Fifteen-year-old Musa was one of the teenagers returned to Kaduna State by the Plateau State government where he had been taken to learn the Qur’an and also beg for his daily feeding in a system popularly referred to as almajiranci. But barely three months after he left his home in Saminaka, Lere Local Government Area of Kaduna, Musa alongside dozens of others were repatriated back to Kaduna as part of a strategy by governors of the northern states of Nigeria to contain the spread of Covid-19.
On their return to Kaduna, Musa, together with 14-year-old Ahmadu and Buhari as well as other much younger boys had been camped at the Mando Hajj camp where they were quarantined for two weeks and subjected to testing to ensure that they were not infected with the coronavirus.
Last week, the 15-year-old was among the 210 almajirai who completed their 14-day quarantine from the camp and were handed over to their various local government chairmen to be reunited with their parents. “We thank the government for returning us home. We were well taken care of at the camp and we were taught basic hygiene,” Musa said with a grin.
Most of the boys being conveyed to their homes were from Lere, Kudan, Makarfi, Ikara, Giwa and Zaria local government areas of the state and have all tested negative for the virus.
They had also been taught basic hygiene and sensitized on the coronavirus disease and the need to adhere to social distancing and the use of face masks, according to Emmanuel Bonet of the Civil Society who took part in the boys’ sensitization.
The state government, through the Ministry of Human Services and Social Development, said 210 of the almajirai were being discharged out of a total of 680 quarantined at the Mando Hajj Camp. The ministry said they had been repatriated from Kano, Bauchi, Gombe, Niger and Plateau states as part of an intensified measure to curtail the spread of the virus in the country.
Bags in hand, the boys ran to their waiting buses ready to take back a future thought to have been stolen. The boys will return to their homes and while in the custody of their parents, the Kaduna State Government says they will be enrolled into public schools to ensure they get a combined benefit of western and Islamic education.
Buhari Abdullahi, another almajiri also from Saminaka town, said he was happy to leave the camp, two weeks after he was repatriated and says he misses his parents, siblings and other friends and relatives back home. Holding tight to a travelling bag and patiently waiting his turn to hop into the bus that will convey them back home, he joyfully said to our correspondent, “Governor El-Rufai gave us new bags and T-Shirts, I don’t want to return to begging again.”
With a bold inscription of “I’m the Future of Kaduna” on their T-shirts, most of the boys were more fascinated by the T-shirts and new bags which contained their belongings. They looked anxious and happy at the same time and maintained social distancing on their queues.
ýAccording to the state Commissioner for Human Services and Social Development, Hafsat Baba, the boys will never be subjected to begging again. Instead, she said, they will be transformed into future leaders of the state. Baba, who addressed the children before they left for home, told them they would not only be handed over to their local government chairmen who will hand them over to their parents at their various villages but they will also be enrolled in schools.
“The government will not abandon you as you return home because we will ensure that all of you acquire western education as you continue with your Islamic education close to your parents. No more begging in the state because the government has already banned the almajiri system in the state,” she told them.
While receiving the boys on behalf of his colleagues, Chairman of the Association of Local Government of Nigeria (ALGON) in Kaduna State who is also the local government chairman for Soba, Mohammed Mahmoud, cautioned parents against sending their children to beg in the name of seeking Qur’anic education. Mahmoud said the council will ensure they educate and sensitize the parents on the dangers of street begging before handing them over to them.
Emmanuel Bonet on his part cautioned members of the society against stigmatising the boys and urged the state government to ensure that the almajirai are fully re-integrated into their communities and enrolled into or western education so as to make them future leaders in the state and country at large.
But their return home was not all meritorious as some of the parents told Daily Trust Saturday that it was purely an attempt to phase out Qur’anic education in northern Nigeria.
Adamu Garba, 45, is the father of 15-year-old Uzaifa and 17-year-old Jibrin who were part of the almajirai returned to their parents in Saminaka by the Kaduna State government.
Garba, who spoke with Daily Trust on phone, said while he was happy that his kids had been certified negative of coronavirus and had returned in good health and spirit, he was not in support of the government’s ban on almajiranci.
“From what I know, the government is only advising that we put our children in public schools, it is not a policy. All we know is that we want our children to be vast in the Qur’an which was why we sent them to learn and as soon as this disease is over, they will return,” he said.
On his part, Malam Aminu Musa, 50, said he also had two children he sent for almajiranci in Jos and have been returned to him having gone through the 14-day quarantine by the Kaduna State government.
He said having gone through almajiranci himself to gain knowledge of the Qur’an, he would want same for his children.
“As far as we have been told, the state government has come up with a plan to force western education at the expense of Islamic education but if what they are proposing is western education and Islamic education, then it is something we can consider,” he said.