THE MASS MOVEMENT OF ALMAJIRIS FROM NORTHERN TO THE SOUTHERN PART OF NIGERIA IN THE WAKE OF GLOBAL PANDEMIC AND NATIONAL LOCKDOWN

THE MASS MOVEMENT OF ALMAJIRIS FROM NORTHERN TO THE SOUTHERN PART OF NIGERIA IN THE WAKE OF GLOBAL PANDEMIC AND NATIONAL LOCKDOWN 
By Francis N.







Loaded more often than not, in trucks and lorries transporting foods and food items which the government has tagged 'essential service workers', the current wave of Southward exodus of 'Almajiri' from Northern Nigeria has continued to frighten many people across the Southern part of the country.
Particularly of interest to many is that the movement is taking place at a time the whole nation is on lockdown as effort to contain the spread of Coronavirus pandemic, even as many Almajiris relocated to their states of origins by various Northern governors, have tested positive for the ravaging COVID-19.
Some questions beg for answers: What is the motivation for the movement? How are they able to beat checkpoints and travel all the way to the south freely? Why are they moving at the time Nigeria is on nation wide lockdown?
The answer depends on who you ask as many will answer based on what they're told or what they're made to believe. Some may even say they're been brought down to the southern part to infect the region with the virus, as machineries or to populate the South as 2023 elections are gradually heating up.
No one presumably has the answer to above questions. But many southern states are doing what looks like the only sensible thing amid the growing pandemic: Sending them back. So, far available records show that in Lagos alone over 800 have been sent back, Ogun, 60; Oyo, 50; 0sun over 500; Ekiti, 60; Ondo 45; Edo 39; Enugu 100; Ebonyi figure not specified and Kwara 50. Some, however, say the figures are not accurate.
At a recent briefing, the Secretary to the Government of the Federation and member of the the Presidential Task Force (PTF) on COVID-19, Boss Mustapha, disclosed President Muhammadu Buhari’s approval of extension of the ban on interstate travels, as well as nationwide curfew from 8:00 p.m to 6:00a.m for another period of two weeks. In spite of the directive, the influx of suspicious people to the South has remained unabated. What sparked off the wave of the migration was the recent decision by the Northern Governors’ Forum to repatriate the Almajirai to their states of origin as part of their efforts to curb the spread of Coronavirus.
A renowned security expert, Dr Ekhomu Onuh, speaking with Sunday Sun, expressed worry that the nation might be sitting on a time bomb with the new dimension introduced into the Almajiri menace. He said: “I am worried a lot about this issue of Almajiri. First of all, let’s look at the vehicle that was said to have been arrested with people who are being described as Almajrai. I don’t see those people as Almajirai because they (Almajirai) are generally much younger and they have a cut off age. The people I saw in the truck might just be passing themselves off as Almajirai. And that is where I have my own concern. It could be a way by which Boko Haram insurgents are metastasizing in the country. Boko Haram is already in the South. They are here already. At least, I handled a case here in Lagos recently. I know it for a fact, it is not an assumption. “I see the issue of Almajiri as a time bomb that is going to explode on us because we are going about it the wrong way right now. Shekau was an Almajiri in Maiduguri where he met Muhammed Yusuf. Today, Shekau is the biggest enemy Nigeria has ever had. He and his group have claimed more than any insurgent group in Nigeria and it is a continuing threat.
“My research shows that we have a lot of people from across the border, Niger and Chad, who are now missing with our population and we are shipping them up and down. How do we determine where they are from since we don’t have the data on anybody? This is a major sociological bomb that is going to hit us. With time, they will bring us on our kneels. It’s a major policy issue.” While admitting the constitutional right of freedom of movement, he charged concerned authorities to bring Boko Haram insurgent to an end. He argued: “These young (Almajirai) people are Nigerians. They have human rights which are enshrined in Section 4 of the constitution. Who is defending those human rights? Where did the governors get authority to do internal deportation in Nigeria? Who gave those governors the power to deport people within their own country? “Based on constitutional guarantee, there is freedom of movement. So, it is up to the authorities to be in hot pursuit of real Boko Haram elements and see if they can bring them to justice.”
Also, Muhammed Tsav, son of Abubakar Tsav, a lawyer and security expert, sharing the same opinion, blamed the raging confusion on the decision of the Northern governors to take Almajirai back to their states of origin, claiming that the timing was inauspicious. “The constitution allows any Nigerian to stay and live anywhere in the country. These Almajirai have been in existence a long time ago. Why didn’t they stop it at that time,” queried. He further expressed the fear that the movement of suspicious persons to the South could aggravate the challenge of kidnapping and other forms of criminalities peculiar to the region.
“In the process of trying to move Almajirai back to their states of origin, there are people who are using it to evacuate Boko Haram. Now, Boko Haram insurgents are on the loose. If these Boko Harams are among those people, it is going to be a big security issue and it should be stopped. “So long as you arrest a vehicle from the North going to the South with suspected Almajiri, they could be Boko Haram insurgents who have been trained and vast in the use of ammunition. In any case, what are they going to do in the South if not to go and commit crimes? In the first place, what is the source of their livelihood? With time, they will start robbing and kidnapping people.
“Agreed, the South already has kidnapping, but the way Boko Haram do their own is different. They will now go and introduce those tactics to the South. We have worse of kidnappers in the North. I have an experience of a client whose General Manager was kidnapped. The man had to pay almost N150 million to those people to secure the release of that expatriate. “Now, we are talking about health issue, COVID-19. If you are going to transport people to their homes, they must go with secure vehicle. But you put everybody in a truck behind a trailer. In the process, those who do not have Coronavirus will be affected behind in that truck.  If at all they are Almajirai, chances are there that they would go and infect the people in the South with the virus,” he said. He urged the authorities to create a platform whereby the police will join the military to stop unapproved movement of persons.
“Governors too should stop repatriating Almajirai. If there is a need to repatriate them, they should escort them to their destination so that nobody drops on the way,” he suggested.
Similarly, another security expert, Mr Seyi Adetayo, while also lending his voice to the growing security concern, said: “The first question we need to ask ourselves is: which Magarata or Quranic school are these Almajirai coming from the North to the South want to attend when they get here? The system in the North is that they are in Arabic school, where they take lectures and then spend morning and afternoon wondering about town looking for what to eat.
“Now that they are moving here, it means they have severed relationship with Islamic schools that have their record. It means that they are going to be more or less destitute in the South with no particular place in mind to stay. Because they don’t have any means of livelihood, it means we are going to witness an upsurge in the rate of crime. We are also going to see a lot of uncompleted building being occupied by these people with attendant increase in COVID-19 fatality cases.  For those of them who will take to Okada riding as a means of survival, their penchant for disobeying rule will also manifest.
“There is also the likelihood of sympathizers of Boko Haram trying to leave the restive areas to the South where there is relative peace. The movement is becoming obvious now because they are mounting road blocks. This has been an ongoing thing. You need to see what is happening at Fagba and see how many trailers are bringing people from the North on a daily basis. The reality is just beginning to stir us in the face.”
The coalition of Northern Youths has, however, kicked against the ways “Northen youths moving to the South were being maltreated and sent back,” arguing that “they have the right under the constitution to migrate/move to any part of the country.

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