The recent signing into law of the Executive Order for the Protection of Children and Implementation of the Nasarawa State Child’s Right Law 2005, was indeed, a bold move signifying the abiding love and concern, His Excellency, Engineer Abdullahi Sule, has for children, especially children of the less privileged in the society, who are prone to abuse and neglect.
Even though Nigeria adopted the Child’s Rights Act in 2003, in order to domesticate the Convention on the Rights of the Child, only 16 out of the 36 states in the country, so far, were able to enact the act through their states of assemblies.
The Act is meant to deal with several issues hindering the protection rights of children such as children living on the streets, children affected by communal conflict, drug abuse, human trafficking and weaknesses of the juvenile justice system amongst others.
Though the Executive Order for the Protection of Children and Implementation of the Nasarawa State Child’s Right Law was enacted in 2005, it however took the arrival of Engineer Sule, who has continued to voice his discontent on the abuse of children, to pass it into law.
In fact, passing of the order into law requires not only summoning the political will, considering mounting religious, cultural and social denunciation against any perceived move to accord the Nigerian child a modicum of protection, but also a deeply entrenched affection for the welfare of the helpless child.
Recent studies have shown that abuse in all forms is a daily reality for many Nigerian children and only a fraction ever receive help. In fact, according to the United Nations Children Fund (UNICEF), six out of 10 children experience some form of violence, with 13.2m children left to roam the street, out of school. Over 9m of these children are Almajiri, found mostly in Northern Nigeria.
In fact, it has become a not too agreeable sight, coming across hordes of these homeless children, bereft of much needed parental care, prowling along major roads, begging for what to eat, and in some circumstance, begging for money to take back to their teachers as some form of support.
Against the backdrop of the present reality, particularly with Nigeria gradually turning into a knowledge based society, where education and skills are becoming critical for survival, the Almajiri, who is denied both formal school and lacks worthwhile skills, has no place in the society.
The Almajiri is denied education, which is the key that unlocks the door of development. He faces limited chances in the future because he has been denied the right to education. With over nine Almajirai in the North, as disclosed by the Ministerial Committee on Madrasah, set up by the Federal Government in 2010, it’s no wonder that the economic development of the North is being adversely affected.
The Almajiri phenomenon has become an albatross on the neck of the North, drawing serious concerns on the plight of millions of children who are forced to live on the street, who grow up to become adults without formal education, and as the Northern Governors Forum (NGF), in one of its meetings in Kaduna, there was the urgent need to take these children off the streets, especially that some of them have become susceptible to criminal activities.
The situation calls for concerted effort towards saving millions of children who otherwise would have been condemned to a live of penury, or even worst, of crime, especially with extremists religious groups waiting to conscript them.
In Nasarawa State, the reality of the children on the street, particularly the Almajirai, has become alarming of late, particularly as a result of the banning of street begging in some core Northern states, resulting in the influx of Almajirai into the state, especially Lafia, the state capital.
Drawing from the fountain of milk of human kindness, Engineer Sule, since his assumption of office, has continued to lament the plight of the Almajiri, who is forced to live on the street, denied of the opportunity to attend formal schooling.
Worried about the predicament of the Almajiri, as well as prevailing security concerns, His Excellency, Engineer Abdullahi Sule, hosted members of Qur’anic Teachers Association of Nigeria, where he directed them to submit modalities on how his administration can intervene with a view to reducing the prevalence of street begging.
In line with his open door policy, the Governor met with the teachers of the Tsangaya school system, to seek their views on the way forward, stressing the need to reform the Almajiri School System in order to enrol the Almajiri into the formal school system. In this regard, he disclosed that aside the already built Almajiri school in Shabu, his administration is willing to build additional schools towards integrating the Almajiri into the formal school system.
Drawing from his vast knowledge of the Qur’an, the Governor pointed out that no responsible Muslim will seek for the abolishing of the Almajiri School System, but that there is the need to intervene in order to curb street begging mostly associated with the Almajirai.
He decried the situation where some parents fail to take care of their children, only to dump them at the Almajiri school without any means of livelihood, thereby forcing the children into street begging.
