It was night. It was dark at Askolaye in Igabi Local Government Area of Kaduna State when security personnel staged a commando-style raid on a location. They nabbed some of their targets, at least 160 of them. All of them where children.
They were almajirai learning at a tsangaya school belonging to renowned Islamic scholar, Sheikh Dahiru Bauchi. And the raiders were officials of the Kaduna State Special Taskforce Committee on COVID-19 guidelines enforcement.
The taskforce had stormed the school a little past midnight while the children were sleeping.
In the ensuing confusion, Daily Trust gathered, some of the almajirai ran out of the building premises and are yet to return.
Those apprehended were loaded in vehicles and escorted by security agents to the Hajj Camp along Mando Road where they were to undergo COVID-19 tests following which they would be profiled and sent to their respective states.
The midnight raid generated quite an uproar, especially because of the prominence of Shiekh Dahiru Bauchi.
Group condemns the raid says it violates human rights
A group, Concerned Almajirai, described the raid as unwarranted and an abuse of the fundamental rights of the almajirai to live anywhere in the country.
In a statement issued by one Yusuf Abdulgaffar and Ibrahim Garba, the group said that invading the house of a renowned Islamic cleric, peace lover and Qur’anic legend “at 12 midnight, firing teargas on peaceful and sleeping students is highly unwarranted and unjustifiable and a clear abuse of their fundamental human rights at a time the Kaduna State government is to be busy consulting elders and scholars of high repute on how to bring everlasting solution to the present security challenges it is facing.”
Kaduna gov’t justifies its action
However, the Kaduna State government had justified its actions saying the school management had violated the COVID-19 protocol by operating the school while other schools in the state were closed.
The government also said the location of the school and the nature of its use was not authorized, neither was a license issued for the use of the facility as a school or children’s home.
The government alleged that some of the students were toddlers brought from 13 states across the country and a few from Benin Republic, Burkina Faso and the Niger Republic.
Our correspondent reports that a breakdown of the children evacuated from the school is as follows: Kebbi 16, FCT Abuja 2, Katsina 15, Kano 15, Zamfara 8, Sokoto 1, Nasarawa 12, Niger 5, Kwara 4, Kogi 2, Oyo 2, Kaduna 68, Niger Republic 5, Burkina Faso 3 and Benin Republic 1.
Daily Trust reports that the state government has since March 2020 repatriated 31,092 almajirai to their states of origin after the Northern Governors Forum decided to jointly end what they described as the “abuses associated with the almajiri system in the region.”
Governor Nasir El-Rufai’s Special Adviser on Media and Communication, Muyiwa Adekeye, said the state government had undertaken a continuous exercise to identify locations where the children are being kept and has taken steps to rescue them from such places and reunite them with their parents to continue their education.
He said since the implementation of the policy, the state had received 1,118 children who were relocated from other states and have since been reunited with their families.
While visiting the Sheikh Dahiru Bauchi school, where the incident occurred, our correspondent observed that there were still a number of almajirai, all in facemasks, undergoing their studies despite the state government’s raid.
Raid is an affront to Qur’anic knowledge – School Management
The management of the school while speaking with Daily Trust faulted the government’s position, describing the raid as not only wrong but a calculated attempt to stop Qur’anic knowledge and the almajiri system of education.
The Head of the school, Khalifa Ibrahim Dahiru Bauchi described the raid as injustice meted out on the children and the school management, saying the government should have written to the school officially as a legal institution before embarking on a raid at night.
Khalifa said majority of the children the government claimed it had rescued were orphans whose parents were killed by bandits and their homes and villages destroyed.
He urged the state government to release the children to the school management as they have no homes to return to.
“We are like any other institution in this country because we are an academy for Qur’anic knowledge only. Our institution is well known globally and we have students sent to us from foreign countries who come to study the Quran just like others who send their children abroad to study western education,” he said.
Says no COVID-19 protocols were violated
On whether the school had violated the COVID-19 protocol, he said if such had been the case, the ideal thing was for the state government to write to the school intimating them of the violation.
He however expressed confidence that no violation had taken place on their side.
“When the government ordered the closure of schools last year, we obeyed and Sheikh Dahiru Bauchi ordered our students to return home pending when the government would reopen schools,” he said.
The head of the school said the management had no qualms with government’s enforcement of the COVID-19 protocols and suggested that they wouldn’t mind if a medical team was stationed within the school premises to test the students.
Task force committee denies allegations
The Chairman of the Taskforce Committee on COVID-19, Major Garba Yahaya Rimi (Rtd) has, however, denied the school management’s allegations.
He said the raid was never an attempt to stop Qur’anic knowledge but an enforcement of a ban on child trafficking from state to state in the name of almajiranci, which came into force last year in the 19 Northern states.
He said anyone who had a complaint on the ban would have to channel his grievances to the governor’s forum for an amendment.
He explained to our correspondent that the taskforce decided to raid the school at night because proprietors of such schools often get hints of planned daytime raids and hide the students.
Major Rimi said the children are in good condition at the hajj camp where they are awaiting repatriation to their states of origin, while those from Kaduna State will be handed over to their local government chairmen who will reunite them with their families.
He frowned at the condition in which the children were placed at the school, saying the state government will like a situation whereby children are enrolled in schools in the presence of their parents at their respective states of origin and local government areas.
Asked if any of the children tested positive, he said that he cannot confirm that because it is the responsibility of the ministry of health officials to know.
While all the back and forth continues, the children wait in limbo pending when they would be reunited with their families.