Skill acquisition is gradually taking children off the streets of Kebbi State to workshops. The initiative has seen many Almajiris becoming artisans and transferring knowledge to others. YAHYA SARKI (Birnin Kebbi) reports on the development in the state.
The word Almajiri connotes students in search of knowledge, however, the word in Nigeria, especially in northern Nigeria is derogatively associated with children wondering about begging for food or soliciting for money to buy food.
By definition it means a student in search of Islamic knowledge but because the poor children involved wonder about soliciting for money to buy what to eat, they are referred to as beggars (Almajiri).
According to UNICEF data, millions of children attempt to combine learning and earning; as many as 47 per cent of child-labourers aged 5-14 years are not attending school in Nigeria.
There is no exact figure of the number of Almajiri children in northern Nigeria, but it is largely believed that there are over nine million Almajiris wondering the streets in terrible condition of living and begging for food to eat.
The story is the same in Kebbi State just like several areas in northern Nigeria. Although there are no specific records to indicate the total number of Almajiris in Kebbi, it is not out of place to say there are thousands of them in the state who are seen wondering the streets, at motor parks, markets, hotels, joints, food vendors or any other crowded place in search of livelihood.
Kebbi’s situation is quite peculiar when it comes to the number of Almajiris that are seen wondering the streets in the state as a result of its geographical location bordering two neighbouring countries of Niger and Benin Republics.
Hundreds of children in the name of Almajiri find their way from these countries into Kebbi State for one reason or the other. Recently when Governor Abubakar Atiku Bagudu of Kebbi State hosted a cross section of journalists on a visit to see the rice revolution in the state, he raised the alarm on the increasing number of these young ones who trooped into the state in search of a better life.
LEADERSHIP Weekend investigation reveals that another issue which accounts for the large number of Almajiris on the streets of Kebbi is the alarming number of out of school children in the state.
Last year, the Kebbi State commissioner of Education, Alhaji Muhammadu Magawata Aliero, in an interview with LEADERSHIP Weekend in Birnin Kebbi after a visit to some schools in the state lamented that 498, 000 children are out of school in Kebbi.
“We understand that Kebbi is backward in education, we have 498, 000 out of school children within the age of 6 to 18 years in the state,” he said.
According to UNICEF statistics of 2012, Kebbi State has 69 per cent out of school children in primary schools.
It is interesting to note that in Kebbi State, the narrative of Almajiris wondering the streets is changing gradually. Some young Almajiris have decided to take destiny into their hands in order to better their lives by keeping off the streets to embracing useful skills in trade and western education.
It took courage for the young Almajiris to change their attitude of street begging to acquiring skills and education which eventually led to some of them becoming self reliant.
Bilyaminu Attahiru is 30 years old from Alwasa village in Argungu local government area of the state. He came to Birnin Kebbi as an Almajiri and for many years wondered the streets in search for food and money until he abandoned begging to engage in skill acquisition by learning how to fabricate and weld metals.
Attahiru is now an established welder and has successfully set up his welding shop after his training. He shared with LEADERSHIP Weekend how life has been for him in the streets and how his new found life of self reliance has turned his situation.
“The life on the street is never the same with me now. It was very difficult and full of challenges. One always have to be on his toes begging to look for what to eat and even cloth to wear. But now the story is different since I acquired skills on welding, I can now feed myself, buy clothes and even take care of myself and support others.
“My life of begging is a sorry story to tell, it’s just like a ghetto life, when you go for begging, people send you away. But today they look at me now and see a different person, some have even forgotten my past life of begging,” Attahiru narrated.
Attahiru was, however, quick to add that his transition from begging to becoming self employed was not by accident. According to him an NGO, Almajiri Support Initiative of Nigeria (ASI) salvaged his life by introducing him to skill acquisition.
“I must express my gratitude to ASI, this is the NGO that changed my life, and they stopped me from begging by introducing me to learn welding.
“My call is for government and the well to do in the society to join hands with NGOs to set up more skill acquisition centres for the Almajiri children where they can learn various trades and education so that they can become better citizens of this country. I am ready to render assistance in my shop to also teach other Almajiris how to do welding so that they can equally shun begging on the streets and be on their own,” he said.
