OPINION: MAKING SENSE OF EL-RUFAI’S SEEMING DISPARATE STANCE ON CITIZENS’ RIGHTS

Kaduna State governor, Mallam Nasiru El-Rufai

The Kaduna State Government had in May 2020 repatriated over 30,000 Almajiri children back to their respective states of origin in the wake of the onset of the raging pandemic, as part of its efforts to check the spread of coronavirus by way of closing all formal and informal schools in the state. The state government also expressed its readiness to receive any Almajiri from any state of the federation that are indigenous to Kaduna State in return.

The Governor of the State, Mallam Nasir El-Rufa’i also emphasised the resolve of Northern Governors to end the Almajiri system in the region, which he described as having failed to deliver on its primary objective of learning and thus needed to be done away with, adding that the pandemic only provided the opportunity to kick-start the process. This stance by the governor was widely condemned in no uncertain terms in many quarters as infringing on the rights of the children to reside in any part of the country of their choosing.

Exactly a week ago today, precisely on February 3, 2021, Governor El – Rufa’i was in the news again when he reportedly issued a statement calling on “Nigerians living in Kaduna State to respect law and order and the rights of all citizen to live in peace and security wherever they may choose to reside or work”. He also appealed to his governor colleagues to make similar statements and disavow the reported attacks and eviction ultimatums being issued in some parts of the country.

Immediately following the release of that Public Statement in the light of the targeted forced evictions happening in certain parts of the country at the time, many people took up arms, literally, as they were unanimous in their condemnation of the governor for what they perceive as his open display of double standards on the issue of the rights of all citizens, including children, to reside in any part of the country they may choose to. This is in the light of the earlier repatriation of the Almajiris by his government, and his latest stance against the eviction notices being issued in parts of the country, which they viewed as contradictory and unacceptable.

I personally see no double standards there, in the sense that, even though the two positions he has taken against Almajiranci in Kaduna State, on the one hand, viz-a-viz his current insistence on the right of all Nigerians to reside anywhere in the country, on the other, may seem to be at variance on the surface, a closer look at the inherent issues around each of the positions or views he has expressed will reveal that there is really nothing contradictory about them at all.

Over the years, a lot of time and energy has been expended on the protracted debate about the phenomenon of Almajiranci over the years, especially in its current form, which is completely different from both the way it used to be in the past, and from what it was conceived to be at the outset by those who came up with the idea all those several generations ago when they first introduced that system of learning.

In the course of those extended debates, many people were of the strong opinion that an urgent reform was needed, which should necessarily begin with taking those child beggars off the streets and repatriating them closer to their respective homes, where they could obtain their Islamic education as day students, just like the vast majority of all children their age did as young children and still do today. Boarding Islamic schools could also be established alongside day type Islamiyyah schools, with adequate provisions for decent accommodation, feeding and other necessary amenities, like we currently have them provided in our typical Western education type schools.

That way, little children who should ordinarily be at home being taken care of by their doting parents and/or guardians would no longer need to spend the greater part of the day on our infamously very tough and unforgiving streets, as we have them do today, looking for food to eat, and eventually having to sleep in subhuman conditions at the end of their tortuous day, as we see often them do on several occasions nowadays.

The right of all Nigerians to reside and legitimately earn their living in any part of the country is a guaranteed one, as per Section 41 (1) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 (as Amended), which states; “every citizen of Nigeria is entitled to move freely throughout Nigeria and to reside in any part thereof, and no citizen of Nigeria shall be expelled from Nigeria or refuse entry thereby or exit therefrom”. Indeed, many Nigerians have, and are still enjoying that constitutional right by working and residing in different places of their choice, and if they decide to take their families, including young children, along on such economic or vocational sojourns, it’s all well and good.

Again, we also have this age-old practice in different parts of the country, whereby people may also choose to send their young children to live with family of relations or friends in their respective homes, whether in the same state or elsewhere, but those kids are usually well provided for by their host family This is clearly not the same with the situation of the typical Almajiri, who has to literally fend for himself at such a very young and impressionable age; a vulnerable period of his young life when his parents and/or guardians should be entirely responsible for his care, but they choose to leave him to his fate, instead.

Meanwhile, the right of all children has also been guaranteed under Section 2 (1) of the Child Rights Act, which states; “a child shall be given such protection and care as is necessary for the wellbeing of the child, taking into account the rights and duties of the child’s parents, guardians, or other individuals, institutions, services, agencies, organisations or bodies legally responsible for the child”. The Child Rights Act adopts the freedoms in Part IV of the Constitution and applies them to the rights of children, and I would imagine that we all should preferably like to see a situation whereby the rights and safety of the Almajiri child is comprehensively protected, such that he is able to obtain his Islamic education in peace at, or closer to home, and under the protective care of his parents or guardians, following which he may then choose to exercise his equally guaranteed right to live a productive life anywhere in the country as an adult.

We cannot have our own biological children and wards safely kept and provided for in the relative safety and comfort of our respective homes, and at the same time continue to argue in support, or in favour of, letting other less fortunate children continue to roam the streets and sleep in subhuman conditions on a daily basis, in the name of defending Almajiranci; a very old and nonfunctional system that is long overdue for a complete overhaul and wholesale reform, anyway. To insist on pushing this double faced approach forward would provide one perfect example of an obvious contradiction and double standards, if ever any was needed!

That said, Governor El-Rufai’s strong-willed stance against Almajiranci as a veritable means of protecting the rights of the children, and his latest position in support of protecting the constitutional right of all Nigerians to live anywhere they may choose to, are not mutually exclusive at all, and should not be made to appear to be so.

*** Article by Abdullahi Usman (usmanabd@gmail.com)