COVID-19: Implications of Almajiri deportation

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Almajiris

The decision of the northern governors to stop the age-old almajiris system in that region is a welcome development, but what should be frowned at is the ongoing deportation of these children to their states of origin

By Anayo Ezugwu

BEFORE the outbreak of Coronavirus (COVID-19) almajiris on the streets of northern Nigeria beg for food and alms as a way of life. But with the spread of COVID-19 across the country, this group mostly children of the poor, who live far away from home under Islamic teacher, has become one of the casualties of COVID-19 in Nigeria.

Today, every state in northern Nigeria despises them. Even the Northern Governors Forum, NGF, has also outlawed almajiri as one of the measures to check the spread of the virus in the region. The story in the region today is that every almajiri must be deported to his/her state of origin to be rejoined with the parent.

Governor Nasir El-Rufai of Kaduna State confirmed that the ongoing deportation of the almajiris was the outcome of the agreement between the northern governors. Speaking on Channels Television, he explained that the governors are looking for ways to end the almajiri system because it has not helped anyone.

According to El-Rufai, over 30,000 almajiris have been sent back to their various states since the beginning of the policy. He noted that most of the children deported from Kano State would have died of the virus had they remained in the state. He acknowledged that the spread of the virus and the lockdown have provided the opportunity for the governors to relocate the almajiris.

Since the beginning of this policy, it has been movement from one state to another. Recently, the Kwara Police Command announced the interception of a truck conveying 200 almajiri children about to be off-loaded in the state. Ajayi Okasanmi, Kwara Police spokesman, said: “When the driver of the truck was interrogated, he said that they were coming from Funtua in Katsina State, despite the inter-state travel ban,” adding that the truck and the 200 Almajiri were escorted by fully-armed policemen to the Niger-Kwara boundary to where they will return to Katsina.

Earlier before that, the Taraba State government refused to take delivery of hundreds of almajiri children that arrived Jalingo from Lafia, Nasarawa State. The children were restricted to the vehicle that brought them for several hours without being provided food or water, then eventually ‘deported’ back to where they came from.

From Kano to Kaduna, Yobe, Sokoto, Zamfara, and every other state in northern Nigeria, the story of deportation and rejection of deported children are the same, with all of them claiming that the action is for the common good of the state and Nigeria in general. They said that their action was part of measures to curb the spread of COVID-19.

But the action of the northern state governors has once again reopened the debate over citizenship in Nigeria and the constitutionality of the deportation. For the records, section 41 of the 1999 Constitution as amended provides that “Every citizen of Nigeria is entitled to move freely throughout Nigeria and to reside in any part thereof, and no citizen of Nigeria shall be expelled from Nigeria or refused entry thereby or exit therefrom.”

Also, section 42 provides that “A citizen of Nigeria of a particular community, ethnic group, place of origin, sex, religion or political opinion shall not, by reason only that he is such a person – (a) be subjected either expressly by, or in the practical application of, any law in force in Nigeria or any executive or administrative action of the government, to disabilities or restrictions to which citizens of Nigeria of other communities, ethnic groups, places of origin, sex, religious or political opinions are not made subject.”

Niyi Akintola, Senior Advocate of Nigeria, SAN, blamed northern governors for not addressing the plight of the almajiri children in their states and for the rising cases of interstate deportation of the children. “Moving the almajiri children from one place to the other is in itself a confirmation of the lopsided structure we are operating in the country because if we are operating a proper structure, we wouldn’t have found ourselves in this quagmire.

“Today, Nigeria is yet to be a nation, it is a country of many nationalities and because of that, each component is trying to protect its territories. Ordinarily, it shouldn’t be. The government should be blamed. Education should be made compulsory. But in making it compulsory, it should be institutionalized in the country to the extent that whosoever refuses to send his/her child to school would go to prison.

“No government can deport Nigerians from any state where he or she decides to be, but there is a caveat there. The caveat is that in the face of a pandemic, every state government has the power to restrict movement, to confine people to a particular place and a governor can hide under the canopy of Infection Disease Act to restrict movement and confine people to their homes and that was what the president and governors have done in the circumstance,” he said.

On his part, Clement Nwankwo, human right lawyer, described the action of the governors as irresponsible. He said the federal government needs to take action to stop such irresponsibility. He said the rights of the almajiris being deported from one state to another were being incredibly violated, stressing that “if we do have a central government, a federal government that is active, states should be called to order”.

Nwankwo said what the state governors were simply doing was dispersing the spread of COVID-19. “If you consider reports coming in, almajiris, who were taken from Kano to Jigawa, Kaduna and the rest of the states are becoming dispersals of COVID-19,” adding that a responsible system of government should not allow for citizens to be deported from one state to the other.

“If you watch what is going on, the international community has hired flights to take their citizens out of several capitals across the world; we’ve seen that in Nigeria – British Airways moving citizens out of Nigeria, moving citizens out of several other countries around the world back home. Nobody is saying when you arrive as a British citizen we would deport you or make sure you go to your particular country or nation in the United Kingdom. People get in; and they are not even saying we should quarantine you.

“So, there are certain rights as a citizen that you have, and it doesn’t matter if a person is infected and is located and resident in any particular state. That state has a responsibility to take care of every person who is a citizen resident in their domain,” he said.

Likewise, Boss Mustapha, chairman, Presidential task Force for the Control of Coronavirus and the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, also joined in condemning the actions of the governors. He regretted that most of the almajiris being deported were minors, who needed people to be responsible for them.

“Most of them are minors. As a matter of fact, by the time they get to their teens they mature and become the Mallams. And I think every government has a responsibility given to it by the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria to provide for the welfare and the security of its citizens. I also believe that the governors taking this option have that at the back of their minds. The states in which these almajiris are operating, can we say that their welfare is being taken care of? Is adequate security being provided for them? And being minors, somebody has to take that responsibility. And I said we should look at it within this context,” he said.

Apart from the condemnation trailing the deportation, what is happening in northern Nigeria today as a result of uncontrolled birth does not come as a surprise to many. Muhammadu Sanusi II had consistently warned the northern elites on the dangers of allowing almajiri system to continue. “If you can’t feed your family, don’t send your child to beg on your behalf. If we continue to live in self-denial, we will live to cry,” he said.

Likewise, Sultan of Sokoto, Alhaji Sa’ad Abubakar II has on several occasions said “Almajiri does not represent Islam, but hunger and poverty. Islam encourages scholarship and entrepreneurship and frowns at laziness and idleness as exemplified by itinerant Almajiri. Therefore, an attempt must be made to stop the practice.”

Be that as it may, rather than deporting these children or blaming anybody, the federal and state governments should approach the National Assembly to initiate legislation that will outlaw the almajari tradition as a way of life.

– May 15, 2020 @ 18:05 GMT |

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