For the last 20 years, Northern Nigeria has debated, with minimal progress, on the fate of its Almajiri system and the thousands of children trapped within it, susceptible to neglect and abuse and misunderstood. There have been many interventions to solve the problem of Almajiri, or restructure the system to better protect their rights and freedoms. But so far, we have only had temporary solutions, and no real road map. That road map has become more urgent now that the country is dealing with Covid-19, a global pandemic that is extra-hard on people with compromised immune systems. With poor nutrition, overwork leading to exhaustion and the stress of living such a hectic lifestyle, far too many Almajiri in Northern Nigeria are at risk of death and no representation.
This is why the Kaduna state government initiative to evacuate stranded Almajiri from neighbouring states and countries and absorb them into the state’s initiatives to curb the virus is commendable. Hajiya Hafsat Baba, who heads the Kaduna State Commissioner for Human Services and Social Development has been at the vanguard of this movement and she announced the government recently crossed the milestone of 35,000 Almajiri evacuated from 17 other states in the Federation and reintegrated in Kaduna. Partnering with the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) for funding and documentation, the ministry was documenting, counselling, and providing basic healthcare to the Almajiri evacuated from other states.
The state is reuniting these Almajiri, all of whom are either Kaduna state indigenes or have their families living in the state, and taking on the responsibility of enrolling them in the appropriate level of Western schooling for their education levels, with strict warning that parents who enroll wards into Almajiri school without adequate monitoring and access to Western education could be prosecuted for negligence and face time in jail.
It is refreshing to see a state take such interest in the poorest and most disadvantaged groups in their state and we encourage more states to follow Kaduna’s lead.
Edwin Okolo is an author and journalist who has worked with YNaija, TheNativemag and the Naked Convos.