A study by the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) put the number of out-of-school children in Nigeria to 13.5 million – as of 2018. An unimpressive mass of this number comes from Borno, Adamawa, Yobe, Jigawa, Kano, Katsina, Zamfara, and other northern states.
In December 2019, Jigawa state government announced it would open a bidding process for the construction of 95 mosques across the state. This is a state with over 800,000 out-of-school children,
According to a survey by the Education Sector Support Programme in Nigeria (ESSPIN), there are more than 800,000 out-of-school children between the age of three and 18 in Jigawa.
In Kano, there are about one million out-of-school children in the state. This is according to Peter Hawkins, the UNICEF representative to Nigeria, who disclosed this at a four-day workshop organised for commissioners and permanent secretaries from the 19 northern states in August 2019.
In Katsina, there are approximately one million out-of-school children. Though, Aminu Masari, the governor of the state, put the number at 996,000. Ditto Zamfara.
In addition, reports by the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency ( NDLEA) reveal that the north-west region has the highest number of drug-related arrests in years, with 2,205 arrests in 2015 alone. A motion on drug abuse in the north adopted by the senate in 2017 disclosed that three million bottles of codeine were consumed by drug abusers daily in Kano and Jigawa.
Also, Mojisola Adeyeye, director-general of the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC), revealed that 70 percent of the youth essentially, the young boys, abuse illicit drugs in Kano.
When you put all these numbers together what you have is chaos, banditry and kidnapping.
In June, 2019, the federal government said it was considering proscribing the Al-majiri system of education in order to tackle insecurity.
Babagana Monguno, national security adviser, who disclosed this at the end of the national executive council meeting in Abuja, said the ban is to ensure that no child is deprived of basic education.
He said Almajiris were becoming a prodigious problem to society, and that many of them end up becoming “criminals, drug addicts and willing tools in the hands of those who have very dangerous intentions’’.
But what happened when the government revealed its intention to ban this atrocious system? There was a piercing outcry from the north that it was an attempt at a religious ordinance they hold dear.
Afterwards, the government buckled under pressure and announced it was no longer going ahead with the plan. Yet the situation remains the same. But who does the current regime of child illiteracy and ignorance in the north benefit? The northern elite.
The only pragmatic reason I can advance on why northern leaders do not consider it as an emergency to end the Al-majiri system and to commence mass education of their young population is politics. They are comfortable with the status quo as long as they get power. It is to their advantage presiding over an uneducated population who can be manipulated and deployed for political ends.
Muhammad Sanusi II, the gadfly emir of Kano, whom I regard as the John the Baptist of the north for his vociferous condemnation of this disequilibrious status quo, is alone in his advocacy against irresponsible polygamy, Al-majiri and child marriage – practices the northern elite espouse.
The emir himself had complained about the northern elite whom he said wanted to silence him for speaking the truth about the region.
‘’Our colleagues and compatriots among the elite do not like statistics. Numbers are disturbing. I recently gave a speech in which I said the north-east and North-west of Nigeria are the poorest parts of the country. This simple statement of fact has generated so much heat; the noise has yet to die down.The response to this speech has been a barrage of personal attacks and insults aimed at silencing any voices that dare shine the light on the society to which we are saying Bring Back our Girls,’’ he said at a lecture held to commemorate the Chibok girls abduction.
Who will bell the cat? Why is there no sense of urgency on the part of the northern elite? Why is there no alarm? Why the deafening silence? What are they doing to seminally address the remote causes of banditry by their youth?
Now that banditry and kidnapping, brought on by the purposive disempowerment of the young population of the north by the elite, is threatening the peace and security of every Nigerian, I suggest, northern leaders run the gauntlet. They cannot wish this away. Now is not the time for politics and pandering to sensitivities. Now is the time they tell themselves the truth; they created this Frankenstein.
Frederick Nwabufo is The Cable Media Abuja Bureau Chief