Legislation cannot end street begging in Northern Nigeria – Shehu Sani

The senator representing Kaduna Central in the National Assembly, Shehu Sani
The former senator representing Kaduna Central in the National Assembly, Shehu Sani

A former Kaduna senator, Shehu Sani, has said a law banning street begging by children popularly referred to as ‘almajiris’ cannot end begging in the north.

He said arresting and jailing beggars amounts to hiding the problems of the northerners and not solving them.

Mr Sani’s comment is a reaction to the recent ban on street begging by the Kano State Governor, Abdullahi Ganduje, in the state.

The governor’s spokesperson, Abba Anwar, in a statement said the effort was to fully consolidate the free and compulsory primary and secondary school education in the state.

He also said the decision was meant to integrate the almajiri system into the policy and address the lingering problem of street begging.

‘It won’t work’

However, in a statement sent to PREMIUM TIMES, Mr Sani noted that begging in Northern part of Nigeria is a direct result of poverty, neglect, social, cultural and religious factors combined.

He blamed religious leaders for ‘sanctifying’ the act by giving it a divine interpretation and reverence “while political leaders generate beggars by impoverishing and pauperising the people”.

“To imagine a society without beggars in a nation strangulated by social injustice and systemic poverty is an illusion. The northern political leaders should understand that its impossible to compose a paradise without beggars in a hell they created over the years.

“Beggars are tragic victims and direct result of a nation failed by its successive governing elites. You can’t end begging without ending poverty and illiteracy.

“You can arrest beggars but you can’t end begging as long as the social, cultural, political and economic factors that contribute to begging exists. Many states in the country in the last twenty years tried to criminalise begging but failed,” he said.

The ex-lawmaker also accused politicians of using beggars to win elections and demonise their opponents and wondered why they now want to criminalise them.

“Why should we the Hausas control the political levers in the country for long and are still the poorest in the country.

“Crude oil has not enriched the people of Niger Delta and political power has neither brought wealth nor peace in the north. Education, employment,empowerment and boldly confronting cultural and social factors that aid and abet begging is the right step to take.”

The ‘almajiri’ is a system of Islamic education practised in Northern Nigeria where kids are sent by their parents to live with and study Quranic education at a teacher’s place.

Most of these kids miss out on the formal education as they are often sent to beg on the streets.

Nigerian law provides for free and compulsory basic education for children up to junior secondary school.

The administration of ex-President Goodluck Jonathan established and spent billions of naira for the construction of almajiri schools across northern states – which was aimed at getting the children off the streets into formal classrooms.

The plan, however, failed largely because it was poorly managed. The almajiri children still make a large chunk of Nigeria’s 13.2 million out-of-school children.

The latest ban comes amidst calls from many Nigerians for the abolition of the almajiri system, as it has become a breeding ground for insurgents and religious extremists.

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