The COVID-19 seems to be the game-changer from the long neglect of the Almajiri issue in northern Nigeria.
The Almajiri system is one that poses a considerable social threat to the nation, yet it has never been given a serious thought like now.
The reasons, however, may not be far-fetched. It is either that the authorities were overwhelmed by the menace and had simply given up the battle or they have been made to believe it is a normal way of life since it is deeply rooted in the northern socio-cultural way of life.
Moreover, why would the northern political elites think of the Almajiris any more than ready-made tools and an army to be used to achieve their selfish political goals.
Believe it or not, these elites have benefitted indirectly from the system. But the gain of these elites is the loss of the mass society.
The current elite consensus on the need to reform the present system is indeed a game-changer.
The northern governors, in whose society the system thrives, were the ones to first beat the drum. That was preceded by a veiled intention by the Federal government to ban the practice.
But the trigger that released a deadly blow on the practice is the deadly COVID-19.
The overwhelming support for the ban of the practice and evacuation of millions of Almajiris to their parents could well be a ‘social revolution’ never experienced since independence.
This elite consensus also put pay to the Marxian belief that the elite are only united when they are faced with a common threat. By implication, whatever does not pose a threat to their interest is not their business, even if such poses a collective threat.
For instance, the conservative northern elite had a problem with critics of the Almajiri system. Someone like former Emir of Kano, Sanusi Lamido Sanusi, was an unrepentant critic of the system. He did not spare anyone as he hit hard on the parents, society and indeed the establishment. This was partly responsible for the several controversies he had with the establishment and his consequent dethronement.
It is in my opinion that notwithstanding the COVID-19, the Almajiri system could have eventually been consumed by its own internal contradiction, just like classical capitalism did. This is because it is incompatible with the current global ways of doing things.
As a matter of fact, the rise in terrorism, banditry, kidnapping and other social vices are symptoms of the internal contradiction of the system, which have begun to affect the normal functioning of the northern society.
But the action behind the new elite consensus is rather premature and blatantly reactive, such that if care is not taken, it might have a reverse effect on the society.
It is tempting, however, to belief that the authorities, who fall into the category of the elites, might have foreseen the danger of allowing these Almajiris to remain on the streets, in the face of the deadly COVID-19, which was why they had to hurriedly evacuate them to their parents.
But the social realities which were responsible for the thriving of the system remains and have not been addressed namely: poverty, illiteracy, culture, religion, biological push etc.
Hitherto, the over 7 million Almajiris were a societal burden who live on the mercy of whoever comes their way. Now, they would be a burden on families that may not be prepared economically, socially and psychologically to accommodate them.
On the other hand, these urchins that have remained on the streets for months, years and decades, may not be psychologically prepared to integrate into the normal society immediately.
A way out could have been to enrol them into a rehabilitation program, prepare a social and economic plan that would engage them in schools and gradual integration into their families.
Also, one question to ask is that, will the current decision to ban the practice by the northern governors stand the test of time. Do they have the political will to do so or are they been pushed by the exigencies of the time? This question must be answered.
Secondly, there is a need for a legal framework to give bite to any executive decision otherwise, the Almajiris would be pushed back to the streets as soon as COVID-19 is pulled out of the streets.
Lastly, the mainly illiterate northern population must be enlightened and educated on the threat of this practice.
The majority are still ignorant of the benefits of birth control, education and a progressive mindset. They are still enmeshed in the remotely conservative northern culture and the oft misinterpreted religious injunction to reproduce, multiply and fill the earth. Any teaching and practice outside of these are perceived as un-Islamic and outside of culture.
It is indeed difficult if not impossible to reverse these realities in northern society at present. The damage has already been done. But the wisdom is not to dissipate much energy on transforming the present society, but to plan for the future generation of northerners, a generation that would be progressive, educated, skillfully and socially balanced.