WE are glad to note that gradually but surely, the political leadership in the North has started making bold moves to eradicate street begging, especially by the Almajirai pupils of Islamic schools. A 2014 report by the United Nations Education Fund, UNICEF, indicated that Nigeria has the highest number of out-of-school children (13.2 million) in the world, and the North accounted for about 9.5 million or 72 per cent of them. This is mainly due to the persistence of the Almajiri culture, whereby parents abandon their children to Islamic mallams or clerics who deploy them to the streets to beg for food and money to survive. The situation has been worsened by Islamist insurgencies and sundry security threats across the North, with hundreds of communities and over 2.5 million people displaced. These abandoned children invariably become easy targets as recruits by criminals and terrorists.
The Almajiri culture appears to be prevalent in Northern Nigeria, Mali, Chad, Niger Republic and Northern Cameroon and nowhere else in the Islamic world. It has defied Western influences because the elite who embraced Western education made little effort to enlighten the grassroots or draw them into modern educational system which helps people to escape ignorance, poverty and destitution. Some Northern leaders like the Sultan of Sokoto, Sa’ad Abubakar III and the Emir of Kano, Muhammadu Sanusi II, have in recent years intensified the campaign for the eradication of the Almajiri system and the social maladies it breeds. Some political leaders have started keying into this. Former Governor of Jigawa State, Alhaji Sule Lamido, and also the former Governor of Borno State, Kashim Shettima, had introduced free, compulsory education up to secondary school level. Also, the Governor of Kaduna State, Mallam Nasir el Rufai, in efforts to eradicate the out-of-school syndrome, became the first in Nigeria to devote 40 per cent of the state’s annual budget to the education sector alone since 2015.
Governor Abdullahi Ganduje of Kano, whose state is the main epicentre of this menace also in addition to free, compulsory education up to secondary level, has taken steps to arrest street children caught begging and prosecute their parents. Thousands of volunteer teachers have also been recruited. We call on all governors in the North to copy the good examples of Governors el-Rufai and Ganduje to ensure that the Almajirai are removed from the streets, given sound education and offered a chance to contribute positively to the development of the nation. In addition to the enforcement of this laudable policy, extensive sensitisation must also be deployed to end the cultural resistance to Western education and family planning within the Northern grassroots. These are some of the ways to defuse the population time-bomb which uneducated and abandoned children represent.