220 views | Olabisi Deji-Folutile | May 14, 2020
I don’t think anyone can doubt the commitment of Governor Nasir el’ Rufai to ending the practice of the Almajiri system in Kaduna State. Give it to him, his actions of late have shown that he is indeed tired of seeing child beggars on the streets of northern states. He didn’t mince his words either in a recent interview on Channels Television when he talked about leaving other northern governors behind should they decide to continue to treat the issue with levity. To him, that would be the governors’ business. But as far as he is concerned, the system is dead in Kaduna State.
That was probably the first time any northern governor would be emphatic about ending the age-long tradition in the region. To further prove that he meant business, he said the state had expanded its school capacity to integrate the freshly transferred Almajiris from other states into formal schools. According to him, the state has also reviewed the law that will formally prohibit the system.
Ordinarily, no governor should be celebrated for promising to enrol out-of-school children in school. After all, the Universal Basic Education Act of 2004 makes it compulsory for children to have compulsory nine years of education. But it is obvious that our leaders choose the laws to implement and the ones to ignore. The northern governors, in particular, have always talked about integrating the Almajiri system into formal education, but the children have always been on the streets. It was not until a few weeks back that the Kano State government decided to send child beggars in the state back to their home states. Other states in the north also did the same thing and somehow, it’s been a season of transfer and counter transfer of Almajiris amidst ban on interstate movements by the Federal Government. I may not support the way the children are being transported from one state to the other, especially at a time of a serious health pandemic like COVID-19, it is at least heartwarming that the governors are owning up to their problem and trying to take responsibility.
However, these governors would be deceiving themselves if they think that a mere transfer of kid beggars to their home states will solve the problem of street begging and illiteracy in their states. It goes beyond that. Education is just a means to an end. What happens when these children graduate from school? What plans are the governors making in terms of creating employment opportunities for them? What are the moves being made now to expand the states’ economies and provide business opportunities outside of government jobs? The governors must have a plan in place to sustain the army of children being born in the region daily? Can the resources in these states match the current rate of population growth? These are valid questions that should be answered. I doubt if there is any northern state expanding economically at the rate at which its population is growing at present. I am concerned about a region that has kept on breeding children as if they are going out of fashion and yet increasingly depending on federal allocation for survival. That is why I think the governors may have to confront the problem of overpopulation in the north once and for all.
I know that some people believe that the north deliberately allows its people to have many children in order to gain an electoral advantage over other parts of the country. They think the huge population figures often work wonders, especially during elections. Besides, they argue that these small children are handy when politicians want to foment trouble. Unfortunately, in reality, high population figures also connote great responsibilities. That is probably why some states would rather they keep the figures controlled than overstretch their resources. Does the north want the region to keep breeding at an uncontrolled rate or does it want children that it can adequately cater for?
Understandably, any conversation on population reduction can be tough, delicate and controversial especially in a region steeped in religion and tradition. Or, how for instance, do you tell a Muslim not to marry more than one wife or have as many children as he wants more so when the Holy Book sanctions it? But, truth be told, there is no escape route to this conversation. So, the sooner the governors address the situation, the better things would be for the region and by extension, the rest of the country. It should be obvious to all by now that governors in other parts of the country are wary of allowing the Almajiris in the north to escape to their states. Nobody wants to pay the price of uncontrolled births in the north. That is why some of them mount checks at their entry points to prevent these children from escaping to their territories. There are instances where some governors personally check vehicles carrying food items to be sure that these children are not hiding under the goods. Amazingly, some of these children have been caught hiding under goats and all kinds of stuff in their bid to escape to other parts of the country.
To imagine that this is still the case in a country that launched its first population control policy as far back as 1988, is unbelievable! More than 30 years ago, the policy had recommended an average of four children per family, marriage age of 18 for women and 24 for men. It had also advocated that pregnancies should be restricted to 18-35-year age range and at intervals of two years. I remember that a former military leader, General Ibrahim Babangida, led a popular campaign of four children per family during his regime as head of state. Similarly, in 2012, former President Goodluck Jonathan tried to encourage legislation on birth control. Unfortunately, the two of them did not achieve much success in this regard. Today, there are places in this country where you dare not talk about child spacing or birth control.
Honestly, this country is a hypocritical and highly religious society. Christians will tell you that God commands them to reproduce and fill the earth, never mind there are several aspects of their lives where they conveniently ignore God’s instructions. Likewise, the Muslims will claim that the Quran permits a man to marry up to four wives. These men will also cleverly remain silent on the precondition for marrying more than one wife -loving the women equally. I stand to be corrected, but I don’t know how a man can love two women equally. The other time, a lawmaker had the temerity of parading his four wives and 27 children at the National Assembly. Imagine a lawmaker publicly flaunting such in a country that is supposed to have a population policy of four children per family. Let’s be frank with ourselves, how many men can truly take care of 27 children and four wives under the current economic realities in today’s Nigeria?
The time has come for northern governors to lead the campaign on population control. Religious leaders should stop preaching that men should marry more than one wife. All the talk about the Holy Book saying a girl shouldn’t start her menstrual circle in her father’s house is only a message for the poor. How many rich people’s children have their first menstruation in their husbands’ houses? I don’t think persuasion can achieve the kind of results expected here. Therefore, the governors may, for instance, enact a law, restricting the number of children that a family could have to four. An average woman in the north could give birth to seven children whereas her counterpart in the south-west may not have more than four children. By the time a man married to four wives has seven from each wife, the children become 28. Is that not outrageous?
A report by the United Nations Population Division has predicted that Nigeria’s population will double to over 400 million by 2050. The population is said to be growing at between 2.6-2.8 per annum while our GDP has been on a constant decline. When you have more mouths to feed than available resources, you don’t need a seer to tell you that you will end up in penury. The population growth in the north is not sustainable. If the north continues to allow its people to give birth to children without restraint, the state will keep bearing the burden since hapless parents will keep abdicating their responsibilities to the state. For how long can a state take care of children born without planning?
Even if we don’t want to follow the model of the developed world in terms of their small family structure; we can at least take a leaf from them in terms of how they are managing their population in relation to their resources thereby enhancing the well being of their citizens.
Olabisi Deji-Folutile is the Editor-in-Chief, Franktalknow.com and member, Nigerian Guild of Editors. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org