The Jama’atu Nasril Islam led by the Sultan of Sokoto, Alhaji Sa’ad Abubakar lll, Ohanaeze Ndigbo and Yoruba socio-political group, Afenifere, have reacted to President Muhammadu Buhari’s lamentation about the plight of the Almajiris and other poor people in the country.
They called on the President to wake up and design all-inclusive socio-economic and educational policies that would create employment and increase literacy rate across the country instead of lamenting.
The groups also argued that instead of sharing money through its Trader Moni scheme, the Federal Government should have initiated social empowerment programmes that could address the Almajiri problem.
The President had during a breaking of fast at the Presidential Villa, Abuja on Monday night, said the plight of the poor, including the Almajiris, upset him.
Buhari lashed out at the elite for failing to address the welfare and educational needs of the underprivileged Nigerians.
Those that attended the event included the Vice-President, Prof Yemi Osinbanjo, (SAN), ministers, service chiefs, heads of security agencies and chief executives of some Federal Government’s institutions.
The President stated, “When I drive around the country what upsets me most is the status of our poor people in this country. You see young people, the so-called Almajiris wearing torn dresses, with plastic bowls. They are looking basically for what to eat.
“The question of education (to them) is a luxury. I think the Nigerian elite; we are all failing because I think we should have a programme that will at least guarantee basic education for our people no matter how poor they are.”
According to the News Agency of Nigeria, Buhari, who commended Osinbajo, said, “I welcome the Vice-President for initiating the school feeding programme. If you check in your localities the enrolment in schools has improved because a lot of children can get at least one good meal a day. This is the position of this country.
“But culturally, some of us are quite merciless; we don’t care about what happens to others we just keep on moving forward.”
But Afenifere and a former governor of old Kaduna State, Balarabe Musa, urged Buhari to effect a new political order to address the Almajiri system as well as the rising poverty in the country.
Afenifere noted that the restructuring of the country would address the social system breeding the Almajiris.
Its spokesman, Yinka Odumakin, in an interview with The PUNCH on Tuesday, said the government should have invested in social empowerment programmes that could address the Almajiri problem instead of sharing money through its Trader Moni scheme.
He argued that a social investment scheme to the tune of N300m annually could change the social condition of many Nigerians.
Odumakin stated, “The President should be aware of the social system which has produced the Almajiris in large numbers. This social system has been nurtured over the years and various leaders have not made attempt to change it.
“If the government had invested just N300m in social security investment, would it not have created many jobs and taken many of the children off the street? But we are breeding more children.
“We are clamouring for the restructuring of Nigeria so that every geopolitical zone can be productive. They resisted it, saying we should continue to share money. Unless we restructure the country to address poverty and the Almajiri system, lamentation would mean nothing.”
Musa, who is the Chairman, Board of Trustees of the defunct People’s Redemption Party, noted that Buhari had all the resources at his disposal to do what was necessary to change the condition of the street children.
He agreed with the President that the elite had failed to proffer solutions to the challenge, adding that the issue should be of utmost concern to the government if it was serious about the issue.
Musa said, “The President has all the resources and he can do what it takes to effect a change. He can also effect a new political order to address the problem of Almajiri in the country. Like he said, the political elite have failed to address the problem of Almajiri and this should take the front burner as noted by the President.”
The Second Republic politician said it was not enough for the nation to talk about the situation, insisting that it was time to tackle the challenge headlong.
He added, “I don’t think it is enough for us to only talk about the challenge, it is high time we took action and confronted the issue headlong. I expect the government to initiate education and social policies to rehabilitate the children roaming our streets. This is the least I expected from President Buhari.”
Also, the Christian Association of Nigeria wondered what the Buhari administration had done to address the Almajiri challenge in the last four years, stating that the street children might become terrorists, bandits and kidnappers that the nation would contend with in the future.
CAN spokesman, Pastor Bayo Oladeji, called for what he described as a paradigm shift in governance.
He said, “If the President is distancing his government from the elite, then, what is his government doing about the menace since he got to power in 2015? Has his government done anything tangible to remove the nuisance called Alimajiri or its policies have added to the army of the street urchins?
“We recall the (Goodluck) Jonathan government established schools for them but what has become of those schools? Is there any continuity of the project? Unless a concerted effort is made to remove those boys from the streets, they are the good recruits for terrorists, bandits, kidnappers and other killers.”
Ohanaeze Ndigbo described the President’s comment as “the height of hypocrisy.”
The President-General of Ohanaeze Ndigbo, Chief Nnia Nwodo, said the President “is a joker.”
He added, “Mr President has just realised that nemesis is catching up with them as such children constitute the bulk of the Boko Haram’s army.”
Nwodo, who reacted through his Special Adviser on Media, Chief Emeka Attamah, said, “To Ohanaeze Ndigbo Worldwide, this is the height of hypocrisy.
“It is the same political class that has ensured that the Almajiris don’t go to school so as not to be able to know their rights and always vote ignorantly for them. President Buhari himself has been a beneficiary of this.
“If he is serious, what has he done to keep afloat the nomadic schools former President Jonathan established to cater for such children?”
Also, the Deputy Publicity Secretary of Ohanaeze, Mr Chuks Ibegbu, blamed poverty in the North on the region’s elite, who he claimed, had conspired to held the country down.
He said, “Yes Buhari is right. He and the northern elite caused the Almajiri syndrome in the North. The elite, especially from the North looted and pauperised the North. It is crocodile tears. The wind they sowed has turned into a whirlwind. The Almajiris are now kidnappers and terrorists.
“Generally the Nigerian political elite are very selfish and rapacious. They only know how to loot and pit the gullible masses against one another.
“And the sheepish religious dogmas and tradition that makes a jobless man from Zamfara to marry four wives and have 20 children or an Mbaise woman to have 10 children is also behind our troubles. There must be a national population policy devoid of religion and tradition. I suggest one woman maximum of three children.”
However, the JNI backed the President for condemning the elite for not doing enough for the underprivileged in the country.
JNI’s Secretary-General, Dr Abubakar Khalid-Aliyu, told one of our correspondents on the telephone that it was only in Nigeria that the rich would neglect the underprivileged.
He described the action of the elite towards the welfare of the needy as appalling.
Acknowledging that the causes of Almajiri in the North were multidimensional, the JNI secretary agreed with the President that the elite had failed in providing for the needy, especially the Almajiris, who he claimed, had become a menace to the North.
Khalid-Aliyu, who is also the Wazirin Sokoto, while condemning the attitude of the elite, urged them to “search their conscience” and treat the underprivileged well.