By Gift Olivia Samuel, The Sight News
ABUJA—Presently, Nigeria is battling with a whopping 13.2 million out-of-school children, according to statistics released by the Universal Basic Education Commission [UBEC] in 2018. Meanwhile, lack of accountability from the government, corruption and social apartheid among the northern elites and political class, have been listed as some of the major factors leading to this, especially in northern Nigeria.
This, was disclosed to The Sight News in a recent interview with Mohammed Sabo Keana, 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 the country.
Keana, who noted that the government, northern society, elites and leaders have over the years turned blind eyes to the issue, remarked that the Almajiri Child Right Initiative is advocating, engaging and holding them accountable to the fact that they are leaders and must demonstrate leadership by finding a sustainable solution to this century-long problem, that, has been a pressing issue in the northern part of the country.
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TSN: How long have you been doing this?
MSK: We have been doing this for the past four years now. We found out that, if you have children who are not educated enough to think rationally, to know what is good and bad and are exposed to abuse from childhood and grow up becoming angry at the society, they can be easily influenced by anybody to take up arms.
Of course we know that the Almajiri system of education precludes millions of children from having formal education and denying them of opportunities for a better life, so, when they grow up to become young adults, they will have no meaningful life to live or jobs to do to help themselves and even the society, and so, if you offer them any thing to do anything, they will gladly join the Boko haram. All that challenged us as citizens to focus attention on these issues and to know why we are still having children in the name of Almajirinci who are out-of-school, who are deprived of a better future and opportunities like every other child, so this is how we began.
TSN: People Say There is a Religious Undertone to this, What is Your Take on that?
MSK: Yes! There have been religion, cultural and economic undertone to this but I will say, that as at the last 20 years, these three factors do not play that significant role any more. These three reasons have been used to justify abuse, exploitation and marginalisation of people across the world.
Let me state that religion, yes brought about the Almajiri issue, culture sustains it and poverty enhances it.
In the aspect of religion, parents at the early times, needed their children to go get religious education and there were fewer or no religious schools around, so, they sent their children far away and that was normal but the form of Almajirinci we are seeing now, is not being justified in the religion.
In the culture aspect, because Islamic religion came from the Northern part of the country, you could see that Almajirinci is more dominant in the north. In the 80s, people from the north central and even the south-west had people who went for Almajirinci when the system was providing support for these children and they were not begging nor sleeping in the shabby conditions that we see and they were not exposed to the danger and abuse that we see today.Over the years, due to economic realities, people no longer support these children anymore unlike before. The reality of the day is that, people are becoming less empathetic to the plight of others. So, it is a moral obligation that was not fulfilled by the society and of course, religion, culture and economy indeed played roles in sustaining this.
Most importantly, there are new factors that are playing more roles now in sustaining than religious factor and the rest. I think we have overcome the cultural and religious barriers keeping our children out of school.
The new barriers are; Lack of accountability from government, corruption and social apartheid among the northern elites and political class.
Whereby, they have normalized the fact that the children of the poor could be on the street and they[the elites] lack that remorse and empathy to connect the fact that the children of the poor in the street could be their own children and that they also have the moral responsibility to ensure that these children are in school.
Because of these factors, which to me are somehow interconnected, due to social apartheid, these elites don’t care about the conditions of other children, because their children are in good schools and so, while in government, the policies, monies and resources that should have been initiated to ensure that Almajiri system is being reformed to bring it in tandem with the Sustainable Development Goals [SDGs], is usually ignored and the monies diverted to private pockets and other projects that will bring them kick backs.You see these leaders undertaking very huge infrastructural development and so, I think that if they have the vision and ideas of trying to solve infrastructural development, what stops them from having the idea and vision to resolve human capital development such as Almajiri issue?
TSN: There are about 13.2 Million Children of School Age Presently Out of School, According to the UBEC, What Role has Corruption Played?
