Abdulkareem Hassan writes,
It has been bothering me since the first time I was admitted to Usmanu Danfodiyo University, Sokoto, about the young boys called ‘Yaro boys’, some people called them ‘Almajiri’. Seeing them sleeping around, living without shelter with ruff and tattered cloth, and begging for food and clothing sometimes gives me headaches, makes my mind soaked in curiosities and full of thoughts about this strange lifestyle.
I learned and read about their history and their lifestyle in books of history is largely tagged to their culture. And for generations, upon generations, there has been no end to the existence of these young children called “Yaro boys”. These same children who are out of school age do not by any chance attend school, rather, they roam the streets in a quest for survival. As an age-old tradition, these kids are popularly called ‘Almajiri’ / ‘Yaro’ – children from poor homes usually said were sent to Islamic boarding schools. Formal education remains a far cry for thousands of these children. But it was a surprise to me when I called one of them and asked why he didn’t go to school, he said, ‘‘ni Ba’ji Turanchi” meaning ‘‘he doesn’t speak English ” and that is his main reason for not going to school.

Putting this into perspective, Nigeria has about 13.8 million out-of-school children. In West Africa, Nigeria accounts for 46 percent of out-of-school children. 70 percent of these out-of-school children in Nigeria are now from Northern Nigeria. Thus, the number of out-of-school children in Nigeria has increased from 13.2 million in 2015 to 10,193,918. Now, some of the contributive factors to this issue are carelessness, illiteracy, lack of low educational activities in the Northeastern part of Nigeria. Also, the destruction of schools by insurgents, forced displacement, and the volatile nature of the region has grossly impacted accessibility to primary education in the area.
Over the years, the Almajiri program has co-existed alongside the formal school system; it has failed to be subsumed into the formal education sector. For instance, Nigeria’s former president, Goodluck Jonathan, reportedly spent about N15 billion in building Almajiri schools to integrate basic education into the Almajiri system. There have been reports that the structures built for the purpose have either been used for conventional education or lay waste because its pupils have gone back to the old ways of street begging”. I was so curious about this and eventually learned that it’s these sets of humans that deliberately have no or little interest in going to school.
Conflict experts also hold that having sufferable children in cities across a nation that is fighting an ideological war is a terrible risk. For instance, it has been widely reiterated that the reason for banditry insurgents to continue waging war against the Nigerian state is as a result of a robust recruitment source. The Almajiri system has created a mass of vulnerable younglings who are susceptible to these antics of conflict promoters upon the promise of material reward like money, even just by brainwashing them by giving them shelters and food or psycho-social brainwashing.
The deportation of some ‘Yaro’ children in the time of the Covid-19 pandemic has put more light in the dark. For over 500 years, the Almajiri system has been existing, while it has been, ever since its existence, perceived by many as constituting a public nuisance. In the face of the COVID-19 pandemic, where free movements had been banned and social distancing greatly promoted, the Almajiri way of life is greatly threatened. Hundreds of Almajiri children have been deported from across different states of the federation; in a bid to flatten the spread of the Coronavirus. In some cases, some of them have tested positive to COVID-19. Nigeria’s House of Representatives also had to call on the Federal government to stop state governments from repatriating Almajiri children.
Beyond COVID-19, the Almajiri system requires collective action. This should involve both the federal and state governments to map out a holistic policy action to address the issues around the Almajiri system. Also, religious and traditional institutions have a vital role to play, considering that this practice is deeply traced in cultural and religious conviction as governmental actions can only provide the capacity for reforms.
In conclusion, this will require the collaborations of relevant stakeholders, including the Northern elites, for meaningful impact to be achieved and sustainability guaranteed. Without a comprehensive policy initiative, the Almajiri children remain the evidence of a dearth of social security for the citizens of the country.

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