ALMAJIRI and its practitioners are a common feature of the way of life in the predominantly Mulsim society in most parts of the Northern Region. It has its root in the quest for Islamic knowledge as young boys and girls were sent to Quranic schools to be well versed in the Holy Book of Islam and the teachings of Prophet Muhammed. This set of young people are often put under the tutelage of clerics but, more than often, most of the clerics are fond of abusing the system for their personal economic interest as the young elements are often seen in the street begging for money, food and other material things.
In most cases, these able-bodied young boys, looking haggard and unkempt and whose ages range from between four and 15 years, would be seen in public places, especially eateries, soliciting for money and collecting food remnants. While this set of people are generally peaceful in their conduct, there are instances when and where they could constitute a public nuisance as stories were often told of how they forcibly dispossess people of their meals without batting an eyelid.
With the growing public nuisance the almajiris constitute themselves into, the Senate, on Wednesday, conducted a debate on the desirability or otherwise of the system, with the presiding officer, Senator David Mark, concluding that it is not Islamic and is also counter-productive. He also called for the banning of almajiri, saying it was a breeding ground for those he described as irresponsible miscreants. The Senate President made his position known while the upper legislature was debating on “Trafficking in Persons (Prohibition) Law Enforcement and Administration Bill 2013”, sponsored by the Senate Leader, Senator Victor Ndoma-Egba.
Deputy Senate Leader Abdul Ningi, who lead the debate on behalf of Ndoma-Egba who was away to Ogidi, Anambra State for the burial of the late Professor Chinua Achebe, said human trafficking in persons was a modern day slavery which had gained notoriety in Nigeria. He also said the country had come to be regarded globally as a source, transit and destination point for human trafficking and forced labour, adding, “This growing and worrisome trend has a negative impact on the corporate image of the country.”
Ningi went further as he said human trafficking was a trans-nationally organised crime involving the recruitment, transportation, transfer and receipt or harboring of a person by such means as threat, use of force or other forms of coercion, abduction, fraud or deception for the purpose of exploitation and abuse. He therefore said the thrust of the bill was to enact a new law that would, among others, cure noticeable defects in the existing law and criminalise illegal removal of organs and smuggling of migrants, in line with the international agreement, the Palermo Protocol and which had been ratified by Nigeria.
Various speakers at the plenary were of the consensus that trafficking in persons had become more sophisticated and had assumed a new dimension that had made it expedient and mandatory that the existing law should be looked into for amendments. For Senator Ita Enang, “We have to take the issue of baby factories and selling of children very seriously.
The government of those states (involved) should be identified and invited to the public hearing on this bill so we can hear what effort they are making to solve the problem.”
Senator Helen Esuene called for the domestication of the international treaty on human trafficking as she noted that adoption of children no longer go through the due process but was been done at the behest of those involved in the illegal act. Senator Attai Aidoko was of the view that human trafficking in the country is grievous than what obtains outside.
Noting that, “The slavery of children from one part of the country to another far outweighs those trafficked outside the shores of this country.”
Senator Gbenga Kaka was of the opinion that in most cases, parents of the human trafficking victims voluntarily hand over their children, adding, “If people have food to eat, there will be less work for the police to do. We must do what is right by providing justice and giving education.” For Senator Ben Ayade, contemporary difficulties and hardships have compelled young people to offer themselves to harrowing experience in the hope of eking out a living. “You cannot address human trafficking until we address the problem of unemployment. This is a country where the young people are not catered for. We should review our internal resources to create job opportunities,” he said.
Senator Alkali Jajere painted a gory picture of the young elements that were not catered or cared for as he revealed that he was an almajiri who never attended school but who, by the grace of God and through the help of some people, was able to gain admission into the Teachers’ College. “I was taken away from my parents at the age of six. I go to beg for alms at night”, he said. The senator from Yobe State also revealed that many children were being made to go through horrendous suffering in the name of culture and religion. Identifying parental negligence to the root of the menace of youth criminality in the country, especially in the North, Senator Jajere said, “We have to put a stop to the almajiri system in the country where our children are forced out of home to beg for alms.”
Taking an overview of the contributions of the senators at the plenary, Senate President Mark said it was amazing that highly placed Nigerians tend to give excuses for their shortcomings, noting that, “As long as we continue to make excuses, we cannot change for good. If we begin a new form of slave trade, the current legislation is not solving the problem.
Mark said almajiri practice constitutes a nuisance to the society in the northern part of the country, adding that the menace had made politics in the North to fail the nation through grooming of army of unemployable youths who were vulnerable to terrorist tendencies. “I was very impressed when Senator Alkali Jajere made his point and I had to call the man who introduced Sharia, because wrongly or rightly, I think he is knowledgeable in Islamic affairs, to ask him truly if Almajiri is not an Islamic injunction and he told me categorically that it is not.
“We must admit that politicians in the North have failed over the years to stem the almajiri system. In fact, if anything else, it will appear that they have encouraged it or for political reasons they’ve been scared of making a comment on it. I think it is a unique opportunity for governors in the northern states to ban the almajiri system today.
“It is a system that is counter-productive. It is a breeding ground for irresponsible miscreants and we cannot tolerate it. Because for those who have different faith, one is bit worried about making comments on it, but today that I have heard that it is not an Islamic injunction, I think that system ought to have been banned long ago. And I hope that they will summon the courage to ban the system at the earliest possible time. I’m told that Kano (state government) yesterday (Tuesday) issued a statement banning it and I believe that the other state governors should be able to follow as quickly as possible”, he said.
The bill subsequently passed second reading and was referred to Senate Committees on Women Affairs, Judiciary, Legal and Human Right Matters for more legislative inputs, to be returned within four weeks. However, as the legislators await the outcome of the legislative exercise, the question remains, ‘Can the legislative arm of government make the desired change in the quest to effectively put a stop to human trafficking and also put an end to the scourging menace of the almajiri system?’ The question becomes pertinent in the face of conflicting interests and deeply entrenched socio-cultural and religious belief in the North.