Koro Afoju is a popular colony in Ilorin, the Kwara capital. Situated in the heart of the capital, between Gambari and Ojagboro areas, the settlement is strictly for the blind. The residents are referred to as “Almajiri.”
They were said to have migrated to the area from different parts of Northern Nigeria to engage in street begging to meet up with their daily needs.
Ibrahim Yakub is one of the blind Almajiri in the colony. He hails from Kano State, but had lived in Koru Afoju for almost 20 years.
“I came with my uncle who is not physically challenged as I am. He lives at Sango, another Hausa community.
“I was living with him before; I later relocated to this community where I can relate with people like me.
“We thank God that we have been living here for decades without any regret,” Yakub said.
Yakub’s history is similar to many members of the settlement, who make a living by going out daily to beg. The population of the community increased as the inhabitants got married and had children.
The children assist their parents in their street begging business.
More often, these children hold the hands or sticks to guide their parents to various places in the city and even outside. However, the peculiarity of Ilorin Almajiri system is that while their counterparts in other parts of the North sleep on the streets, they have a colony they all retire to after their daily activities.
The Kwara Government recently interlocked the sloppy road leading to the colony from Gambari to Oja-Igboro and Awodi area.
Unfortunately many of the children in the colony lacked access to education. Many grew up to join their parents in the alms-seeking activities, some turn to scavengers, while others resort to illegal businesses and activities for a living.
Studies by UNESCO show that one in every five of the world’s out-of-school children is in Nigeria.
The studies explained that though primary education is officially free and compulsory in the country, about 10.5 million of Nigerian children aged 5-14 years are not in school.
The findings added that only 61 per cent of 6-11 year-olds regularly attend primary school, while only 35.6 per cent of children aged 36-59 months received early childhood education.
Koro Afoju was in the same situation until 2020, when the Kwara branch of the Federation of Muslim Women’s Association of Nigeria (FOMWAN) intervened.
The federation shortly before the outbreak of COVID-19 pandemic enrolled 200 of these children for elementary education.
They were enlisted at Karuma LGEA Primary School Ilorin, an educational centre 500 metres to their residence.
They were provided with uniforms, textbooks and exercise books among other learning materials at a ceremony witnessed by some officials of the state government, members of the community, as well as representatives from neighbouring communities.
Speaking on the rationale for the intervention, Hajia Halima Yusuf, Chairperson, Almajiri Education Committee for the Muslim women organisation, said the children constituted nuisance to the neighbourhood.
Yusuf, a former Commissioner for Education in Kwara and resides in the neighbourhood, described as worrisome the increase in number of Almajiri children on the streets without access to education.
She condemned how they were used for begging, mostly in areas like Gambari, Ojagboro, Oja-Oba and Post Office, among others, describing the action as a violation of the rights of children to education, health, security, food and dignity.
“They will be the ones guiding their parents; holding their arms to various places in the town and outside the town.
“We deemed it necessary to help them, because the adverse condition being experienced by these children could deprive them of bright future and their rights as citizens of the country,” the educationist said.
Besides, she noted that the intervention was in line with the principles of the Muslim women’s association of ensuring inclusive education for all children irrespective of origins, tribes and religions.
The former education commissioner stated that the move became necessary due to the high rate of out of school children in the country and its resultant effects on the security of lives and property.
Sharing a similar sentiment, Hajia Maimuna Sheu, the Amira (President) of the Ilorin branch of FOMWAN, said that the association was only able to adopt 200 children because of the financial burden involved.
She said that the committee had informed relevant government agencies and that the state government had expressed interest in taking over the sponsorship.
Sheu explained that basic education was free in Kwara, nonetheless, students were being made to pay Parents/Teachers Association (PTA) levy. This, she said, must be abolished if the progress made so far was to be sustained.
The registration of these children, she said has reduced the number of children on the streets.
On his part, the traditional head of the community (Sarkin Makafi), Alhaji Muhammadu Thani, commended the association for the intervention.
“We are always helpless to send them to schools because no assistance was forthcoming, either from government or anywhere.
“Besides, we don’t have any health facility in this community in case our children fall sick. This is an aspect we would like the government to look into. Our houses, apart from the fact that they cannot contain all of us again, are fast dilapidating.
“If the government says we should stop begging today, we are ready to quit the business, but something has to be provided in return because begging is our only source of livelihood.
“It has been like that from time immemorial. We have been begging to feed ourselves. It is not our desire to continue to beg, but we don’t have other means of feeding ourselves and our family.
“That is why we will forever be grateful for this intervention by the Federation of Muslim Women’s Associations in the country,” Thani said.
Mr Salihu Mohammed, a parent of one of the enlisted children, said the intervention would definitely redefine the future for the children.
Mohammed stated that the opportunity is a privilege and urged other non-governmental organisations, and well-meaning individual to emulate the step taken by the FOMWAN.
“I appreciate FOMWAN for this good job that they are doing for Almajiri people. We really appreciate the association and we will never take the gesture for granted,” he said.
The headmistress of the school, where the children were enrolled, Mrs Halimat Lawal, sees the intervention as timely. She said the children exhibited the zeal to learn.
Lawal assured that enlisted pupils would excel in their academic work, but urged other philanthropists to complement government’s effort in its policy of education for all.
Mrs Susan Oyetunde, a Deputy Director in Kwara Ministry of Education and Human Capital Development, commended the association for investing in the educational pursuit of the children.
She described the effort as a great contribution to the education sector in the state, and urged well meaning individuals and organisations to emulate FOMWAN.
Hajia Nimat Labaika, the deputy Amira of FOMWAN in Kwara, identified payment of PTA levy as one of the challenges against the free basic education policy in Kwara.
Labaika, the immediate former Coordinator, Civil Society Action Coalition on Education for All (CSACEFA), said unless the levy was abolished, many children from poor background may find it difficult to acquire western education.
According to her, FOMWAN wants to make the enrolment an annual event, but lean resources are a challenge.
She urged other non-governmental organisations, corporate bodies and well-meaning individuals to assist in the programme.
“Education will save them from adverse health outcomes and empower them to participate in decisions that affect their lives,” she said.
FOMWAN’s action is commendable; other non-governmental organisations should complement the efforts of government to provide quality education to vulnerable children. (NANFeatures)
**If used, please credit the writer as well as News Agency of Nigeria(NAN)
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