Emerging trend of social almajiri in Yorubaland
By Hakeem Jamiu
There is a social malaise which is gradually creeping into the lexicon of Yorubaland and this is the ugly spectre of hungry children begging for food and alms at social events. Older women are equally not left out in this ugly but strange practice in Yorubaland. It is strange in Yorubaland because the concept of almajiri which simply means street urchin is common in the Northern part of the country. Yorubas use to refer derisively to anybody soliciting for arms in Yorubaland in the olden days as almajiri. The almajiri of the North are usually children between the age bracket of 7 and 20 in most cases. Almajiris are so desperate for food that any unsuspecting visitor to the Northern part of the country who goes to a restaurant to eat but mistakenly left his food to wash his hands is likely to lose such to waiting almajiris before he comes back for the food.
I first noticed this ugly trend at a ceremony I attended a few months ago at Ayetoro Ekiti. Elderly and middle aged able bodied women from Kwara, Osun and Oyo states invaded the burial ceremony uninvited and were embarrassing guests who refused to give them money. Also noticeable were children with their begging bowls who thronged the venue of the ceremony soliciting for left over food and alms. The children were a pitiable sight. Poverty was clearly written on their faces. I have attended many social functions after that and the same trend was noticeable. But I became worried a few days ago, when I attended the burial ceremony of a friend's father in Ilesha , Osun State . They came in various groups and employ different methods in soliciting for alms. There were the elderly women who were busy harassing guests in the name of praise singing and would not leave until you part with money, there were the men with their public address system which they use in praise singing but which is disturbance and yet, there were Yoruba children in the mould of almajiris with their begging bowls scrambling for left-over and at the same time soliciting for alms.
Fellow guests on my table at the event who were also journalists expressed their concern in unison about the growing trend of almajiri of various categories in Yorubaland. They all agreed that it has become a social problem. We started discussing and realised that the culture of begging in the mould of almajiris is alien to Yoruba culture. In those days before the advent of the British, the Yorubas are a proud people known for their hard work and industry. They practiced hoe agriculture and were well known as traders and for their crafts. Yoruba artists have produced masterpieces of woodcarving and bronze casting, some of which date from as early as the 13th century. Many of Nigeria 's best-known artists and writers are Yoruba. Other occupation of the Yorubas at that time were drumming and masquerading which would now be called showbiz. They engage in all the foregoing occupation but a Yoruba man or woman (able bodied) would not beg for alms as it is considered shameful and something akin to a curse. The Yorubas cherish their oriki (folklore) which is a poetic version of eulogizing the exploits of their progenitors which is an incentive for them to excel and even surpass their progenitors. The Yorubas have harsh words for lazy people. Such people are objects of ridicule and butt of jokes in the society. With this background, it is understandable why we became worried with the array of beggars at the Ilesha ceremony.
After leaving the party, I reflected on the scenario of the almajiris in Ilesha and I was able to draw a relationship between Political almajiris and social almajiris. I discovered that social almajiri had its root in the advent of the politics of do -or-die introduced into the political lexicon of Yorubaland by apostles of mainstream politics especially ex-President Obasanjo. The grand Patron of political almajiris who recently passed away was Chief Lamidi Adedibu. Many have argued that his death has led to the proliferation of almajiris in Yorubaland. This is because those he hitherto dole handouts to must look for other means of survival since he is no more. These political almajiris are ready to exchange their mothers for few coins. A new political class of men without integrity and anything goes was created and they became political almajiris who survive on crumbs from their masters. They would rig, kill, maim and do all sort of things to acquire political power. With the ascension of these men in power, good governance became a thing of the past. Our collective patrimony was squandered by these political almajiris. Nigeria has never been so blessed with petro dollar with oil selling for $156 dollars per barrel but Nigeria has never been so poor with a chunk of the population living below poverty line. So versions of the political almajiris are the social almajiris that now invade ceremonies in Yorubaland. With these children begging for alms, a ready made market for thuggery and other social vices is assured. The activities of the beggars are not limited to parties. At bus stops in our cities, it is a common sight to see women most of who are still in their mid thirties, who would strap a baby at their backs and approach men with stories of despair to solicit for alms. Many of them would end up in bed with such men. This is another brand of alamajiri and these are Yoruba women. A violent version of almajiri but which is gradually being tackled in Lagos is the 'Area Boys' syndrome. These are Yoruba street urchins who are semi- armed robbers.
The underlying factor in this new trend is failure of the Nigerian State on one part and the laziness on the part of these women. Most of them don't want to work, In those days, when everybody's occupation was farming you dare not beg. You must find something to do. But these days, our women and children are too lazy. It is either they steal or beg. In most cases a mother and child become almajiris at social events. So the question now is can a Yoruba man now refer derisively to a Hausa beggar as almajiri when we have many of them now in Yorubaland? The answer is no! This trend must be arrested before it goes out of hand. The almajiris in the North these days engage in novel forms of drug abuse like sniffing of gutter water to get intoxicated, sniffing of adhesives and other drugs so that they are ever ready to unleash terror on the rest of the society whenever they are called upon to do so by the political wing of almajiris. I strongly recommend that guests at public functions must stop encouraging almajiris by giving them money.
But can government which itself owns the political wing of almajiris arrest this trend? Time will tell.