Time bomb’ has become a phrase used in modern times to signify a highly critical looming scenario. In recent times, it is used by opinion leaders and public commentators in Nigeria to refer to some intractable socio-economic problems that have grave consequences on the country’s future and prosperous survival. It is common today, for instance, to read in the conventional media or hear from people (including government officials) who rationalize the country’s rising population figures as a ticking time ‘bomb’. While some describe unemployment as a huge ‘time bomb’, others argue that street begging is a composite ‘time bomb’ that is waiting to explode. But more significant in this discourse is the need to critically look beyond this rhetorical semantics and find solutions to these problems that threaten every aspect of Nigeria’s future more than they jeopardize its present. These three ‘time bombs’ mentioned here shall be the focus of this piece.
Street begging by Almajiri pupils of the traditional Qur’anic system is one subject matter that has dominated public discourse in Nigeria for decades, yet, with affected states government where the menace is prevalent showing no political and legal commitment to ending the phenomenon. The once functional and efficient Almajiri system, which produced judges, clerks, teachers and native authority administrators needed by the colonial administration in northern Nigeria, is now bedevilled with worrisome practices. The large chunk of the time that should be used by pupils for learning the Qur’an is lost to street begging. Defiling of female pupils by some wicked teachers is a regular occurrence. There have been cases of pupils losing hands or eyes due to teachers’ crude management of pupils’ disciplinary cases. The system and some of its products are turning to become more of a nuisance than the useful expectations of the Muslim public in Nigeria.
Out of sheer privation, some Almajiri pupils engage in bad habits such as stealing, shoplifting, and pick-pocketing. They contact infectious diseases because of the dirty environment in which they live. The system has regrettably become synonymous with child destitution. The Almajiri pupils are forced into begging because they are taken to Tsangaya schools in distant towns and cities without their parents making any concrete arrangements for their feeding, shelter and healthcare; obviously because many of them have more children than they can cater for.
Such parents defend their gross dereliction of responsibility with the hadith of the Prophet (SAW) which says, “Marry and procreate for I will be proud of you”. Certainly, the Prophet (SAW) never meant he would be proud of children brought up as street beggars, delinquents, thugs, tramadol or substance addicts, scoundrels or rascals. The pride mentioned in the hadith is about the Prophet (SAW) being proud of children who received necessary parental care and training that shaped them into well-behaved, knowledgeable, self-reliant and resourceful human beings.
Street begging exposes these innocent children, in their search for food, to several deviant behaviours including drug addiction. They also become vulnerable to the wicked intentions of kidnappers and ritualists. Almajiri pupils are equally not safe from the exploitative intrigues of politicians who use them to disturb public peace. In some instances, Almajiri pupils grow up to become criminals sometimes without the Qur’anic knowledge they were sent to acquire.
The CBN Governor, Godwin Emefiele, at a recent lecture delivered at the University of Benin has warned that the high unemployment rate in the country may push the country into crisis. A detailed report released in December 2018 by the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) showed that the number of unemployed Nigerians rose from 17.6 million in the fourth quarter (Q4) of 2017 to 20.9 million in the third quarter (Q3) of 2018.
For any progressive change to be experienced in Nigeria’s unemployment rate, the fiscal and monetary policies of the ERPG document needs to be exhaustively re-examined including interest rate on credits, investments strategies, the real sector, youth empowerment, population growth management and governance issues. Non-oil sector of the economy, for instance, has not been adequately explored to create employment opportunities that are large enough to significantly reduce unemployment. There is a widening gap and imbalance in the public and private sector participation in some sectors including solid minerals. Government must also sustain and give more support to the on-going revitalization of the agricultural sector.
Government believes that tackling this social trend is capital intensive. But the UBEC Act 2004, which provides for free and compulsory 9-year basic education for the Nigerian child cannot be costlier than the consequences of keeping over 13 million children out of formal school system. Government may seem to have settled for the later as many of the Tsangaya model schools initiated by the federal government in April 2012 have since been converted into conventional schools while others remain replete with decaying facilities.
As a latent threat to Nigeria’s development and national security, President Muhammadu Buhari (sharing the same religion with parents of Alamjiri pupils) has the best opportunity to convene a national stakeholders’ summit on the Almajiri schooling system where collective decisions would be taken to squarely address the crisis.
Speaking at the recent valedictory meeting of the National Economic Council held at the State House in Abuja, Vice President Yemi Osinbajo and the 36 state governors raised alarm over population and the size of the country’s economy. Few weeks before Osinbajo expressed these fears, the CBN Governor, CBN, Godwin Emefiele, had voiced the same worry over the country’s rapid population growth rate; warning that urgent steps must be taken to put policies that would take care of the projected 425 million people by the year 2050 when Nigeria becomes the third largest population in the world after China and India; surpassing the United States of America.
Nigeria’s population continues to grow at about three percent annually while the economy grows at less than .5 percent; with young people accounting for 60 percent of this population. It would be disastrous for government to continue to speculate or defer policies needed to control fast-growing population especially one growing exponentially at a rate faster and higher than economic growth because, more painful measures would have to be taken if the country waits until the predictable population time bomb explodes. A country’s population growth rate should reflect its economic growth. May Allah (SWT) guide our leaders to defuse all the ticking ‘time bombs’ in Nigeria, amin.