One of the unfortunate developments arising out of the raging COVID-19 pandemic is the way in which state governments have been handling the issue of Almajiris in their various states. The Almajiris are boys entrusted to established Islamic clerics at a very young age for instruction and training in Islamic ways in Islamic societies. This institution and practice predates the coming of the colonial era especially in northern Nigeria which served as the predominant system of education and mentorship.
The coming of the modern educational system however shifted focus away from the Almajiri system in terms of recognition, supervision and assistance from the authorities. It was left largely in the hands of local Islamic authorities and institutions who are often not properly supervised and funded to carry out the necessary oversight to ensure conformity with new realities.
As a result of this, the Almajiri system which served as the pivot of the educational and religious needs of pre-colonial northern Nigeria was left to flounder. The young boys taken under the system invariably found themselves neglected and not properly catered for.
Years of such neglect have rendered the Almajiris adrift and without any adequate societal care. They suffer a double jeopardy of parental and societal neglect invariable becoming a blight on society. Very often, they are left to fend for themselves in ways that are not in conformity with the acceptable norms of society.
For years northern governors have tried to tackle these phenomena but these efforts have yielded very little results.
In the midst of the raging corona virus pandemic, northern governors have sought to relocate the Almajiris in their states to their states of origin. This goes against the rules of the nationwide lockdown which restricts inter-state travels in order to curb the spread of the virus.
We believe that this is an abdication of responsibility by the governors who are expected to find more compliant and acceptable ways of resolving this social menace. The approach adopted by northern governors to the issue has resulted in other states mostly in the southern part of the country in profiling and restricting northern youth collectively as Almajiris and restricting their movement into their states.
Almajiris despite their social status are Nigerians above everything else. They are entitled to the same constitutional rights as everyone else. The Nigerian society owes them a guarantee of their rights as bona fide citizens as they have not committed any known crime for being Almajiris.
It is therefore unfortunate that some governors have tried to profile northern youths moving to the south in search of the proverbial greener pastures as Almajiris and thus denying them entry into such states. Restrictions of movement of citizens of Nigeria of any class or origins without any proven fact of their guilt or culpability in any crime are discriminatory and unconstitutional. It is their right and as long as they do not constitute any criminal or security threat they should not be restricted.
We are concerned like many Nigerians that the profiling of northern youths in the south as Almajiris may become the norm once the COVID-19 eases. It is dangerous as it is capable of causing inter-ethnic tension among Nigerians. Every other day, Nigerians of various backgrounds travel across the country for various reasons without restrictions or hindrance. It is vital for commerce as well as for social interaction among Nigerians fostering our unity and strengthening our diversity as a people. Resorting to this measure of profiling bona fide Nigerians and restricting their movement under the guise of fighting the COVID-19 as some governors are doing without any cogent reasons but on a whim of prejudice runs contrary to our norms as a people and our extant laws. It should be discouraged before it does any damage to the fabric of our national interaction.