By Mohammed Sabo Keana
The constitution of the federal republic of Nigeria, states that the security and welfare of the citizens, shall be the primary responsibility of the government, but successive administrations have made little or no commitment towards this constitutional obligations to millions of children who are sent into the life of Almajiri in northern Nigeria. According to recent government statistics, there are 13.5 million children who are not in formal education in Nigeria, the highest in the world. Out of these, about 9 million of them can be found in Northern Nigeria— in form of Almajiri children— who also experience some of the worst form of child rights violations in recent history.
The 2019 general elections, presents an opportunity for us as Almajiri Child Rights Advocates, to engage and bring this to the consciousness of those seeking various offices in the coming elections. We asked the major contenders for the Presidency, Governorship and legislative candidates about their plans to address the Almajiri crisis— which is one of the most pressing issue in Northern Nigeria today and here are some of the candidates’ commitments.
PROF. KINGLSEY MOGHALU : Presidential Candidate [YPP]
The Almajiri problem is one of the most striking manifestation of breakdown of social order in many parts of Nigeria, especially in northern Nigeria. My government will work with relevant state governments in the northern part of this country to eradicate the problem of Almajiri, by providing them with both quranic and formal education, skills and also addressing poverty which makes their parents send them into the street.
We are going to do this without compromising their fate , they are Muslims and they have the right to remain Muslims, but all Muslims have the right to productive live.
The Almajiri problem, where millions of children are roaming the street of an important part of the country begging,homeless,poor and uneducated is unacceptable to me as president of Nigeria. These children deserve a better life, they deserve to be educated and skilled, they deserve to have healthcare and protected and we will make sure we provide all these As president, I will work with northern leaders to arrive at a consensus as to how we can end the Almajiri crisis but whether it will be done, it must be done! You can take it from me, we will work to end the Almajiri crisis.
MUHAMMADU BUHARI: Presidential Candidate [APC]
When asked a question by an Almajiri child advocate on the issue of the Almajiri children, during “The Candidate” debate session, Buhari said, “On the Almajiri issue, we have to look at the 3 tiers of government responsible. The federal, state and the local government and the allocation of resources relative to the resources available. The question of Almajiri children is lack of basic primary education which are local government problem, even if the Centre has extra money, it won’t take money to build class rooms, equip them and employ qualified teachers from the federal revenue, while it is the duty of the local government.
“If the local government are not given the money by the governors, then it is up to them to come together and scream loud enough for Nigeria to hear them, so that there will be proper allocation of resources by the constitutional means’’.
Buhari emphasized that, the responsibility of primary education for Almajiri children is under the state and local government, absolving the federal government of the responsibility for the Almajiri crisis.
SOWORE OMOYELE: Presidential Candidate [AAC]
Regarding the issue of addressing the education of Almajiri children, my plan is specific and we are going to match them with budgeting per head. As soon as we are sworn in, we will allocate a hundred thousand Naira to return every child that is out of school in Nigeria back to school, until such a time they graduate.
If Nigeria today spends N14,000 on every prisoner per day, my government will spend a N100,000 per year on a child to take them back to school. About 1.3 trillion for 13.5 million children out of school.
The classification of children as Almajiri or pure water sellers are unnecessary. A child that is not in school is a child deprived of education. It doesn’t matter the location—whether you are in the north or south and you are not in school, I will have a problem with your parents, and if I cannot send your child to school you should have a problem with me as a president of your country .
We will bring police to enforce the education or the army if necessary, it will then become a crime for a parent for not letting their children go to school. Parents will be prosecuted as they are leveling war against the state if they don’t send their children to school. It’s better to use funds for our children than to be paying millions to senators who are not doing anything.
KHADIJAT IYA ABDULLAHI: Vice Presidential Candidate [ANN]
The first thing we are going to do, is to strengthen and upgrade all the systems of the National Identity Management Commission (NIMC) for it to function better and for us to know the number of Almajiri are out there. We also need to work with the parents, because when we identify them [the Almajiri through NIMC] we would be able to trace their parents and work in tandem with them. We are also going to look at the Child Rights Act because it is important for the Child Rights Act to start working across all the States.
Another thing is massive sensitization, going into communities, working with Civil Society Organizations to ensure that they work in partnership with more people and organizations that are into child right development or education to go into the hinterland of the communities especially in the North, to dissuade people from taking their children out and lastly, parents would be given a certain stipend to take care of their children and support their welfare.
PROF. MOHAMED ALI PATE: Gubernatorial Candidate, Bauchi State[PRP]
The issue of Almajiri is really linked to a broader issue of the number of children that are out of school in the region. In Bauchi state, we have more than 1.2 million children that are out of school.
numeracy and literacy in Bauchi state and in part of the northeast, is less than 30% among children between 5 and 16 years of age and there are hundreds of thousands of children roaming the street in the name of Almajirranci that are not in school and probably not getting the right religious education that their parents have hoped for. To me, that is a sign of a broken system that does not value the basic right of a child to get educated.
If we are successful, our administration will set target to reduce the number of out-of-school children and ensure that right legislations are in place for parents to uphold their parental responsibility towards their children in our states.
ABBAH YUSUF: Governorship Candidate, Kano state[PDP]
The issue of Almajiri crisis is something we must be very serious about. What we will do first, is to have a census of the numbers of children and to identify their true locations or state of origins—those that are indigene of kano, we will ensure that they are taken off the street to school and those from other states or nations are returned to their homes. Our administration will enact a law against street begging, we are going to enforce the law to make sure no Almajiri child is on the street begging.
HON. BEN JOHNSON: House of Assembly Candidate, Adamawa state[ANN]
If I am elected as member of state assembly, one of the major thing that I will do, is to focus on the issue of education by bringing a radical law that will enhance the girl child education and the Almajiri children are forced to school.
Yes, we will force them to school because some of them wouldn’t want to go to school but we will force them and it will be made a free education. We will have a special task force that will follow street by street to make sure every child of school age are in school. We will use force because that is the major obligation any leader can have for his children and future leaders. Formal education is compulsory for every child in this country and as a legislature, we have to make sure every child gets the opportunity.
SA’IDU MUSA ABDULLAHI: House of Representative Candidate, Niger State [APC]
One of the reason I joined active politics is to bring an end to Almajiri crisis in Northern Nigeria and we will ensure that we get these children off the streets and their enrolment level well enhanced by increasing investment in their education and welfare. If elected, I am going to work with my colleagues to make sure we propose policies that will do away Completely with the growth of Almajiri practice in northern Nigeria.
According to a recent UNICEF report, Nigeria currently accounts for nearly 20 per cent of all of Africa’s births and 5 per cent of the global total. This projected population increase underscores the need for government at all levels to prioritize and increase investment in the education system that can take 13.5 million children back to school while ensuring that the educational system is adequate enough to accommodate more in the future. Failure to do so, will mean that the country’s out-of-school population, will triple between now and 2030, preventing children from developing to their full potential, which could have far more consequences for our country.
Prioritizing investing in children and youth is imperative to establishing the strongest foundation for Nigeria’s future that is safe, secure, prosperous and equitable for its most precious assets—its children and youth. Investment in the education and wellbeing of our children is an investment that our politicians we will be voting for come February 16 and March 2, 2019, must and should prioritize.
Whoever wins, we must demand for accountability to ensure they live up to their commitments!
Mohammed Sabo Keana is the Team Lead of Almajiri Child Right Initiative[ACRI]—a support and advocacy platform that advocates for social inclusion of Almajiri children who are out of school, abused and exploited in the northern part of Nigeria.