INVESTIGATION: From the street to becoming a rice dealer in Africa’s largest grain market- story of repatriated Almajiri Covid-19 victim
This investigation series features the story of an almajiri boy repatriated during the Covid-19 pandemic out of Kaduna, pushed by his admiration for success, he struggled through the Dawanau grain market to become a rice dealer and supplier, Sarah John in this report captures his narrative and how he pulled through the hustle to become a boss of his own and now having boys to work for him in a span of 2 years.
During the heat of the pandemic in Nigeria, while the lockdown measure prevented free movement in the south, east, and western parts of the country, it allowed for the forceful movement of targeted persons in the north. Upon the declaration of the lockdown nationwide, the Almajiris were ordered to go back home as they were no longer welcome in the states where they’ve been residents. As children, they became vulnerable as they lacked shelter, and they were at risk of contracting covid-19 due to exposure and risk of starvation. What is more challenging is the lack of adequate information on the number of repatriated Almajiris.
Although there is a paucity of information on displaced Almajiris as there is no reporting system as of 13th August 2020, permutations can be made from some available data to determine the population of displaced Almajiris. Available online data shows that Kano state prepared 178,000 Almajiri for repatriation to their families. Reports indicated that 3,452 children were sent back to different states twice; and as of May 3rd,2020, the Nasarawa state government reported to have repatriated 1,100 out of the 23,500 dis-placed children to various states, while Gombe state returned 700 Almajiris to several states out of the 11,700 Almajiris that were accounted for.
Just as several states made attempts in repatriating these children, others were preoccupied with protecting their territory from them especially as the covid-19 virus continued to spread in geometric proportion. Bauchi and Kaduna state governors cried out as the majority of their covid-19 cases were Almajiri children. Following this stigmatization, other states, for fear of the rise of the virus in their states rejected the children from gaining entrance.
Musa Danjuma, was an Almajiri boy who had roamed through the streets of Kazaure, in Jigawa, Kano, and Kaduna states in search of livelihood.
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He was among those sets of Almajiri boys repatriated by El-Rufai from Kaduna state. 22 years old Danjuma has never attended any form of Western education, he so much believed that through his Arabic school teachings one day luck will shine on him.
“I am from Giremawa Community, in Bindawa LGA Katsina state, and arriving in Kazaure as an Almajiri boy at the age o 13 was such a strange thing to me, having to stay without my parents and knowing that I will have to walk around sometimes in search of a meal, was the weirdest of all things, I couldn’t fathom that. I would have stayed in the village and continued to follow my parents to the farm, where at least I am guaranteed of eating what they cook even though we barely eat then walk around to beg as an Almajiri boy.
Danjuma stayed in Kazaure under Mal. Nura until he was 17 years then when he moved to Kano where he became an errand boy in Dawanau market.
At this point Danjuma was an independent Almajiri ‘Hustler’, he and the other boys will sleep where tanker drivers usually pack their trucks and once it’s morning, they continue the hustle for survival.
“I help most of the shop owners to sweep their shop before they resume, while some we pay immediately, others will ask me to go and come back the next day before they pay me, though not much, but I earn up to N150 daily.
Danjuma, persuaded by some of his friends who have heard that life in Kaduna state is better compared to Kano, shared the opportunity with him which he never hesitated, and being a freelance Almajiri boy, he was able to find his way to Kaduna state.
Narrating his traveling experience to Kaduna, Dajuma explained how he joined truck drivers with bags of grains traveling to Kaduna.
“I begged the driver to help me that I would stop in Kaduna, and just like the bag of grains I was asked to stay behind on top of the grains.”
Behold my entrance to the city of opportunity.
“Remember I told you my friends told me There are more opportunities in Kaduna, sadly, I spent about 2 months trying to figure out where the opportunities are, and so I made my way to Rigasa, if you know Rigasa you will know that pushing wheelbarrow is one lucrative source of income for my kind of person,” Danjuma said.
“It was on arrival I met Salisu who told me I could rent a wheelbarrow at 200 daily from one Malam Idris who is an Almajiri teacher, this seems to be how he empowered his Almajiri boys before El-rufai abolished Almajiri schools in Kaduna some years back.