“We all agreed in the NGF meeting that it’s not the learning of the Qur’an that is an issue. It’s our believe that once one acquires the knowledge of the Qur’an properly, such a person will be a useful citizen.
“The real issue is that of street begging which exposes children to hazards,” the Governor stated.
He equally emphasized on the need for the Almajiri to acquire vocational skills while learning the Qur’an, in order for them to live a secured, meaningful live.
Gwani Abdullahi Aliyu, Nasarawa State Chairman of the association, told the Governor of the decision of its member to abide by the decision to curb street begging, adding that they are willing to cooperate with the government to attain this objective.
Shortly after members of the Qur’anic Teachers Association of Nigeria submitted its recommendations based on it findings from the field, the stage was set for the signing into law, the Executive Order banning street begging earlier passed by the Nasarawa State House of Assembly.
Signing the order into law at a combined ceremony recently at the Taal Conference Hotel, His Excellency, Engineer Abdullahi Sule, said the law apart from the prohibition of street begging, provides punishment for parents who out of irresponsibility threw away their children to street begging.
He added that Government has taken measures to enrol children into Tsangaya schools with a view to address the menace.
Specifically, the order, which is in pursuant to Section 5 (2) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 as amended, provides for the “safety, security, wellbeing, care, good health and education of a child, guarantees his/her successful future towards contribution and participating in building a secure, progressive and civilised society.”
While introducing the executive order before the Governor, State Attorney General and Commissioner for Justice, Associate Professor Abdulkarim Abubakar Kana, said it will make for the full implementation of the Child’s Right Law in the state.
With its coming into law therefores, street begging by children has been prohibited, with every parent or guardian responsible for the welfare and wellbeing of his/her child in all schools of formal or informal education.
The order stipulates that no child shall be sent far from his area of birth or his parents or guardian to any learning centre unless that child is 10 years and above, and that the parent or guardian is willing to provide for the welfare and wellbeing of the child.
It equally outlines various responsibilities for learning centres and Tsangaya teachers, detailing conditions under which any Tsangaya school can accept a child into its fold, registration of Islamiyya and Almajiri learning centres, as well as prohibits transfer of children outside the state.
Commenting after the signing of the executive order into law, Engineer Sule, said there is no criminality that defines child labour than taking children less than seven years of age and sending them to beg on the street.
The Governor who spoke during his investiture alongside his wife, Her Ecellency, Hajiya Salifat Abdullahi Sule, into the Scout Association of Nigeria penultimate Saturday, emphasized that the signing into law of the executive order banning street begging was to protect the Almajiri from abuse and neglect.
Also commenting shortly after the last monthly State Executive Council meeting, State Commissioner for Women Affairs, Hajiya Halima Jabiru, said government is committed to enforcing the ban on street begging across the state.
According to the Commissioner, following the signing into law by Governor Abdullahi Sule of the executive order banning street begging, the state government is making arrangement to deport nearly 30, 000 almajiri, who are under the age of ten, from the state and to reconnect them with their states of origin.
Hajiya Jabiru disclosed that presently, there are 63, 356 Almajiri on the street across the state, out of which 40, 000 are indigenes of Nasarawa State.
“You will agree with me that since the assumption of His Excellency, Engineer Abdullahi Sule as the Governor of Nasarawa State, he has shown some concern and worry about the way and manner our children are left on the streets, under aged children for that matter being abused and neglected on the street,” she said.
She pointed out that for those who are 10 years and above, government will allow them to continue to remain in the state but under strict supervision, stressing that government will make sure such Almajiri obtain both formal and informal education.
Hajiya Jabiru added that the Ministries of Women affairs, Justice and Education, will take up the mater towards ensuring that the 40, 000 indigenous Almajiri that will be allowed in Tsangaya schools, also obtain western education.
The commissioner however threatened that any breach in the law will be dealt with decisively by government, with the hope that soon, children will be taken off the street in Nasarawa State.
Abare is a Special Assistant on Media to His Excellency, Engineer Abdullahi Sule, the Executive Governor of Nasarawa State.