The Almajiris or child beggars on the streets of northern Nigeria, will come back to kill us all.
As we drove round Azare one chilly morning, we had a stopover at a Masu Shayi (tea seller) joint for some sandwich and steamy beverage.
A lady frying akara (bean cake) was also making brisk business a few meters away. The weather was dry, dusty and Kilishi was being processed in the distance.
The air smelt of breakfast and dried dirt.
No sooner had we settled down for breakfast on a street corner than over a dozen of them stormed the location, soliciting for some bread and tea. They were mild mannered and daring all at once.
They had flies perching, hovering all over them. They were dusty, bedraggled and unkempt.
They are the Almajiris of northern Nigeria--the young boys for whom begging has become a way of life because they were born to be poor and to beg.
Over a dozen of them were here to fight and punch themselves in the face over a loaf of bread. It was an emotional, sorry sight to behold.
The tea vendor was doing a nasty job of chasing them away from his stand when we all protested his treatment of them. We thereafter asked him to hand them as much bread and scrambled eggs as they could consume.
As soon as the bread went round and they all had their fill, they stopped fighting, muttered their gratitude in Hausa and dispersed.
However, they never left the streets. Later in the afternoon as we drove past, we saw them clutching bowls around the same spot we first met them; begging frantically as though their lives depended on begging, because it did.
They are thousands of Almajiris spread across northern Nigeria. Every time I journey to a State in the north, I see these chaps who have been born into begging. I have been told it is their lot to beg. That they have been condemned into begging.
The bigger problem is that these child beggars of northern Nigeria are easy recruits for the terrorist sects ravaging the land. It is little wonder that the Boko Haram rank and file hasn’t been completely depleted.
Because for every Boko Haram fighter shot dead or rehabilitated, there are many more potential terrorist fighters waiting in the wings on the streets of the north; waiting to be handed a shilling or some food before being corralled into trucks and conscripted into a life of suicide bombing.
I had a lump in my throat as I drove from Bauchi to Jos for the flight back to Lagos. The child beggars of Nigeria aren’t peculiar to the north. They are everywhere these days—even in Lagos. No Nigerian city is spared of their bulging eyes and menacing looks. It is little wonder we can’t rid our nation of crime. Hard as we try.
We are breeding an army of discontented, disenchanted young men and women who are gradually sinking this country. If we don’t act fast enough; if we don’t fashion out policies to tackle the problem that is child begging or abuse, we’ll all be paying dearly. No part of Nigeria is immune from the danger we now face.
The Almajiris of northern Nigeria aren’t a ticking time bomb; they are the bombs going off across Nigeria daily. They are the price we are paying for negligence, corruption, inequality and social dysfunction.
They are our lot to bear.