On May 4, 2002, an aircraft belonging to EAS airline, crashed in Kano, killing about 100 persons, including then Sports Minister, Ishaya Mark Aku; wife of former FCT Minister, Mrs. Julie Useni; her last son, Master Danjuma; and three daughters of Colonel Habibu Shuaibu (retd), a former military administrator of Plateau State. Commandeered by the then editorial leadership of Pastor Segun Olatunji to provide a reportorial back-up, though I was a reporter in Abuja, I hit the Abuja-Kano road days after, with another colleague, now Niger State correspondent, the ever-reliable Adelowo Oladipo, a.k.a Zungeru, who knew the ancient city like the back of his hand. Blood was still very hot then; so, I had no problem doing a driving adventure. And I must tell that apart from occasional exuberant swerving, the journey of 428-driving kilometres was almost uneventful. No bandits, no Boko Haram, no soja haram, no cattle rustlers, no murderous Fulani herdsmen, no highway kidnappers and we were dong miles on end, being the sole motorist on the road! This phase, just like unfavourable others in the past, shall also pass, Amen.
Once in town, we headed straight to Gwammaja, the densely-populated area of the state; Nigeria’s second most-populated, and oh boy, what a sight we were confronted with! The relic of the wrecked plane was nearly subsumed by human beings (can’t afford to be careless with adjectives here, even if the sight and sound fit, cos the almajirai are the handiwork of my Father in heaven) that filled the entire space. Restriction line was barely regarded and I was told that no investigator dare remonstrate with the trespassers, except he wants to light a tinder-box of violent waves.
God forbid, if another mishap, like a vehicle losing its brakes, should happen right there, the air casualty being mourned, would be a child’s play, in material figures, to souls that would meet their Maker, in a matter of seconds. They were just everywhere.
No, it wasn’t my first time of encountering almajirai. In fact, I once lived amongst them, where you could have the rest of your four-for-N10 kwai (eggs) snatched, while still struggling to crack the first from the pack. Damaturu, Potiskum, Geidam, et al almajirai were all about food leftovers, petty face-to-face stealing and could also do eyeball-to-eyeball threat of snatching your plate of food, right before you, when very hungry. If you win a psychological war over them and turn them to your regular errand-friends, with generous tips, you have them meekly all over you, even trying to touch your edible with unwashed hands, in the name of giving you a hand. Can’t recollect seeing them in any orgy of violence, though there were occasional tense moments. That was then. Today, the almajiri community of Yobe State, supplies arguably the most blood-thirsty, most morbidly-murderous operatives to what started as anti-West, anti-Western values as represented by Western education. And after a decade of fighting, even the soldiers are turning to the Divine for help. The battle has been that draining for the nation, but not for the leading insurgents who need to do little, to recruit from a pool of willing and unengaged out-of-school youngsters all over the Northern states and who have kept growing in numbers, while recruiting soldiers and seconding them, for Nigeria as a country, has been crunchy.
Since we all agree that we are poor with reliable data around here, maybe we should work with the shaky estimates from UNICEF, (possibly under-captured). Current almajirai figures in Nigeria are put at 13.5 million and 8 million of them are reportedly tracked to 10 Nigerian states of Bauchi, Niger, Katsina, Kano, Sokoto, Zamfara, Kebbi, Gombe, Adamawa and Taraba, with FCT, Abuja, providing the 11th shore-up. Of these, Kano alone, with an estimate population of 16 million people, accounts for three million almajirai and the governor said he believed the credited figures, which is commendable on his part, though his argument that the youngsters are mostly from nearby countries, isn’t a wash.
Done at the crash site, we were to move to National Orthopaedic Hospital, Dala, where a witness-to-history survivour, was recuperating, but my Mazda 626 was lost to the swarming, surging mass of men. Instinctively, I discovered mine was the only car in sight and every part of it, was already covered with almajirai who turned the upper part to a dumpsite for sugarcane roughage, with everyone finding a nestling vacancy. The combination of Mr. Adelowo’s fluent plea in their mother-tongue and a dash, got us out, in a speed, the snail would not be proud to beat. That was about 18 years back.
Like the ‘Amotekunmania’ in the South-West, ‘Almajiphobia’ is gripping states across board in the North, because the leadership over there, especially the profiteering political class, appears fully awakened to the monster that has encircled it. Does anyone still remember the baboon and the dog rolling in the blood anecdote! Even those opposed to regional security arrangement in the South West, are now preaching inter-state cooperation, all over the North, to combat a problem deliberately created and allowed to fester, for political, economical and social gains/domination. Well, since nobody is wishing that the North will disappear overnight, though nearly all conscientious Southerners (at least nearly all I have interacted with, including front-row elite) want out of the Nigerian Union, let’s pray that our brothers and sisters over there, would get it right this time, starting with their greed.
Yes, the greed of the ruling class, is the first disease to be cured, in tackling the almajiri epidemic. If you listened to Nasir el-Rufai’s Commissioner for Human Services and Social Development, Hajiya Hafsat Baba, mourning the tragedy in their hand, you want to doubt the genuineness of the desperate sound bites coming from the rulers of the North.
Hear her, “We should know that government is not in charge of the moral upbringing of any child. It is the responsibility of the parents to bring up their children to become important persons in life. If the political will works, parents should help it work by inculcating moral values in their children.
“Parenting in Northern Nigeria is zero. I’m also worried about these children that are in the streets to beg to feed the family. We are sitting on the time bomb. These are the children who don’t have the feeling of the father or the mother. That bond is not there.” Did Hajia listen to herself at all?