MSK: There is a connection between corruption and the high rate of out-of-school children in Nigeria. Lack of government accountability incentivize corruption—When you budget money for building of schools or to provide teachers’ welfare and because the children of those who are supposed to provide these services are not in that school, politicians instead, use those money to undertake infrastructural projects so they can get some form of kickbacks. But most importantly, is the fact that, when there is poor accountability on the part of government,the budget that would have been used to provide those services will mean being kept in a safe account and later diverted to private pockets.
When the followers fail to make demands to the politicians in government, on the fact that their children are out of school and that more teachers are needed, the politicians will not have it in their consciousness that these people are aware that these infrastructure should be provided.There are huge budget meant for education and welfare of children. According to Universal Basic Education, there are few states that provide counterpart funding to access the funds from UBE. They will rather not provide the counterpart funding because there won’t be kickbacks. This is how selfishness, greed and corruption on the part of those in government, contributes to the issue of out-of-school children.
TSN: What is the Impact of the High Rate of Out-of-School Children on the Society?
MSK: There are economic, security and even democratic impact. On the economic consequences of out-of-school children, it means we will grow up to have a large population that are unproductive and useless— in the sense that, they cannot contribute meaningfully to the economic development of the country. Because these children are not educated and lack skills, they cannot engage in productive jobs that will earn them enough to help themselves and remit back to the community. The issue of poverty is about productivity. When you produce lower than what you need, it increases poverty.
The solution to poverty is education. It is not to say that if you are educated you automatically become rich, but education gives you a fair opportunity.
On the security part of it, we have clearly seen the part one of it. Because, if you have children who are not educated, if I come with my N500 and give them, they can easily follow me. According to research by an education trust fund in the Netherlands released in late 2018, it says, that children or people who are not educated are nine times more likely to be used for terrorism and violent activities. So, the connection between security and the out-of-school children or lack of education for our young children is clear and direct.
Another aspect is the democratic implications of it. Research has shown, that it is easy to govern an educated population. So, when you have more than 20 million uneducated people, democracy becomes a mockery, in the sense that, these citizens will not have the knowledge to question the democratic principles and the policies offered by politicians and that’s why it’s easy to deceive them to vote for politicians over and over again without having the dividends of their voting.
If you have citizens that are permanently disenfranchised from voting and being voted for, then democracy is being undermined. The Almajiri children who are denied education, simply means, that, they can never ever be elected in our country. They are permanently disenfranchised from ever being rulers in our country. It means, that the leadership deficit we are talking about will continue with these millions of children because our electoral process requires that you must have certain level of education before you can be voted for. This disenfranchisement is the highest level of injustice that any body should face. Article 1 of the Human Rights Convention, says, that every human being is born free and equal in right and Almajiri children are being completely deprived. They experience the worst form of abuse and exploitation.
TSN: The Elections are Around the Corner, How Can the Government be Held Accountable to Ensure that these Children are Taken Care of?
MSK: In the last few months, we have engaged candidates at all levels to make their commitments to ending this issue. We hope to make this demand to them, get their commitment and use it to hold them accountable if elected and with this, we have a tool. We need to engage them before elections and if we begin to do these, politicians will have it in their consciences and utilize their resources to help solve our problem. The whole issue of out-of-school children and lack of demands of accountability are intertwined. Citizens have roles to play to ensure that such issues are solved
TSN: What is Your Message to Nigerians and Even the Parents who Abandon These Children?
MSK: Parents can choose to be irresponsible but the government have the responsibilities to enlighten them and that’s why, we are focused on the government. We have the National Orientation Agency(NOA) and the Nigerian Television Authority (NTA) and they can disseminate these information and enlighten these parents. Once we have a government that is conscious that we need to solve these issue of Almajiri, we can engage the state government and deploy state resources to tackle the issue.
My message to Nigerians is to add their voice, not just to vote but to hold leaders accountable and attach their votes with leadership commitments.
This interview is exclusive to The Sight News. Do not use in part or whole without prior permission from the Editor. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org