By Mohammed Sabo Keana
Since the index case of the novel coronavirus (COVID19) was recorded in Nigeria, we have witnessed a flurry of activity from several state governments and a presidential order for social distancing and isolation, specifically focused on the FCT, Lagos and Ogun, on March 29, 2020. This was followed by the approval of intervention funds to support a national response and alleviate the effects of the lockdown on the most vulnerable citizens.
After monitoring implementation of these directives and interventions for the last 10 days, we note with sadness that an important constituent of vulnerable Nigerians has not been planned for. Almajiri children and the entire system that supports them cannot survive a business-as-usual approach to the demands of the rapidly escalating pandemic.
Whereas, formal schools in different parts of the country have been suspended to control the likely spread of the pandemic within their vicinities, similar measures have not been implemented in Almajiri schools. Considering the already dire living conditions of Almajiri children, especially with regards to sanitation, feeding and personal hygiene, we believe there is no environment of graver risk of spreading the virus than these establishments.
Furthermore, as conditional cash transfers and other targeted interventions such as distribution of food items commenced, we noticed a complete absence of provision for this constituency in its implementation.
We therefore call on Federal and state governments to implement an order for closure of Almajiri schools in the affected locations, and provide necessary transportation for relocation of the children to their families where necessary. Federal government should expand its targeted interventions, including the proposed continuation of the school feeding program, to accommodate Almajiri school proprietors who cannot relocate some of the children due to inaccurate or inefficient guardian tracing in light of the movement restrictions.
State governments to institute minimum requirements for hand washing and social distancing in Almajiri schools that will be allowed to continue operations for any reason.
Well meaning Nigerians to reach out to these Almajiri children within their community to compliment Government efforts.
On our part, we commit to continue working with partners to support and educate the Almajiri children of the threat of COVID-19 and what they can do to protect themselves.