this responsibility and see the safety of lives as well as security of all and sundry as essential. We must take lessons from this situation and make hay from it before the looming crisis that may be caused by negligence affects us all.

There is, after all, no gain in being elite with no immediate and positive societal impact. We must rebrand the Almajiri system now before we are asked questions by Almajirici children on same. The Northern elites should start developing structures in achieving this goal.

Alabidun Abdulrahman is a Journalist and Public Affairs Analyst. He wrote from Wuye, Abuja via alabidungoldenson@gmail.com

Leave a Comment