Call it a mere coincidence. You might be right. You may even choose to see it as just a positive response to some constructive criticisms – that could also be true. Whichever way one decides to look at it, the decision of Kano State Governor Abdullahi Ganduje to ban Almajiris from begging on the streets of Kano, a few days after he was bashed for appointing special assistants on street lights, is a positive development.
Recall that Ganduje had appointed three aides as Senior Special Assistants on Street Light Matters last week. The appointees were saddled with the responsibility of handling issues concerning generators and diesel used in powering streetlights in the state. However, the governor was strongly criticised for treating with kid gloves the problem of child begging in Kano State where hundreds of thousands of school age children roam about the streets begging for food in what has almost become a culture or tradition of sort in the north.
Among other things, Ganduje was told to do something urgent about the army of child beggars in his state to avert an impending catastrophe. The starting point, as noted in this column last week, was for the governor to get these children registered and retained in school, rather than appointing three aides to maintain streetlights. Likewise, other Northern governors were charged to declare a state of emergency in the education sector and mount up strong campaigns against Almajiris in their states. After all, some of us are aware that there is nothing Islamic about the Almajiri system; it’s a mere product of the Northern feudal system. Otherwise, why are we not seeing children beggars on the streets of Mecca, the holiest of Muslim cities where the holy Prophet Muhammad himself, the founder of Islam, was born, or in any other well-known Islamic countries like Turkey and Indonesia?
Now that Governor Ganduje has decided to sanitise the Almajiri system, it is only proper to encourage him to use all the executive power at his disposal to end this crime against children. I must say that it is heart-warming to hear that the governor is resolute in getting these children off the streets and ensuring they have access to education. He has not only outlawed street begging, he has also read the Riot Act to parents and guardians of any child caught begging. According to the governor’s spokesperson, Abba Anwar, parents and guardians of such children will be taken to court to face the wrath of the law. Similarly, any Almajiri teacher that thinks he cannot cope with the new system has been asked to leave the state.
Also, the official statement from the government shows that the state has integrated the Almajiri system into its education policy. With this integration, the Almajiri schools are expected to include English and Arithmetic in their curriculum to enable the children to acquire the knowledge of the Holy Qur’an and other types of education, to be able to continue their education to secondary schools and beyond. The state Government is doing this to consolidate its free and compulsory primary and secondary schools education.
As it is, the government‘s new policy seems to be a win-win for everyone as the children will have access to both Islamic and other types of education. This is good. However, there is a huge difference between policy formulation and implementation especially in a country like Nigeria. For instance, as far as policy formulation is concerned, there is nothing novel about what Ganduje just did. All the details of the state’s new policy on education are some of the provisions contained in the 2004 Universal Basic Education Commission Act. If the provisions of the UBEC Act had been implemented to the letter, Nigeria shouldn’t be having any business contending with the menace of child begging 16 years after the UBEC Act was promulgated.
The Act clearly states that basic education is compulsory for all Nigerian children of school age. Basically, the Act stipulates an uninterrupted access to nine-year formal education for every Nigerian child. That is why the Federal Government devotes two per cent of the Consolidated Revenue Fund to finance free and compulsory basic education for every child of school-age in the country. In other words, every Nigerian child by law is entitled to compulsory education of six years in primary school and three years of junior secondary education.
The UBEC fund is given to the states and local governments to ensure provision of uniform and qualitative basic education across the nation. And according to Section 2 (4) of the Act, it is a crime for parents not to send their children to school. Any parent who refuses to send their child to school, going by the provision of the Act, commits an offence which is punishable, on first conviction to reprimand, on second conviction to a fine of N2, 000 or a jail term of one month or both and on subsequent conviction to a fine of N5, 000 or imprisonment for a term of two months or both.
This provision notwithstanding, more and more Nigerian children are out of school today and their parents have not been convicted for committing any offence. As a matter of fact, the population of out-of-school children in the country has been on a steady rise. A survey conducted by the United Nations Children’s Fund shows that the population of out of school children in Nigeria has risen from 10.5 million to 13.2 million, the highest in the world.
From time to time, state governments threaten to take action against parents that failed to send their children to school, but they never do. I remember asking a former deputy governor in one of the South West states some years back why government was not arresting parents of children trading during school hours in line with the provisions of the UBEC Act. Her response was intriguing. She said that government was usually afraid of an angry backlash from parents, especially considering the fact that these parents are voters. I guess this is the reason why no parent is convicted for flouting the UBEC act in any part of the country.
Unfortunately, no country plays politics with its children without bearing the bitter consequences of their action. The child bandits, Boko Haram insurgents and the 419ners in Nigeria are some of the consequences of government’s failure in giving sound education to its children.
It is good that Ganduje has read the Riot Act to the people of his state. However, getting the desired result in this kind of situation goes beyond mere pronouncement. He needs to back his statement with the required political will. Many of us are eager to see Kano streets free of Almajiris. Who knows? That could serve as a cue for other northern governors to do something about the situation in their states. I believe Ganduje can make this happen if he truly wants to make history.
Olabisi Deji-Folutile is the editor-in-chief of Franktalknow.com and member of Nigerian Guild of Editors. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org