Alhamdu lilLah! Alhamdu lilLah! Alhamdu lilLah!
Every Northern Nigerian Muslim – and every Nigerian citizen for that matter – should be happy with that memorable day of Tuesday 25 February when the Kano State Government through Governor Abdullahi Umar Ganduje pronounced the unilateral, immediate and outright banning of street begging (bara in Hausa), especially that of the boy-child Almajiri. This executive decision, taken more than one hundred years too late, is ‘Better Late Than Never’, as they say.
Throughout the life of this Column – to be precise from October 2006 to date – the Almajiri Phenomenon has been a recurring topic which this Columnist and his readers feel so strongly about. Never a period of six months would pass without this page delving into this hitherto vexatious matter which, alongside Drug Abuse and Marital Breakdowns, constitute perhaps the most worrisome social problems of Northern Nigerian Muslims, especially the Hausa-Fulani.
Back in the late 1980s, a military governor of Kano State (who was not even from the state) was so concerned about our society’s social issues that he convened a summit to discuss and address them. Different committees were tasked with different assignments – Almajiri, Girl-Child Hawker (‘Yar Talla), Marital Breakdowns (Drug Abuse was not an issue then), etc. Each committee did a diligent job and submitted its report, which the government duly studied and issued a White Paper. Sadly, not long after, that military governor was transferred out of Kano before he could implement the content of his own recommendations.
Typical of Nigerian governments bereft of ideas of continuity of good governance, a subsequent civilian administration jettisoned the White Paper. It was then reported that that particular governor had said he would not be the one to ban begging (bara) for fear of ‘tsinuwa’, or curse, wrongly believing in the spurious efficacy of the prayers (addu’a) of the Almajiri and his Mallam on the matter.
Thirty years later, we have finally got traction on the political will. All thanks to a second term governor ushered in by an inconclusive election; only an emboldened governor on his second and last term, post Supreme Court ‘election’, would contemplate taking such long-awaited but seemingly controversial decisions, howsoever popular they may turn out to be.
On the day of the pronouncement, Governor Ganduje had lamented the ugly trend of street begging. To be fair to him, he had been hammering on the matter for several years, culminating in his famous announcement a couple of years ago that Kano State was ‘hosting’ (rather harbouring unwillingly) more than three million Almajiris, a preponderant majority of them from neighbouring states and countries.
The proverbial icing on the cake was: if any Almajiri is caught engaged in street begging, the parent or guardian of such child would be taken to court for disrespecting the law. We look forward to the prosecution of these irresponsible fathers (it is usually fathers, not mothers, that take decision to send a child to Almajiri school) and guardians and Mallams who breach the law.
Any Bakano may have differences with Ganduje, but not on this matter, as almost all stand with him. But as usual with such pronouncements, total and absolute support may not be feasible, but the naysayers are few. So far, but for the Council of Ulama, most Kano elite are solidly behind this policy and urging the Governor to put teeth on it to ensure total implementation.
The Council of Ulama lead the naysayers. When he addressed newsmen the day after, the Ulama Chairman Shaikh Ibrahim Khaleel said the steps toward addressing the issue have not been taken by the state government. He had stressed that there was need for all forms of begging to be identified and for all stakeholders to be involved before taking such decision, adding that failure to do may mar the whole issue.
For the ban to work, the scholar had said, there has to be cooperation between government and clerics, need for dialogue, statistics, reasons for begging; only then will government be able to make the demarcation. He also mentioned collaboration with other neighbouring states. (Allah gafarta Mallam, all these had been done by past governments and no decisive action was ever taken)!
In the opinion of this column, what the Ulama are concerned with, even if not expressly stated, is that the governor made his declaration at an event to launch Basic Education Service Delivery for All (BESDA), a World Bank-funded programme. It is a given in our society that anything the ‘Bature’ supports must be against our religion. The Ulama may be right but, on this matter, the Bature may also be right.
Congratulations galore as Kano’s ‘positive contagion’ has since started affecting others. So far, Nasarawa and Niger have followed suit. By the beginning of this week, Kebbi was also mulling same. At the last mention, Nasarawa State was about to ‘deport’ 20,000 such migrant Almajirai back to their states of origin. That is the way to go.
Unfortunately, another state that should be a leading light on this matter – Sokoto, Seat of the Caliphate – appears to be dragging its feet. Its governor is quoted as saying this action is not the way to go. Someone should tell him – he of the difference of 300+ votes plus Supreme Court – that this is the way to go.
This week, as I traversed the streets of Kano, there were few wretched and tattered sorry-looking Almajiris around. And there is no report that Almajiris have been dying of hunger anywhere. Meaning, begging was not a do or die affair. The 70% (more than two million) of Almajiris from outside Kano State and the 30% homegrown variety should now prepare to comply, or face the ‘wrath’ of Ganduje.
We hope that this policy will help this region (Arewa) shed this embarrassing phenomenon for good in sha Allah, and that it will not be as is said ‘Dokar Sarki Kwana Goma Ce’ (approximately ‘The Law of the King lasts but Ten Days’).