We all have seen dirty raggedly clothed bare-footed boys aged from as young as 3 roaming the streets of northern Nigeria, holding bowls and begging for food and/or alms. These children estimated at more than 10 million are sent from many villages and towns into cities under the care of incapable traditional scholars, Mallamai, to learn Quran, a tradition of hundreds of years that since outlived its usefulness. Today, these children hardly learn any Quran and are in fact sent by their poor ignorant parents as a form of subtle rural-urban migration and escape of responsibilities. To say the least, the minors end up as potential victims of all sorts of exploitation from child labour to forced homosexuality! This s not a breaking news or news at all in Northern Nigeria, it is normal! We only complain, occasionally, then forget about it as life continues.
The Journey So Far:
We (the so-called informed Muslim northerners) all have seen how bleak the future of our society seems at the face of an army of uneducated and unloved improperly street raised children. Already we know that even in Nigeria, we are having the worst figures for poverty, education and health. But we don’t care!
We (the so-called informed Muslim northerners) all know two things can be done to end the plight of Almajirci. One is to force our state governments to enforce some legislation banning Almajirci and protecting every child’s right to education. Another is to set up non-governmental organisations and seek funds from so many ever-willing donor bodies as well as World Bank, that way we will not only solve a problem that will help UN realise SDGs, but will secure so many more advantages to us. But we only occasionally lament, and life goes on!
We now can all see how one of us (a Reverend Father) is coming up with a brilliant proposal. Since he has set up an NGO and must have spent sleepless nights developing the proposal, he most likely has attracted generous grants from donor agencies and is now out to implement his project. But he is a Christian clergyman and we are now, all of a sudden, concerned about the safety of children already sleeping on the streets as well as suspicious that Father Mathew Hassan Kukah has a Christian agenda on the children. Already, the Muslim Rights Concern, MURIC has REJECTED the offer of the Reverend.
Digging Deeper into the Roots:
For an average Muslim, the most important identity is Islam. Muslims believe that although living a decent life on earth is desirable, the ultimate aim is to attain paradise after death. As such, the biggest loss a Muslim can make is to lose his connection to his faith as well as the prospect of his hereafter.
This explanation is very important for others to understand us as people. Already many critics think we are being foolish to reject the proposal considering its many advantages. However, going by our psychology, all these material benefits may amount to nothing since the “faith” of the children may not be guaranteed in the hands of Kukah.
Why We Didn’t Act?
The truth is we haven’t made any serious attempts to ban almajirci or to discourage parents from sending minors to begging. The closest we have achieved is when Sarkin Kano Muhammadu Sanusi II proposed a family law in Kano, which has greeted by widespread suspicion and rejected.
Psychologically, I think there are 2 factors responsible for this inaction. One is the fact that we subconsciously live in a stratified society, and even though one may not face strict physical barriers while moving up the ladder from poverty, the society hardly makes any effort to help one. When you’re dying you will be given food to eat, but few will make prolonged efforts to ensure you’re rightly educated or trained if you’re not their child. Sadly, poor parents don’t even actively believe they should fight both ignorance and poverty, at least for their children. This is also the psychology of our state governments.
The second thing is, as Dr Zainab Usman, opined is our clinging unto outdated culture and extraordinary resistance to change. This might have been strengthened by the suspicion that every attempt at change is an attempt at weakening our faith. Therefore, it is easier for a state governor to look the other way than to enforce any legislation banning almajirci, since suspicion from the masses may also mean loss of confidence and less votes and banning almajirci by itself will expose another limitation, i.e. inadequate schools. However, these are only proposed reasons, NOT excuses! We have NO excuses, absolutely.
Should Kukah be Trusted?
The answer is “No!”. 21st century is not built on trust. It is built on legal terms and conditions. MURIC might have rejected Kukah’s offer based on suspicion that the faith of the children might be influenced. However, this may not happen especially if legally-binding agreement is entered between every father of an almajiri, government and the Kukah’s project to protect the faith of the children. There are many laws that can be utilised to prosecute any NGO that uses its humanitarian aid to convert children to another religion. Of course, as Mal. Ibrahim Waziri suggested, an elaborate governing council with muslim leaders can be constituted to supervise the affairs of the children under Kukah.
Indeed, it might have pricked ego of so many that they (is that “we”?) failed to think outside the box and it took a Reverend father to solve the most daunting Muslim problem in northern Nigeria. But of course, may be this is the price they (is that we?) have to pay. It may even turn out to be the much-needed wake-up call and challenge for us all to do something similar.
But this is not the first time we are failing to provide aid to ourselves. Already the highest donors in our IDP’s are not among us. While we continue spending lavishly on weddings and turbaning ceremonies, it seems others are paying more attention to our problems of the poorest and most vulnerable among us and coming all the way across oceans to help them. Already we have seen how some of the funds provided by these international organisations for our IDPs ended up stolen by some of us!
It’s time to act! It’s time to hold our state governments and federal lawmakers responsible! I keep repeating this (though it will be a topic on its own soon) that future of Nigeria is regional. It’s all about how a state or region harness its peculiar potentials to reap the many benefits one Nigeria has got to offer. Federalism gives so much power to states that the state don’t know of or pretend not to know in order to shift responsibility to federal government! It’s time to act! It’s time for northern Nigerian Muslims to dig deeper into why we are behaving the way we are and seek solutions for our problems by ourselves! If we don’t do that, someone will surely see an opportunity in it, and it will come with a “price”.
Dr Ungogo is an “angry” Northern Nigerian and hopes to challenge us all to ACT before it is too late! He can be reached via [email protected]