No nation in the world neglects its youth and expect to be at peace. The Almajiri system being practiced in the entire Northern enclave was a nuclear bomb waiting to explode and is now exploding.
I predicted the present insecurity in the North 25 years ago when I was doing my national youth service (NYSC) in Borno State. I have traversed the North East, North West, North Central, and have witnessed the Almajiri phenomenon. My personal encounter with them remains scary till today. I remember telling people around me and even wrote an article about it in a national newspaper in 1998, warning that if the federal and northern state governments failed to find a quick fix to the Amajiri issue, the future would be bleak for the North and the nation at large. We are now in that future today.
In our NYSC Camp in Potiskum, Yobe State, the almajiris were allowed to invade the camp at will. The Military personnel manning the gate were instructed to always open the gate for them especially in the afternoon when lunch was being served. Most afternoon, the authorities ensured we are served a local diet that majority of the corps members (majorly from the Southern part of Nigeria) did not like (Brabiscu).
The young boys, dirty, unkempt, trooped in with their plates in their hundreds. We had no choice but to give them the brabiscu as soon as we are served at the kitchen. We were always wondering about where they came from. When I couldn’t eat brabiscu, I would go to a restaurant in the Mammy Market in the camp to buy and eat better meal. There was a day I was in the restaurant eating. As I looked back to request for water, my plate of food was gone. I couldn’t believe my eyes when I peeped outside and saw four young almajiris eating my food hungrily without scruples. The restaurant owner quickly went on her knees begging me to leave them, warning that if I beat them, the consequence might be bloody. She had to serve me another plate of rice-free.
How will you manage a situation where millions of children as young as four years are left by their insensible parents to go and survive by themselves on the streets where they are at the mercy of Islamic teachers who are ready to indoctrinate them with religious extremism? Unfortunately this Islamic teachers become the only guardian they have; he mold their faith by his own belief; he provides food and sometimes shelter them under a tree in harsh weather. When he has nothing to feed them, he sends them to beg on the streets.
The moment their polygamous father realise they are old enough to beg, he gives them plates and send them out to cater for themselves. They leave home at that early age, and become wild on the street. The children lack parental care and never know any family values.
From the streets they form groups and move gregariously and menacingly about towns and cities. Some of them are groomed by radical Islamic scholars who radicalized them. Majority grew up and become enemy of the state; and social renegade to the society. Former Emir of Kano Sanusi Lamido Sanusi at various fora condemned this regional societal menace that breeds criminality.
Unfortunately, with Nigeria’s return to democracy in 1999, unscrupulous politicians find them as valuable human resource for political thuggery to rig elections and terrorize oppositions; they are cooked for criminality, armed with guns and machetes to kill, maim and destroy.
Not only did they become instruments for destabilization in the hands of Politicians, international terrorist groups like Al Qaeda, ISIS, Hezbolar find them available human capital base for the spread of their islamization agenda in Nigeria. Boko Haram was borne out of a sour relationship with the former governor of Borno State Senator Alli Modu Sheriff. They have become so formidable that the entire military arms of Nigeria, fully stretched, have not been able to contain them. From Boko Haram, other coordinated insurgent groups have emerged terrorizing the entire nation. They come under all sorts of anecdote such as banditry, killer herdsmen, cattle rustlers, Fulani kidnappers etc.
The northern part of the nation has not known peace for over ten years now. When the outgoing Chief of Army Staff Lt. General Tukur Yusuf Buratai (Rtd) declared recently that the insurgents in the North will not go for the next 20 years, the nation was shocked, but those in the know, knew that the combatant General who had spent his entire six years tenure as Chief of Army Staff battling the insurgents, was damn right.
As long as poor people are allowed to give birth to children they cannot cater for; babies that are easily weened into the Almajiri system, raised through youth poverty and delinquency, the North will never know peace. The federal government and some Northern state governments have made the situation so dire right now. This is because of the way they are handling the issue; which gives vent to the declaration of General Buratai that the insurrection may not end in the next 20 years. Moreso, the leadership has politicized the crisis and institutionalised kidnapping by continuously negotiating with the bandits and kidnappers. They justify negotiation/ransom paying mediation approach as politically correct methodology of dealing with it. The presidency is dealing with the issue with kids gloves. Our Commander in Chief President Buhari is not ready to declare the crisis as act of terrorism. The body language and utterances of some political and religious leaders in the North have continuously emboldened the criminals who now see insurgency and other criminal acts as a sustainable lucrative business. Criminals now dictate terms and conditions for negotiation; they are being begged to surrender and accept amnesty. No serious nations in the world follow that route to end terror acts and succeed.
If the leaders in the North fail to find solution to the almajiri social system, they will continue to breed banditry, kidnapping and all kinds of criminal acts and the region may never know peace. They must begin to invest in their people, start orientation campaign about responsible parenting, family values, and come together as a region to re-invigorate the almajiri and nomadic education program started by former President Goodluck Jonathan GCFR.
Odusote is the director, Re-Ignite Public Affairs Limited, a strategy-driven research-based solution provider in the Public Affairs space for business and government in Nigeria.
He can be reached via firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com