ALMAJIRI: A Ticking Bomb Waiting To Explode — Maiwada Dammallam

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Very rarely one come across people like Emir Muhammadu Sanusi II who are not afraid to say it as it is regardless of whose ox is gored. I may not be entirely wrong if I say only in Nigeria are solvable social problems allowed to linger for no reason other than the fear of being seen as politically incorrect. When Emir Sanusi tried to relate polygamy with poverty and terrorism in an attempt to encourage government interference and regulation of polygamy, he was called all sorts of names with “infidel” being the commonest. Interestingly, there wasn’t any effort to step down his facts and logics with something superior.

The simple reason for the largely disrespectful responses to Emir Sanusi’s advocacy against unregulated polygamy was informed by the convenience it offers a very chauvinistic male-dominated society where women are seen more as properties than partners while children are seen as mere returns on conjugal investments — both with no rights whatsoever. No gainsaying the Almajiri menace in Northern Nigeria is a carelessly created problem by long term subscription to cultural dogmas, unregulated social behaviour and to some extent, unattended misapplication of haphazardly understood religious doctrines preached by selfish or half-baked (or a mixture of both) ‘scholars’.

Today the North is groaning under the menace of millions of deliberately abandoned children left roaming helplessly and aimlessly across the length and breath of the region for the simple misfortune of divine parenthood selection. Most victims of the almajiri menance were forcefully inducted into the problem by willing parents ready to exploit the laxity of a nation disconnected with the reality of the present and numb to the quality of the future. It’s sad that today — scholarship claim and all — almajiri is nothing more than a peg on a seeming fertility race track for heartless men to assess their conjugal prowess while a careless system sit back and watch the development of the unregulated “sport” matrimony was carelessly reduced to.

As if to confirm the insensitivity of the North to the reality of the contemporary world, whereas parents are busy rolling out new products from the Almajiri Assembly line, the elite class are making a killing by setting up foundations and NGOs mostly dubious albeit, with beautifully scripted catchy blueprints designed to resolve the embarrassing menace but, which in reality are mostly a device to re-invent individual social, economic or political relevance with little or even zero concern to the almajiri menace. This is easily provable by the absolute disregard by these NGOs to non-implementation of implanted constitutional solutions to the problem available on our fingertips.

The North doesn’t need any dedicated agency, ministry or NGO to resolve the menace of “almajiranci” because it’s a problem created by absolute disregard to laws created to protect children and enforce proper parenthood. We are guided by laws sensitive to family values with abundant provisions to protect the rights of children. Our laws do not permit parents to abandon their children or upload their responsibility to the public. Certainly these laws were not scripted to make the Nigerian constitution voluminous. They were scripted to be implemented hence, the reason why these laws came complete with punitive consequences. Why then should we continue howling for a solution to a problem that’s well taken of by our laws? Aren’t we suppose to be concerned by our obvious lack of discipline to enforce these laws?

Let the law start working by prosecuting parents that send children of unreasonable ages into almajiranci and see how quickly the whole Northern community will fall in line and behave appropriately. By nature, man is anti-law and it should be expected that without strict supervision and enforcement, laws would remain mere literature with no effect whatsoever on what their purposes. This condition is more tragic in complex situations like Nigeria.

Truth is, many so called stakeholders in the Almajiri franchise are benefiting from the cheap (actually free) labour offered by these abandoned kids put under their care while on the other hand, irresponsible parents are being offered a free chance to escape their disproportionate-to-status libidinous (ir)responsibilities. Anything short of attacking these fundamentals will keep us moving in a permanent circle of blames and lamentations.

Those conversant with the Children and Young People’s Act (CYPA), a law relating primarily to juvenile justice are aware that “Right to parental care, protection and maintenance” are the topmost objective of the Act. Actually the Act went as far as to make provision for protection against harm for unborn children. How, then, do we end up with an army of walking/talking unprotected children absolutely denied even the most basic of parental care — protection and maintenance? I won’t be writing this if governments at all levels are sensitive to this Act and have the political will and administrative muscle to implement the Act even partly — say parental care.

These laws are so meticulous and comprehensive that children deprived of families were catered for. For children who cannot be looked after by their own family for justifiable reasons, provision for adoption are well specified and the first concern must be their protection and maintenance. Considered and implemented in full context, these laws will effectively discourage the senseless habit of sending barely-out-of-diapers children on an endless voyage in search of “knowledge” — the pretext under which the abandonment of Northern children flourish.

From the Islamic perspective, it is silly to throw away the entire marital guidelines as made clear in the Holy Qur’an and the Sunnah of Nabee Muhammad SAW which, even without saying could be accepted as a foundation for a solid system intended to regenerate humanity in as high quality manner as humanly obtainable. Carefully viewed, Islamic marital laws are mostly aimed at building a future generation installed with all the necessary traits required for a morally upright, socially cohesive and economically productive society. It’s for this that LOVE and CARE were made the basis on which relationships should be built between parents and their children. A daily dose of this combination is what mould the character of children to make them good citizens and quality building blocks of a nation. How the North intend to unlock its potentials by transferring this responsibility to total strangers beats me!

Islam made it specifically clear that children have the rights to be fed, clothed, educated and protected until they reached adulthood because they are a trust given to the parents for which they would be held accountable on the day of Judgment. Ditto, parents are responsible for the moral, ethical and spiritual quality of their children. Nothing was left to chance by Islam in the business of developing a child. It should make sense to us that Islam put feeding, clothing and shelter as the most basic aspect of a marital contract. By extension, if he who is allowed to marry must unconditionally afford to fulfill this obligation, it is also expected he should afford to unconditionally shoulder the responsibility of the conjugal fruits.

Just in case one may be under the impression that almajiranci was sanctioned by Islam using the demand for equipping children with knowledge and moral ethics, please think again. The present almajiri system is counter-productive as it mostly takes with the right hand what it gives with the left. Children may learn recitation of the Holy Qur’an while concurrently being morally degraded due to the absence of parental care, guidance and the inadequacy of the system to handle as gargantuan task as monitoring the moral and ethical development of hundreds of hungry children. Those with parenthood experience could attest that handling just one child requires more than average effort to succeed.

That almajirai are left to their own devices for their welfare in its entirety should highlight their susceptibility to negative influences. Is this not enough to stimulate our conscience to redirect our energy towards building a generation the future could be proud of. Most of us attended neighbourhood Islamiyya schools and acquired Islamic knowledge without compromising the traditional parenting that imbued us with the necessary softwares to operate as civilised citizens. Standing up for the helpless kids being denied these privileges should be seen by those who escaped this abuse as giving back a little to the system to help it pick up and work again.

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