Almajiri as Assets and Curses

In April 2015, barely two weeks after the presidential election when the then newly-formed All Progressives Congress (APC) was waiting to take over the reins of power following its historic electoral victory, the then outgoing governor of Kano State, Mallam Rabiu Kwankwaso, basking in the euphoria of the moment, declared with triumphant hubris that the North used the Almajiri vote to kick out former President Goodluck Jonathan from the Presidential Villa. It was a striking statement from one of the most prominent, rabidly Northern and religious irredentists in modern-day Nigeria. It was an open admittance of the unrighteous potency of the power of street urchins, locally known as the Almajiri, to sway the pendulum of power in the North’s favour and how the North had used it to gain power.

According to Kwankwaso, the statement credited to Jonathan’s wife, Patience Jonathan, wherein she allegedly described the Almajiri as “born throw away” galvanized people in the North to ensure that the Almajiri votes were used to kick she and her husband out of the villa. Make no mistake, those were Kwankwaso’s words, not mine. That was well over five years ago. He had also claimed further in his political posturing and brazen attempt to manipulate public opinion in his favour as a uniter: “It is unfortunate, in the last couple of years, we have seen a polarisation situation, this issue of Christianity, Islam, North and South, and even the issue of tribalism being promoted. It was not good for the system – it was not even good for my friend in the villa, so we are happy, we have seen the end of it now.”

As we all know, in all revolutions, the vanquished are the ones who are guilty of treason, even by the historians. And history is usually written by the victors and framed according to the prejudices and biases existing on their side. This was what Kwankwaso was attempting to do very early – to set the tone and pronounce guilt. It would have succeeded if the guy who won the presidential election wasn’t so deeply flawed. Kwankwaso went on to advise the incoming Muhammadu Buhari-led administration, that it must be willing to correct the ills and unite the nation to keep peace and stability.
“We encourage Buhari to be what a president should be; to carry along all the Christians, the Muslims and other people of other faiths in this country. Ensure peace and stability, take everybody as his own; even the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) guys should be carried along by the president. The president is the father of all.”

You see, Kwankwaso had claimed to be happy to have seen the end of all the abnormalities he accused the Jonathan government of because of his faith in the incoming Buhari government. But President Muhammadu Buhari has in the last five years of his government escalated those abnormalities to a level never seen before since Nigeria came into existence. By his actions and inactions, he has shown that he is the father of tribalism, nepotism, ethnicity and religious bigotry. Jonathan didn’t even come close to destroying our unity the way Buhari has done. This same Kwankwaso that complained of polarisation of the country under Jonathan has not found his voice to condemn Buhari’s brazen assault on whatever was left of our country’s diversity as of May 29, 2015.

Buhari’s agenda of appointing only northerners to fill sensitive federal positions in the country has no parallel in our history. Yet the hypocrite Kwankwaso can’t find his voice to condemn the president. Who knows, perhaps he is even enjoying the show quietly. All Buhari’s actions so far mirror the antiquated world-view of Kwankwaso no matter his pretence now. There is no energetic difference between him and Buhari.

Besides Kwankwaso’s aggressive rhetoric in the run-up to the 2015 presidential election, resilience was never his attribute. He spoke bluntly, too bluntly about North versus South in domineering terms, of course, and those who are forever cursed not to see beyond their noses will always fall for his posturing like they did with Buhari.

However, it is worth stating that Kwankwaso left the APC before the 2019 general election for the PDP, and supported its presidential standard-bearer, Atiku Abubakar against Buhari, not necessary out of disagreement with the president on issues of governance or principle, but because he lost out in the high-wire power game with his handpicked successor, Abdullahi Umar Ganduje. Governor Ganduje made the APC just too hot and uncomfortable for him, and the president for whom Kwankwaso had used the Almajiri vote to carry across the finish line in the 2015 presidential election, looked on with unflappable indifference.

Today, Kwankwaso is still out there in the cold. His political influence has diminished. Even his Kwankwasiyya Movement with their trademark red caps has not fared well in recent times. Ganduje, aka Gandollar, has quietened their noisy rhythm in the city of Kano. Kwankwaso now practically sneaks in and out of the state he once bestrode like a colossus.

