By Chukwuemeka Otuchikere,
The decision by various Nigerian state governors to repatriate non-indigenous young itinerant Islamic students popularly called Almajiri back to their home states or state of origin at this critical moment in the fight against covid-19 was not well thought out.
It is deficient of sound scientific principles for containment of a pandemic of global scale. While it is low on science, it is equally poor when analysed using social indices and parameters. It is a clear demonstration of the lack of charity, empathy and sympathy to the plight of that vulnerable segment of society. It further amplifies the fact that there is total absence of social security safety-net for the downtrodden of our society.
The conception and execution of this repatriation defies logic. The Nigerian Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) could never have been carried along in the development of this mass evacuation plan across state boundaries. It is simply doing the right thing at the wrong time. The strategy and its execution is hollow and runs contrary to international best practice. At this moment the focus should be isolation and quarantining of suspected covid-19 carriers. Borrowing the model from Portugal, the country announced that all asylum seekers were being granted full citizenship rights during this pandemic. So there was no need to hound foreigners around that European country.
Responsible and responsive protocol should have involved prioritizing the testing of these boys and moving them to purpose-built facilities within the host states where they reside currently. Here, the young boys can be properly profiled to establish their identity using biometrics etc. This approach will help forestall incidents of kidnapping and child-trafficking. Information collated can form the bedrock of any further planning to rehabilitate them. The host government can now make contact with the child’s state government and establish that there are relations to take custody of the child or even his local chief or Imam.
The situation at hand whereby hundreds of boys are transported hundreds of kilometers to so-called state of origin is a statistical disaster waiting to happen. It defies scientific comprehension and empirical interrogation. Kano state which has been identified as the new epicenter for covid-19 in Nigeria, initiated this repatriation. Bauchi, Jigawa, Nasarrawa followed the trend and now River state has joined the bandwagon of shipping the Almajiri home.
Scientifically speaking, all the states involved in this action run foul of established protocol as it is evident that many of the states, at this time, had imposed lockdown and closure of inter-state borders. NCDC or even the Presidential Taskforce (PTF) on COVID-19 could not have given approval for these random and uncoordinated movements of young vulnerable children. The boys in transit are a threat to communities along their routes even as they are equally exposed to being infected if they were COVID-19 negative at this point.
In all this, it is obvious that scientific reasoning was thrown to the thrash can as state governments yielded to the knee-jerk reaction of sending away the boys from the ‘other’ state.
We should realise that the boys are a moving time bomb as they have been unconsciously launched to infect others or be infected by others. The learning point in all of this is that our country can do better in times of emergencies than respond in uncoordinated and unprofessional manner. National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) and other relevant agencies should be called upon to equally engage in response management.
Otuchikere, is a geologist and a Senior Member of Institute of Public Diplomacy and Management (IPDM)