“Immediately I seized the opportunity knowing that renting his wheelbarrow will also present me the opportunity of where to sleep, without sleeping in the street of Rigasa. I approached him and he gave me the wheelbarrow the first day, but my first payment was pegged at 500 because it was my first time, in case I abscond with it”
Narrating how every situation comes with its own issues and opportunities, Danjuma described how being a wheelbarrow pusher, conveying goods for people earns him about N600 to N800 daily.
“On my worst day, I make about N600, and other days, I earn about N800 to N1000, but N1000, is on rare occasions, it was a smooth business I never regretted doing, though it requires much energy, so being a man was such a great opportunity for me,” he said.
In Malam Nura’s tent, reciting the holy Quran is a mandatory practice and as such, Danjuma and the other boys must return at 6: pm to remit for the day and also sit with Malam Nura for the Qur’anic recitation before the evening prays which they all do together.
“For three years I was pushing a wheelbarrow and making some money for myself, before Covid-19 set in and disrupted all our activities, one experience that shattered me and many of the boys, was the lockdown, being that we only make money when we go out, the fear of how we will survive became my worry.”
The lockdown and its hardship
The reality became clearer for Danjuma as markets were closed and people no longer go to the market, so there was no load to carry for anyone, he then resolved to feed from what he had saved.
“There was no hope of help from anywhere. Instead, we wake up daily to the threat that we will soon be repatriated back to our states, I even became worried as my parents died from a bandit attack and my siblings had all gone their ways in search of greener pastures, so to whom will I go to? Danjuma asked.
“When the day came, we were loaded in a Dangote cement truck we never knew its destination until we got to Kazaure that was when we realized it was going to load local rice back to Kaduna state, so it dumped us and left.”
“The hardship became even worse, and I have never loved or liked to beg, whenever I asked people for help I feel their rejection, while I needed to feed to stay alive, I am not worried by their feeling, maybe it was just my feeling that is betraying me, Danjuma said.
From rejection to glory
Remember I have ones worked in the Dawanau grain market as a little boy sweeping the people from part of their stores and warehouses, Danjuma said, he resolved to go back to the market, this time he already had a new experience of carrying loads, this became his new job in Dawanau market, where he earns more than what he used to make in Kaduna as a wheelbarrow pusher.
Danjuma’s dedication to work was appreciated by Alhaji. Sani, one of the men he had worked for in the market, decided to give him an opportunity, this was how Danjuma’s story changed and hope smiled at him.
“In 2021, precisely in the month of March, Alhaji Sani called me one day and advised me that I should begin to think about how to have a shop here in the market even if it to begin with one bag by the roadside, I didn’t wait until the end of the month, because I have saved some money, you know I now make more money here than Kaduna, I got a stand, and started with two bags of rice, one bag of beans and one bag of Maize.
“This might sound strange to many people, but I never knew Alhaji Sani was still monitoring my movement and business growth, seeing how the business was moving, he then got a contract for the supply of three trucks of rice, I later understood it was a contract from the Zamfara state government, so in one of those trucks he asked me to supply 50 bags to complete it, I grabbed the opportunity and quickly began to collect rice from different people and then added 3,000 to each of the bags, that was how I made some hundreds of thousands which I added to my business,” Danjuma narrated.
“Alhaji Sani is God sent from heaven to bless me, and immediately two of the boys that we were repatriated with from Kaduna who are yet to begin anything began to help me load and offload my goods whenever it arrives, and I pay them daily so that they can also learn the business.
“Today I am no longer a retail seller but instead a dealer with over 150 bags of rice among other grains in the market.”
No Almajiri deserves to be in the street
Alhaji Sani described Danjuma as a hard-working man who is dedicated to business and won’t want to compromise business with anything, knowing an Almajiri boy who is dedicated to work instead of begging, one must be moved to help out.
“We are all humans, no one deserves to be rejected the way the government treated the boys, and no Almajiri should be abandoned, Danjuma’s achievement is a spotlight to the government that everyone can be great in life.
“He has proven that he can be trusted, and I trusted him, he never learned the trade, but because he is always in the market, it was easy for him to understand and ask for prices daily from others when he got his stand until he moved to his big store, you will see Danjuma working friendly with everyone,” Alhaji Sani added.