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Movement of almajiri across States fuel fears of COVID-19 spread

The large number of almajiri being transported across the States are breaking frayed nerves in Nigeria as they have become a source of friction with their being sent back to their States of origin. And some are just being moved to areas they see as greener pastures.

In the last one week, truckloads of the almajiris have been turned back to Kano at the Kaduna State border with Kaduna State Governor, Malam Nasir El-Rufai accusing them of being purveyors of the dreaded Coronavirus (COVID-19).

El-Rufai said on Monday that 50 of the almajiri children sent away from Kano State to Kaduna accounted for the 59 active COVID-19 cases in his State.

It was such that the 19 member Northern Governors Forum banned the almajiri system of education and they began to deport them back to their States of origin as a way of battling the growing cases of COVID-19.

Derived from the Arabic ‘al-Muhajirun’, an Almajiri is a person who leaves his home in search of Islamic knowledge. They were seen as part of the Northern societal norm that the former Governor of Kano, Senator Rabiu Kwakwanso boasted that the Almanjiris was the main tool used to vote former President Goodluck Jonathan out of power.

Ironically, Nigeria’s former President, Goodluck Jonathan, had anticipated the Almanjiri explosion, establishing schools which were called Almajiri schools with the aim of getting them off the streets. Unfortunately, the schools were closed immediately he left office. And true to norm, during the 2019 general elections, the almajiris were allegedly used to boost the electoral prowess of some politicians.

But the COVID-19 pandemic is causing a major rethink as already, the Katsina State government has received 435 of the almajris expelled from Kano State.

Similarly, Kebbi State received 40 Almajiri students deported by the Kaduna State government.

On Tuesday, Kano State Commissioner of Education Muhammad Sanusi-Kiru had explained that the deportation was to safeguard public health and stem the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Stressing that the exercise would be continuous, he said in a statement: “The Almajiri students will be evacuated to Katsina, Kaduna, Jigawa, Yobe, Bauchi, Zamfara, Gombe, Nasarawa States and the Niger Republic. Against the misconception of some people in the society that the government is planning to stop Qur’anic schools in the State, it was an effort to bring sanity to the system. It is also part of a comprehensive effort to prevent the spread of coronavirus.”

The deportation or arranged spread of the almajiris is spreading. On Monday, a large number of Almajiris who came into Ondo State from Sokoto State were sent back. 

The Almajiris, about 25, allegedly walked through bush paths after entering the State to beat the blockades by security officials enforcing the lockdown directives, before reentering a truck they were travelling with on the highway. 

Ondo State Police Spokesperson, Tee Leo-Ikoro, said that they were taken “back to the boundary between Ondo and Kogi, because they said they came through a village in Kogi State. We have to take them back to the boundary and asked them to return to Sokoto.”

And despite the ban on inter-State travel, some Northern youths who wanted to enter Abia State were intercepted and turned back by officials of the State’s Homeland Security on Tuesday.

They were hiding in the truck loaded with cows and were intercepted at the Enugu – Abia border along the Enugu -Port Harcourt Highway.

The Abia State officials only allowed the cattle to pass but turned back the youths. 

Governor Nyesom Wike has accused the Federal Government of taking a hypocritical spot in the relocation of Almajiri kids in the last few days. 

The Governor who slammed the Federal Government during a meeting with traditional rulers and local council chairmen at the government house on Tuesday May 5, said the Federal Government did nothing when Almajiri kids were relocated in some Northern States but claimed the relocation exercise carried out by the Rivers State Government violated its ban on interstate travels. 

Wike said: “When they started relocating the almajiri in the north, the federal government said nothing. Immediately they heard that we have relocated some almajiri, they came up with the declaration that it is against the inter-state movement. Why this double standard?

“Set up your own Task Force in your respective domains and implement the closure of markets, hotels and beer parlours. This Task Force is strictly for COVID-19. The State government will support all traditional rulers to carry out these responsibilities.”

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