By ‘Tope Fasua
I was glad the other day when the federal government announced a ban – yes an outright ban – on the very frightening and future-usurping practice called the Almajirai system. I had written on this page, more than twice, about how that is the singularly most serious drawback for Nigeria, today and tomorrow. If we could get all the children on our streets back into school, we may be able to get a sane society of developing and progressive minds, who are ready, able and willing to contribute to modernity and be more useful to our societies, maybe in 50 years. For every day we postpone, we are elongating that process by several decades. As it is presently, Nigeria is one country that is producing in the millions, people who will ensure its continued backwardness and eventual destruction in years to come. Deliberately so.
Then the government backed down as soon as it placed the ban. Just as it did in the instance of withdrawing policemen from money-miss-roads and some top civil servants. Every government since 1999, at some point or the other, has announced that it would remove policemen from Nigeria’s big men who are scared of their own shadows – especially because their hands are unclean. Every government complains about the dehumanisation and denudation of our policemen, who have been seen all over Nigeria carrying the bags of and running errands for the girlfriends and concubines of anyone close to government, or anyone with enough ill-gotten money to afford hiring policemen by the dozens. We know that there are more policemen guarding people for undisclosed fees than there are helping our people on the streets. But more than previous governments, the Buhari administration messed up by reversing itself after only two days. The order never even came into force despite being made. The same cycle is observable for the perennial problem of ghost workers, the use of sirens and motorcades, and other cancers eating away at the soul of Nigeria today.
While children of other countries are learning coding, robotics and so on, en-masse, we leave a majority of our children to wither and learn nothing but what they pick up on the streets as they brawl to survive on morsels of cheap food. It is the most egregious sin. It is totally unacceptable.
So, we admit that this government has been quite ineffectual. But I wished it would go ahead and do the needful for these children who are being abused en masse. Parents do not own children. Cultures do not own children. Neither does religion. Everyone born into this world should be given organised state protection as a fundamental human right, especially at the earlier stages of life. It is like planting a tree, or a crop. Those initial stages are very important. In our instance, we are leaving our most-important asset to roam about, to atrophy and damage mentally, and to be suboptimal in their usefulness to society at old age – save for a tiny few who are lucky to escape that trap of anomie. While children of other countries are learning coding, robotics and so on, en-masse, we leave a majority of our children to wither and learn nothing but what they pick up on the streets as they brawl to survive on morsels of cheap food. It is the most egregious sin. It is totally unacceptable. It must, however, be said, that because of growing mal-governance, more and more children are dropping out of school, or not even attending for one day, all over the country. Sorry, I have to repeat this, but the North holds the laurel on this terrible practice that Buhari has been bullied away from. There is no way to butter or sugarcoat this fact.
I recall Usman Suleiman Ja’u, a young lawyer who charged Buhari to get these children off the streets during the last presidential debate. He was so passionate that he almost wept. I recall the efforts of Dr. Adamu Tilde and a growing number of enlightened Northerners who are greatly worried by this problem and are beginning to sensitise the people and put government under pressure. I know that there are hardliners who push back against the efforts of these enlightened and compassionate few. There are those who believe we should continue this way. There are those who see nothing wrong in the elitist approach by which a few are sent on PhDs on expensive scholarships, while millions get nothing by way of basic education. I believe those ones are the real enemies of humanity. In fact, they are great sinners, because I believe God wants every mind born into Nigeria to be developed and to attain its full potential.
No people treat a country’s future the way we do Nigeria’s. I am however hoping that this chickening-out is not because a few Mallams threatened mayhem. I think the government should grow some spine and take them on. For the sake of our future. This country seems already mortgaged on several fronts. Let’s not kid ourselves.
There is an interesting phenomenon to explore here though. Some people conflate the young cattle herders to be equally, or nearly the same as Almajirai. Certainly not. Sometimes I take mental stock of the cattle being herded by some of these boys who may not be more than five years old in many instances. I then marvel at the responsibility they have been given so early in life. Imagine a five-year old controlling 100 cattle heads worth about N150,000 each? That is a five-year old boy controlling N15 million! Imagine the responsibility of protecting so many animals. I believe those herders are in a different world of their own, and the problem that may emanate from there will be clear if we study that economic system thoroughly. Perhaps the system is breaking as a result of population increase and that is why we are having some breakaways from the Fulanis in the West African region, who may end up as cattle rustlers or take to higher crimes like kidnapping, robbery, and banditry. Those guys caught along Kaduna expressway look like they are from that stock. However, from what I understand, it will be incredibly difficult, if not impossible, to find a single Fulani boy among the Almajirais. Aristocratic and middle-class Fulanis are known to train their children in both Islamic, business and English education thoroughly, sparing no expense. We see the result of that everywhere. So this Almajirai thing also belies a serious and age-long class war and class structure in the North, which may have been long-settled, but now needs to be unsettled for the sake of the collective.
I have listened to a few people defend the backing down of Buhari on the Almajirai matter. Some said the government should first create jobs before tackling Almajirai. Some said the government should first convince the people of the region that banning Almajirai is good for them. Some said it will cause social upheavals. I think none of these arguments are tenable. The longer we postpone this, the more difficult it will be to resolve in the future, and the more painful the correction will be. This is not a problem we can pamper our ways through. Except we aren’t serious about this country. Sometimes it feels just that way; that we are ready to sell this country if we haven’t already. No people treat a country’s future the way we do Nigeria’s. I am however hoping that this chickening-out is not because a few Mallams threatened mayhem. I think the government should grow some spine and take them on. For the sake of our future. This country seems already mortgaged on several fronts. Let’s not kid ourselves.
‘Tope Fasua, an economist, author, blogger, entrepreneur, and recent presidential candidate of the Abundant Nigeria Renewal Party (ANRP), can be reached through email@example.com.