This story should concern every Nigerian all over the world. The Almajiri system in Northern Nigeria is and has been producing a generation of disenfranchised young men who have nothing to lose.
One of my unclassified work as an Intelligence Analyst in the United States Army was to answer the question who are the Boko Haram fighters and what was fueling the insurgency in Nigeria? I painted a profile of the Boko Haram fighters and other actors responsible for the breakdown of Nigeria’s security architecture like the Hausa-fulani herdsmen.
A common denominator in Nigeria’s security challenge is the Almajiri phenomenon. The Almajiris are orphans and other abandoned children usually left in the care and tutelage of moslem clerics and imams. But in practice the children are left to take care of themselves through the solicitation of alms and street begging and in most cases even the imams who are supposed to care for them. It is only in Nigeria that you see a sea of young people just roaming the streets and begging for money. Soon they graduate from street begging to street urchins, then to armed robbers , kidnappers, bandits and terrorists. They are the Boko Haram fighters with few hardened global Islamic jihadists from the war in Libya and Chad. The wars in the Sahel, coupled with Nigeria’s no-border policy (porous borders), have meant that as Libya fractured, thousands of escaping moslem terrorists and jihadists found home in Nigeria’s sambiza forests with Boko Haram terrorists. The war in Chad have also long brought this cross-border migration of criminals and social miscreants fueling the security challenge. Many Nigerian villages, towns and cities would wake up to see strange-looking foreigners setting up tents with AK-47 machine guns. Not long, they would start witnessing all kinds of heinous crimes ranging from rape of innocent women and children in the farms, killing of farmers, kidnapping on our roads for ransome, hitherto very strange occurrence in Nigeria’s culture and value system.
The Almajiris are the Hausa-Fulani herdsmen killing and maiming thousands across the country. Tackling terrorism, bandits and Boko Haram insurgency in Nigeria requires more than the now yearly huge financial and budgetary allocations to Security (so-called security votes) to dedicated pursuit of education for the huge swathe of disenfranchised young people called Almajiris in Northern Nigeria. Unfortunately, northern states like Sokoto and Zamfara and others are not making the effort. Imagine states of the federation who receive monthly federal allocationn not having students graduating from elementary and secondary schools to qualify them to take WAEC examination! Almajiri system is producing young people who have nothing to loose in society. Thus they also have nothing to gain or contribute to the country but to torment their fellow countrymen as they grow up with no life skills to earn a legitimate living.They become the foot soldiers of Boko Haram and the Fulani herdsmen, killing people and causing mayhem across Nigeria. It would take more than the normal politics or our usual unproductive rhetorics to pull Nigeria from the brinks of this security quagmire. It would require new thinking, great courage and determination to shake up the status quo. Who will save Nigeria?
Kingsley Dike, a former Foreign Affairs Reporter with The Guardian and retired United States Army Intelligence Analyst wrote from Atlanta, Georgia, USA.