The Taraba State Government on Monday rejected several ‘almajiri’ children transferred from Nasarawa State.
Almajiris are children who are sent to live with Islamic clerics to learn about the religion. However, many of them end up on the streets where they beg for food and other necessities. The practice is common in Northern Nigeria where thousands of almajiri children roam the streets, lacking education and other basic necessities of life.
The almajiri children reportedly arrived the Taraba capital, Jalingo, from Lafia, Nasarawa’s capital, on Sunday alongside officials of the Nasarawa State Ministry of Women Affairs.
The kids had to sleep outside the office of the Secretary to the Taraba State Government and were only attended to at 10 a.m. on Monday.
Multiple sources say that the returning children were later asked to go and stay by the signboard welcoming travellers into the capital along the Jalingo-Wukari road to wait for the officials of the state.
The officials from the Taraba SSG’s office later arrived at ‘welcome to Jalingo’ (billboard) at about 12.45 p.m. where they formally rejected the children with a letter addressed to the Secretary to Government of Nasarawa State with instructions to the officials to take the children back.
The letter from the office of the Secretary to Taraba State government, dated May 4, 2020 with reference no SSG / ADM/ S/ 167/ 11/ 125 was signed by one Sunday Maiyaki, Permanent Secretary Political Cabinet Affairs and General Services.
The letter read in part:
“The unphysical verification the number of pupils brought to Taraba State are 79 not 102 as stated in the letter brought from Nasarawa state.
“The government of Taraba State wish to return the pupils to you and requests that the pupils should be properly profiled indicating their local government of origin in Taraba State and ‘individual status’ in respect of the pandemic.”
The letter further directed that when the children were subsequently brought back, they should be accompanied with their teachers to assist in proper profiling so the state could hand them over to their parents.
One of the Nasarawa officials who accompanied the children expressed dismay over the action.
“All the almajiris were kept in isolation in a secondary school in Lafia and tested for coronavirus and all of them are negative.
“Almajiris brought were not provided with food and left inside vehicles that brought them for several hours and only to be rejected even though they are indigenes of the state,” he said.
The official stated that Nasarawa had evacuated over 1000 almajiris to their respective states but said it was only Taraba that turned them back.
“We were asked to take the almajiris back to Nasarawa with a letter addressed to the Secretary to Nasarawa State Government with N100,000 to fuel our vehicles,” the distraught official said, declining to provide his name.
Due protocol not observed – Taraba Govt
Meanwhile, the Taraba commissioner of information, Danjuma Adamu, said the kids were rejected because Nasarawa officials did not observe ‘due protocol’.
“Due protocol was not followed in returning them back. The (Taraba) state government needs to know their exact number, health status (positive or negative to COVID-19) in details and their respective local government areas,” he said. “Not just pack them in buses for the sake of returning them.”
Since the coronavirus pandemic broke out in Nigeria, many state governors have taken strict measures to curb its spread including closing their boundaries and restricting movement.
In the north, one of the measures adopted by northern state governors was the transfer of these street kids to their states of origin.
Many northern states have since transferred hundreds of almajiri children to their states of origin.
The move has drawn mixed reactions from Nigerians. While some condemned the move as a violation of the rights of the children to freedom to live anywhere across a Nigeria, others described it as a necessary step to end the unhealthy practice.
PREMIUM TIMES reported how the federal government, through the Presidential Task Force on COVID-19 denounced the transfer of the kids across states during the coronavirus pandemic saying it violates the ban on interstate travel.
The Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Boss Mustapha , who chairs the task force, also warned that Nigeria was sitting on a time bomb if the country does not address and end the almajiri phenomenon.
“If we do not deal with the issues relating to the almajiris, we are building an army that would overwhelm us as a people and as a nation in the future,” he said.