By Obi Nwakanma
Much hot air has been expended on the various reports about the migration of the so-called “Almajarai” to the South – mostly to the South/South and South/East states.
Much concern is about the nature of these movement and their intentions, legality, and implications, particularly in this era of the national lowdown and restrictions of movements as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic.
There is the red flag in their mode of movement: much of those intercepted are often found hidden in the long goods trucks or trailers transporting commodities from the North of Nigeria, to the Southern states.
These are trucks belonging to the Dangote group. There is much conspiracy theory about what is going on. Many are seeing a very subversive movement aimed are “encircling the South” by a Fulani and Arab militia.
Many like the Federal Minister for Information, Mr. Lai Mohammed has called it just that: “conspiracy theory” without grounds! Lai Mohammed said those men found hidden in these trucks are just businessmen heading South,particularly to the South East to do business.
Whatever else Lai Mohammed is, he is not a voice to be taken lightly. Afterall, part of the tasks which he has assigned to his portfolio is to “lie” – well, let us not use that word – perhaps “obfuscate” might be a better word – for the Federal government.
Many Nigerians do not trust a word out of Mr. Mohammed’s breath. There are goodreasons for the distrust. I cannot begin here to itemize all the occasions when the minister has used disinformation to justify some of the crummiest policies and actions of this administration which he serves with gusto.
I will return to this question of trust, in due course, but Lai Mohammed seems to be working from statements made on the BBC Igbo Service interview of some Hausa and Fulani traders in Enugu who very clearly stated that those “almajirin” caught in these trucks hidden in the fold of bags of tomatoes, onions and beans, are actually in fact, traders and “seasonal” workers who are coming from the North, displaced by the insurgency.
“They are looking to find some business to take care of their families,” one respondent said. Again, the ideathat these men are businessmen is intriguing, especially when it was conveyed in perfect Igbo by Hausa folk who have lived in easy and beneficial relationship with the Igbo. Many of these Hausa and Fulani interviewed on the BBC were born in Igbo land and speak perfect Igbo.
One infact said, “Amuru m n’ala!” – I was born in this land, and he was educated at the Federal Government College Enugu, where his father was a day labourer. For he, who was born in that land, there is no question that he has every right to be there, and to enjoy al the benefits and obligations of the South East.
I really think the Igbo must be very careful about what is going on,so that they do not tar every Hausa or Fulani or Berom, or Zangon Kataf – arriving to the East with the same brush. There are many who are seeking to do legitimate business, and who as Nigerians have every legitimate right to go to the East, and settle in the East, if they choose.
There should be no problem with that especially if they are Nigerians. The trouble is that the footage we have thus far seen of those intercepted do not tell us if these are actually Nigerians; much more certain is that they are not “Almajirin.” The Almajrin are usually children from the ages 5-15 years, who beg for food and are far too poor to constitute anything but public nuisance.
They are an eyesore, that’s all. I remember once, seeing Professor Jubril Aminu, former Ministerof health, barking at once of such “Almajirin” who had approached him for alms. Reclining inside his chauffeur driven Mercedes Benz, Dr. Aminu had barked, “Tu kuna!” or some such word.
From the reaction of the Almajirin boy, I guessed that the brainy ex-minister had said, “away from me!” in very clear irritation and disgust. He slid further back, his unease with the human “vermin” so very clearly written on his disgusted face, into the safer fold of his car, winding up the glass.
This was in 1999 on Awolowo Road in Ikoyi, clogged by immovable traffic. I was just coming out of the bookshop on that street. I did put Jubril Aminu’s reaction to the frustrations of being in a Lagos traffic. It was not long before he was announced as Ambassador to the USA.
The second reason might have been a genuine distaste for the situation of the Northern child. And it is quite disgraceful. No child, North or South, should live in the ways that the Almajirin child is made to live.
Much of Nigeria’s resources have been sent and wasted in the North. Those who have led the North have looted it blind and pocketed the huge sums sent up north for physical and human development.
While the North today boasts some of the richest men in the world; some who even donate millions in hard currency to universities abroad; the worst level of poverty and underdevelopment ravages northern Nigeria where they have left Nigerian children born of Northern parentage roaming on the streets and foraging shit and worms from garbage cans to survive.
And it just so happens that the Northern governors, after their routine meeting recently in Kaduna, agreed to abolish the Almajirin system, and transport all Almajrin to their own “states of origin.” The government of Kaduna state even went further with a vow to prosecute any parent who forces their child into this life of criminal neglect.
That’s all wonderful. Within that week, following the announcement, however, folks began to see a surge of irreconcilable movements into the South-South and South East especially. Then, people began to raise the hoopla about an unleashing of the Almajirin on the South. I do beg Southerners, please do not send away any Almajirin child who seeks refuge among you!
Although the scourge of the Almajirin is an indictment of the leaders of the North for their historical failure to care for their most vulnerable population, the Almajirin child is a Nigerian child and must be protected. Do not turn away the children.
I would suggest a very sophisticated program of refuge that should involve the church and other voluntary agencies that should adopt these children, and create sanctuary programs that would send them to school, provide access to health care, education, nutrition, recreation, rehabilitation, and acculturate themto being free, responsible citizens rather than put-upon subjects of a wicked feudal system.
They will be in the end a credit to those who offer them refuge and sanctuary, and the opportunity for aproductive life. That’s what the South must do with the Almajirin, if they find their way, seeking a better life in the South.
Not cast them back to whence they came. We need to treat each other humanely and not with distrust or fear or hatred or disgust. But only if what they seek is refuge from poverty. We can surely share our bread and fish and let its value multiply among us.
I fear however that there is much more to the people now being smuggled into the South. As Tanko Yakassi quite clearly observed, those are not Almajirin! They are far too well-fed; too well-clothed, and self-aware to be “Almajirin.” Their mode of clandestine, and nocturnal immigration to the South, particularly to the South East also leaves people with deep suspicion and worry.
They fear that something more sinister is afoot. Moreover, just last week, Intersociety, a coalitionof Civil Society groups in the South East published a report of an investigative study which it had conducted, and in which the coalition claimed that over 360 Communities in the South East are currently under armed occupation by those we wrongly call “Fulani herdsmen.”
Is there a connection between these forms of concentric occupation and the nocturnal movement of clearly very fit young men traveling by stealth towards the land of the rising sun? Is there a connection between the dislodging of the Boko Haram by the Chadian military, and their escape southwards to Eastern Nigeria?
These are questions people are actually asking. And as all these were unfolding, the Nigerian Security Services put out an alert announcing that bandits were travellingacross Nigeria under the cover of the lock-down.
This is serious. It of course rubbishes Lai Mohammed’s claim that those travelling Southwards are “businessmen.” What kind of business?Why are they breaking the cordon sanitaire imposed by the Public health authorities under the current public health emergency regulation?
How do they break through and who allows them? Why are they travelling by stealth? And why are Dangote’s trailers the recurrent means of transportation? There are too many unanswered questions. The minister and the security services do not seem to be in lock step on this.
And there is great distrust, because as the South Easternerssay, the Nigerian National Security leadership represents only one region of this federation. Theydo not trust that a most active process of destabilization is not on-going, logistically provisioned by officials of this government.
The Igbo after all have neither eyes nor ears in the National Security establishment and do not trust this federal government. While the East is crying out about incipient armed occupation, the president of Nigeria is playing possum; acting as though it’s no concern of his. Well, very clearly it is not.
But strangers are occupying the South/South and South/Eastern forests. These are not Almajirin, and these are certainly not businessmen. And a dangerous eruption is very likely soon to settle it one way or the other.
Truth be told: this insurgent migration to the South is not empty-handed.