Back to the central issue of this piece: Who would have thought the day would come when these Almajiris, mostly underage and of doubtful nationality, yet constituting the most powerful arsenal in the hands of the Northern power elite, would be kicked out by the governors of the Northern states? Who would have envisioned that these tools of the Northern political elite would be chased around, arrested, thrown into open-roof lorries and deported from their states of residence to their “states of origin” by their own leaders? Who indeed would have even imagined this happening in a “monolithic” North?

It is tragic that the Almajiri, the “forgotten cluster”, the political pawns in the hands of the Northern elite – to cheat other parts of the Nigerian federation through padded census head counts, resource allocation, determine the outcome of elections to sustain their born-to-rule mentality, as well as cause violent upheavals and promote religious crises in the country whenever it suited them, have suddenly become unwanted and unwelcomed in many states in the North because of the raging Covid-19 pandemic. Many articulated vehicles and lorries packed with the Almajiri like sardines headed for the Southern parts of the country have been intercepted and are still being intercepted. The Almajiri that were an asset in times of elections, census and religious/ethnic violence, have suddenly become a curse to the North because of their high propensity to spread the deadly virus?

It would have been laughable to even think this a possibility if it weren’t so deadly true today. But I am filled with anger and profound disdain for the Northern elite who think they can approbate and reprobate at will. When it suited them, the itinerant Almajiri are their trump card for winning elections. The northern governors, according to Governor Nasir El-Rufai of Kaduna State, agreed to the repatriation. He claimed to have so far repatriated about 30,000 Almajiri back to sister states from Kaduna State.

El Rufai went on to explain: “The case in Kano is that if these children were not brought to us, they’ll simply had died in Kano. Some of them would survive the disease but you know the situation. Northern governors didn’t take the decision (to repatriate Almajira) because of Covid-19. Covid-19 only provided us the opportunity. Because Covid-19 has enabled us to know where the Almajiri are and to be able to get them back to their states. We are looking for the means and ways to end this system because it has not worked for the children, it has not worked for Northern Nigeria and it has not worked for Nigeria.”

Did you hear that? That they are looking for ways and means to end the Almajiri system because it has not worked for the children, it has not worked for Northern Nigeria and it has not worked for Nigeria? Frankly, I can’t find a more wilfully dishonest and hypocritical statement than this. The political northern establishment of which el-Rufai, Kwankwaso and deposed Emir Sanusi Lamido Sanusi are prominent members has for long turned a blind eye to the social and security challenges posed by the Almajiri, while hoping and praying the nightmare will somehow end in a miracle. But by doing that, it forgot that clay cannot be turned to gold without magic.

Fellow Nigerians, there is glaring difference between good and evil, just the same way there is a difference between hypocrisy, and honest and visionary politics; one retards, the other liberates. I am not so sure el-Rufai, Kwankwaso and others know the difference between the two. But I am reeling and in a state of despair for these leading lights of the North. If actually they are looking for the means and ways to solve the Almajiri problem, they should look no further.

Between 2010 and 2015, the Jonathan administration, seeing the social and security danger posed by out-of-school Almajiri, embarked on the noble task of liberating them from the labyrinth of darkness by giving them an education. He built 157 Tsangaya (Almajiri) model schools across the country. Most of the schools had started to function before he left office. But the northern elite were not happy about the impending freedom for the Almajiri. They scoffed at the schools and to ensure among other things that the freedom was a pipe dream, people like Kwankwaso mobilised the same Almajiri to vote out Jonathan from Aso Rock. Kwankwaso’s Kano delivered 1.9 million votes to Buhari to win that election. He openly boasted about it. The fact is that the feudal lords don’t want freedom for the Almajiri because of its dire ramifications for them. They may lose their grip on the socio-political system that has served them well for so long.

After Buhari won, many of the schools were quietly abandoned by his government to rot away. The Almajiri that were given a lifeline to get liberated under Jonathan, returned to the streets to beg for alms to survive. Buhari doesn’t care about the Almajiri, as long as in their ignorance, he can hold them down to his whims and caprices. The northern elite, including Buhari send their children to some of the best schools abroad while the Amajiri are left to the miserable fate of destitution, hunger, ignorance and disease. Only instigated to riot and cause mayhem when the elites lose elections or when they deem it fit to pronounce a fatwa on others, in promotion of false religious piety.

Governor el-Rufai is not looking for solutions to the Almajiri problem, he sure knows what to do but just like others, he doesn’t have the guts to do it, because it is not in their interest for this forgotten cluster of the downtrodden Almajiri to be free. You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to know those who want their people to remain in darkness, or do you?

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