There is the Igbo idiom “agha akaraka adighi eri nwa ngwuro”, literally translated to “a cripple does not fall victim of pre-announced warfare”. This succinctly captures the mood of the nation, following observed movement of several able-bodied young men in food/cement containers in articulated vehicles to the southern parts of the country recently.
At the last count, no fewer than 2,000 of such persons were arrested and turned back in some states. These young men, are neither professionals nor craftsmen seeking greener pastures. They are not actually of the Almajiri, who depend on begging as a source of livelihood. They are by their looks jobless, homeless and appear dangerous. They are like cannon waiting to be ignited.
The young men apprehended so far claim they were from Kano, Yobe, Kaduna, Katsina, Sokoto, Borno, Bauchi, Kebbi and Zamfara states. Their choice to adopt surreptitious mode of inter-state travel is ominous and have evoked unanswered questions. These youths have equally created rancor among state governments. They have pitched political leaders against one another; they have evoked goose pimples to residents of their supposed destination/states.
It is difficult to understand why such a large number of able-bodied young men chose to embark on such suspicious trips when the federal government had announced nationwide curfew, and to do so under the cover of darkness. People are also asking questions on why they chose to hide under animal couriers and probably spilled with the dung of these animals, under the belly of articulated vehicles. It is surprising that human beings, who do not nurse sinister motives would chose not to board normal passenger vehicles.
Issues that have arisen include if these young men are aware that certain vehicles are clearly marked for the conveyance of goods only? Are the drivers of the articulated vehicles equally aware they were violating the nation’s Highway Code by conveying human beings in containers meant for goods and animals? Are the two sets of people aware that they enjoy right to life as enshrined in the Bill of Rights listed in the Constitution and that what they were doing constitute an attempt to commit murder?
The above scenarios might sound outlandish, but a little example would suffice. On Saturday, May 6, Cross River State government intercepted trucks carrying no fewer than 30 able bodied young men who were dubbed as Almajiri at the Gakem-Benue border in Cross River. Dr. Betta Edu, the chairperson of Cross River State COVID-19 Taskforce, said the trucks were intercepted by the Commissioner for Youths and Skills Acquisitions, Mr. Signor Idiege, while enforcing inter-state lockdown/presidential curfew at the border.
A week before that, security operatives had arrested about 60 able-bodied young northerners who hid in a truck conveying cows to Lagos at the Berger end of the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway. They came in from Zamfara, Sokoto, Kebbi, and Kano states. Some of them were reported to have jumped down from the truck and ran away upon sighting the security operatives.
Also in Edo State, policemen intercepted a trailer conveying 84 persons who said they were from Kaduna, at Irrua along Benin-Auchi Road, while another set of 26 suspects were arrested in Benin, the state capital.
In Ebonyi State, 700 persons were arrested for illegally coming to the state under the cover of darkness despite the presidential 8pm to 6am curfew.
In Abia State men of the Abia State Traffic and Indiscipline Management Agency (TIMAAS) and the Police arrested more than 40 young men claiming to be from the north. They were intercepted at the Umudike Junction, Umuahia, while being conveyed in a Dangote truck.
This malaise is not just happening in the southern parts of the country. Last week, the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) Ministerial Task-Team on COVID-19, arrested 68 young men at Zuba. They were hidden in two Dangote company trucks and another unmarked truck conveying fertilizer to Edo state.
They were however arraigned before Magistrate Ebiwari Damini at the Zuba Mobile Court. Abdul Sani, the Dangote truck driver and Mukhtar Usman, the unmarked fertilizer truck driver were convicted while, the Magistrate further directed that the young men be taken back to their original place of departure, Zaria.
Movements of several unidentified young men have raised fears of insecurity by the FCT Administration. The Minister of State for the FCT, Dr. Ramatu Tijjani Aliyu, recently raised the alarm, saying it is disconcerting that extra-ordinary large number of young men and women, pretending to be beggars, now hibernating along the streets in the FCT.
This pattern of movement had attracted the concern of the South-East Governors Forum. Chairman of the Forum, Gov. David Nweze Umahi of Ebonyi State, rising their teleconference meeting on 14th May, said they would address the issues and requested community leaders to get passionately involved to see that such illegal movements are monitored and reported. He was particularly piqued on the movement of non-essential persons, and urged security agencies to take their responsibilities more seriously.
Same day, the Governor of Kaduna State, Mallam Nasir el-Rufai, who spoke on Channels TV programme “Politics Today”, acknowledged fears and consequential problems, saying his colleagues in the Northern States Governors Forum are determined to end the Almajiri system of education in the north, which he said fuels such untoward migration of young men.
Aside from disputing that northern youths fleeing to the southern parts of the country are Almajiri, renowned Islamic scholar in Minna, Niger State, Mallam Yauza Mohammed, said in his 22 years of teaching in Quranic schools, it is questionable on who organizes such journeys since they do not work and, therefore, have no money to embark on such trips.
On his part, President of the Northern Youth Council of Nigeria, Alhaji Isah Abubakar, accused northern state governments and security agencies for failing to seriously enforce the federal government’s directive on inter-state lockdown. He said such people rather than move southwards should return to their states of origin, fueling speculations.
Also, the Chief Executive Officer, Women Connect Initiative (WCI), Hajiya Murjanatu Suleiman Shika, said COVID-19 infection in the north is responsible for the mindless migration to the southern parts of the country for safety. But, the Country Director, Global Peace Foundation (GPF), Rev. John Hayab, said “sending Almajiri persons” to their states of origin was a bad decision. According to him, the northern governors should have gathered those purported Almajiri boys to a place where they can be controlled and catered for.
Several analysts suggested that it should be viewed form security perspective. They pointed at Boko Haram’s threats of striking the southern parts of the country, insisting it is preposterous to dismiss such threats as meaningless. They said that having been largely walloped by security forces in the north, they now seek to find comfortable hideout in the southern parts of the country. They blamed poor management of security threat by the police and the military posted to the region, who appear to be interested in money they make from roadblocks than their primary duty of providing security. They are also worried that without escorting those arrested to the next state’s border and handing over to the security there to complete the assignment, they can use bush path and get to their intended destinations.
The AUTHORITY recalls that in announcing ease of the lockdown, President, Muhammadu Buhari had implored Nigerians to take full responsibility and that enforcement of the restrictions therefore remains sacrosanct.
In rationalising the lockdown abuses, police spokesman, DCP Frank Mba, blamed it on the resort to using bush tracks and provincial routes to escape police surveillance by the drivers.
Whatever is the case, serious effort should be made to avoid any negative consequences of these questionable movements. There is the need to monitor police activities which have been less than satisfactory especially in the South-East zone. Nigeria cannot afford to wedge another war on Boko Haram in the southern parts of the country and it would be terrible if such movement is used for the Islamisation of the country as being alleged in some quarters.