Attahiru told our correspondent that over 15 Almajiris have graduated from his welding shop and have now stopped begging after setting up their own businesses.
Shamsudeen Bello, is 19 years old and from Silame Village in Kebbi, an exAlmajiri who is attached to Bilyaminu Attahiru learning how to become welder. He told LEADERSHIP Weekend that he was brought a year ago by ASI to acquire welding skills.
“I was brought here by ASI to learn how to do welding, Bilya is my mentor and practically teaching me how weld irons. Now I have stopped begging completely and I am ready to also assist my fellow Almajiris if I graduate so that they can join me and acquire skills in order to be on their own. Street begging is a bad life and waste of valuable time especially for young children who are supposed to be in school or engage in trade,” Bello said.
There are others who are engaged in tailoring like Nuhu Isah, 21, from Tungar Burku in Argungu local government area. He narrates how he came to Birnin Kebbi town in search of Islamic knowledge and had to beg to earn a living before he was introduced to skill acquisition to learn tailoring which prompted him to abandon the culture of begging.
“To tell you the fact, I was sent to this town by my parents to acquire Islamic knowledge, since I don’t have any money to feed myself, I resorted to be going to restaurants and food vendors to hang around for leftovers.
“I realised I cannot continue with that type of life, I hired a wheelbarrow from the little savings from my begging. I was opportune to get in touch with this organisation which enrolled me into its skill acquisition programme.
“It’s over five years now since I stopped going out for begging because I am fully engaged in tailoring work, I really thank God and this NGO because even if you are in school, you will need some money to keep body and soul together and the only way to do that is to learn a trade and be on your own. Let me seize this opportunity to call on my fellow Almajiris not to resort to begging but to acquire skill and learn a trade to become self employed,’’ Isah advised.
Meanwhile, keeping the Almajiris off the streets is a Herculean task which is almost impossible going by the army of children roaming the streets, but the Almajiri Support Initiative of Nigeria (ASI) a nongovernmental organisation founded in 2002, has taken the challenge to do its best to better the lives of Kebbi Almajiris including people with disabilities.
ASI’s vision is to see the improvement of socio economic standards of all categories of Almajiris aiming to eliminate child neglect as well as child street begging. The organisation has so far facilitated the training of over 400 Almajiris in Kebbi State who are now plying their trade in various vocational fields.
The founder of the organisation, Shehu Umar, said the problem of street begging could be reduced by adopting some measures as: empowering both pupils and teachers (Malans) with vocational skills and provision of health care services and different welfare packages.
According to him, although the organisation only cater for a fraction of the children in the state, however, it is working with reliant stakeholders to support the Almajiris through skill acquisition and education to make them self reliant.
“We don’t have their total statistics because the Almajiris are not static, they come and go and you see new ones. What we do is to relate to all categories of Almajiris not only those children that come in search of Islamic knowledge but even persons with physical disabilities,” Umar said.
He explained further that: “Part of our activities is teaching handcrafts and trade that they want to learn through skill acquisition training in all the fields available including vulcanizing, welding, carpentry, tailoring and others.
“What we do is to collaborate with individuals and organisations like the tailors organisation, mechanics, carpenters so that we attach the Almajiris to them in order to acquire skill so that at the end of the day, they can stand on their own and even establish their own personal businesses and adopt other Almajiris to do the same. We have a small centre where we teach them western education and trade like tailoring.”
Umar revealed that his organisation had enjoyed a few support from individuals, government agencies and organisations, however, it had not been enough to keep the wheels of progress high.
“We don’t have any major donor assisting us for now, it was just the British High Commission Abuja, when I wrote a proposal, and they approved exactly what I requested for so I purchased all types of tailoring machines, furniture and writing materials for the benefit of the Almajiris in our skill acquisition centre located here in Birnin Kebbi.”
He called on government, private organisations as well as international organisations to support the cause of his NGO in order to better the socio economic status of Almajiris in the interest of social justice.