There are fears of increased community transmission of COVID-19 following the decision of northern governors and some of their counterparts from the south to take thousands of almajirai back to their states of origin without concrete arrangements for their immediate welfare. Governors of the 19 states in the northern region had on Tuesday, April 21, insisted that the almajiri system in the region must be banned.
Some governors had in the past weeks sent thousands of pupils from tsangaya (traditional Islamic schools) to their states of origin. However, academics, experts on issues relating to children and activists have expressed mixed feelings over the development with some of them condemning the alleged “inhuman manner” by which the children were transported in trucks or crammed in buses without special attention to safety issues and social distancing.
Others said it was a good decision that the governors have finally come to terms with the realities of reforming the almajiri system but faulted the timing considering the ensuing lockdown meant to stem community transmission of the COVID-19. Records show that there are over 10 million almajirai scattered across the country under the “care” of malams who do not have the wherewithal to take care of them in terms of feeding and accommodation.
According to a 2014 UNICEF data, there are about 9.5 million children in Nigeria who are in the alternative education system, where parents put them in the care of itinerant Islamic teachers who travel with them to another state or town. The children mostly survive through begging for food and menial labour.
The April 21 meeting of the governors from the northern region via teleconferencing which was chaired by Governor Simon Lalong of Plateau State had 17 governors in attendance.