By Emmanuel Ogah Abi

Since 2013 when I started practicing journalism in northern Nigeria, I have put the campaign against child abuse at the forefront of my practice. In fact, my desire to see the Nigerian child free from abuse of any kind made me create an independent radio series I titled Voice For The Future. It’s a program I have produced and presented with my personal funds from 2017 to date.

Because the north has the worst record in terms of child abuse when compared to the other regions of the country, I decided to focus my strength there and see if there’s the possibility of getting the northern elites to make the life of the average northern child better. This desire made me set up town hall meetings in major communities in Kaduna state where key stakeholders where invited to be on the panels. Guess what? Most of them declined attending or granting me audience to air their thoughts on the twin evils bedeviling the average northern child; almajirinci and early girl-child marriage.

After several frustrated efforts to get the elites to speak on the matter, it became very clear to me that these twin evils are like a culture in the north. They are so sacrosanct that no one dares speak against them. Little wonder, the former Emir of Kano, Sanusi Lamido Sanusi was criticized severely for speaking against them. He was attacked with all manner of vile words not minding his office.

If the Emir could be attacked in that manner, who am I to be spared?

A very good friend of my father who later became a district head in Kaduna, advised me to give up my quest to challenge their culture and just practice the kind of journalism everyone is practicing for my safety. He feared I could get killed by his people should I continue speaking against something that didn’t concern me. How sad!

Sometime in 2018, I and a good friend from Kano joined forces to tackle the scourge of almajirinci in the north through a very different approach; EDUCATION. We figured the only way to possibly win the war against the sheer backwardness the north is suffering from is by educating the populace, the younger generation especially. We created a platform where we train young boys, almajiri especially in handy skills like shoe making, sewing, painting, screeding, etc. We also teach them S. T. E. M subjects and sometimes basic programming strictly in Hausa language. Through my partner’s connection in Kano (because he happens to come from a very influential family), we were able to get volunteer graduates to teach these kids twice a week and also got funding from well meaning individuals to equip the pupils with preloaded tablets to aid their learning.

We had a target. Our target was to empower at least between 1000 almajiris annually. Although 1000 may not be much for a start, we hoped to scale with time and believed the ripple effect in the future will greatly reduce the over 7 million almajiris in the region.

So, in October, I was in Tudun Wada Kano to oversee the progress in one of our new centers and something interesting happened when I mounted the stage to address the audience who were mostly men who have been donating money to support us.

Despite my Hausa being thoroughly fluent, and my vast knowledge of the plights of almajiris doubtless, the men were visibly angry at my partner for making a non-Muslim a major stakeholder in the project. They claimed it was totally unethical and anti-Islamic to allow an “arne” (a Pagan) preside over a Muslim matter. In fact, one of them left the hall because I didn’t start my speech with the usual Muslim salati; bismillahi rahamani rahim….. I was heart broken. 💔💔

I returned to Abuja the next day only to receive a call from my partner informing me of the donors’ decision to pull out of funding the project should I still remain on the board. They claim they can’t continue to fund a project that a pagan is presiding over. I was surprised! Surprised that these men could afford to mortgage the future of these innocent children because of my faith, or lack of it.

After careful consideration of the situation, I decided to send my resignation letter a few days later in order to salvage the future of those kids and many more to come after them. I had to let go of something I had spent a great deal of my time, resources and indeed life building. I did it for a people that hated me so much so that they attempted to take my life twice. I did it because I believe every human being deserves a second chance, a third even to become better versions of themselves. I believe my ego shouldn’t stand in the way of those innocent children’s future.

As much as religious people would want to have us believe that their faith makes them pious and all, truth is, it gives them a false sense of superiority over other religions, making them carry themselves in a way that condescends people of other faiths. If men would rather punish innocent children over something as trivial as an acquired religion, then I need no convincing that religion has done more harm than good to us.

This is just a clear indication that religion is poison. It first blinds, then it kills and destroys. In this I am convinced… I need no other argument.

© Emmanuel Ogah Abi 2020