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Yandaba on the streets of Kano: Social conditions and criminality

Abeeb O. Salaam
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Department of Psychology, School of Human Sciences, University of Surrey, Guildford, UK Available online: 26 Mar 2011

To cite this article: Abeeb O. Salaam (2011): Yandaba on the streets of Kano: Social conditions and criminality, Vulnerable Children and Youth Studies, 6:1, 68-77 To link to this article:

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Vulnerable Children and Youth Studies Vol. 6, No. 1, March 2011, 6877

Yandaba on the streets of Kano: Social conditions and criminality

Abeeb O. Salaam*
Department of Psychology, School of Human Sciences, University of Surrey, Guildford, UK (Received 29 July 2010; nal version received 27 December 2010) The current study seeks to document the social conditions (e.g. economic hardship and inaccessible education) that could precipitate vulnerable youths to join the yandaba (young, male, urban gang members in northern Nigeria) and consequently become involved in crime. Seventy-one members of the gang between the ages of 13 and 27 years (mean = 18.7 years) were recruited for the study from a variety of the gangs locations and hideouts in Kano, Nigeria, using the snowballing technique. Adopting quantitative analysis, the computed outcomes suggest that the majority of the gang members were school dropouts or had become involved through the process of almajiri. More than half the gang members also had a history of arrest and conviction. The ndings reect a need to strengthen the educational system and launch a family planning campaign and stringent economic policies to prevent vulnerable children and youths from joining the yandaba. The major limitations of the current ndings and recommendations for further research in this area are discussed. Keywords: almajiri; antisocial activities; criminal offending; economic hardship; social conditions; yandaba

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Background The yandaba consists of young, male, urban gang members in northern Nigeria (mainly in Kano) who pursue a life of crime on the streets because of a lack of educational and employment opportunities (Matusitz & Repass, 2009). Kano, one of the ancient cities in Nigeria, is located in the North-western part of the country. Although the city is inhabited predominantly by the Hausa tribe in Nigeria, mainly of the Muslim faith it has a good number of Yoruba and Igbo communities who are considered immigrants or settlers. Of the 14 Hausa States in Nigeria, Kano State has the largest population (National Bureau of Statistics, 2008) and the city of Kano is the capital of Kano State. Despite its political strength, the city of Kano has been subjected to incessant religious riots (Albert, 1993, 1994; Casey, 1998; Chime, 1985), ethnic conict (Albert, 1994; Casey, 1998), youth gang violence (Dan-Asabe, 1991; Dawha, 1996; Yau, 2000) and the almajiri heritage, or street children phenomenon (Awofeso, Ritchie, & Degeling, 2003). Of all these social issues, the current study focuses on the concept of a youth gang popularly called yandaba. According to Dan-Asabe (1991), the yandaba consists of young males, aged between 10 and 30 years, with no visible means of livelihood, who tend to engage in criminal

ISSN 1745-0128 print/ISSN 1745-0136 online 2011 Taylor & Francis DOI: 10.1080/17450128.2011.554581

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activity. The members of this group come mainly from the lower socioeconomic class and from polygamous families characterized by many siblings (Dan-Asabe, 1991; Yau, 2000). Due to their socioeconomic condition, parents who cannot afford to send their children to school may decide to enrol them in Islamic education, called almajiri. Almajiri comes from the Arabic word, al-muhajirin, which describes someone who leaves home in search of knowledge. This tradition is common in northern Nigeria, where young boys are sent far away from home to study the Quran, Hadith and other branches of Islamic knowledge without nancial support from their wards or parents (Albert, 1994; Usman, 2008). The schoolteachers are expected to take care of these children, and might be compelled to send them onto the streets to beg because there are few resources at the teachers disposal (Awofeso et al., 2003). It is plausible, therefore, that when such children grow up they are vulnerable to graduating to the yandaba and subsequently become involved in other antisocial activities. Girls are rarely enrolled in almajiri because it is seen as a subversion of a basic community value of the Hausa tribe, where female education is discouraged, yet there are a few young girls among yandaba gang. Due to the extremely small number of female yandaba and the perceived restrictions placed on cross-gender relations among strict Muslims, the present study will focus on male yandaba alone. The typical activities of contemporary members of the yandaba include: holding clandestine meetings in dabas, which are secret lairs usually based in derelict buildings, river banks or market sites (Matusitz & Repass, 2009); engaging in extensive drug and alcohol use (Dawha, 1996); pimping for prostitutes (Dan-Asabe, 1991); and taking advantage of any civil disturbance (e.g. political or ethnic unrest) to engage in looting or theft (Yau, 2000). The gang members may also be recruited, nanced and sometimes armed by public ofcials and politicians, or their representatives, to attack their rivals, skew election results and intimidate the public (International Crisis Africa Report, 2007; Kushee, 2008). While engaging in conicts or violent behaviour the gang members select their targets indiscriminately, and anyone in the vicinity of their operations is at risk. There are frequent abductions and rapes of women (Dan-Asabe, 1991; Yau, 2000); a strand of the yandaba that specializes in abducting women is known as Yan Daukar Amarya (bride snatchers). In light of the vast wave of antisocial activities and crime among gang members the Nigerian police force treat them ruthlessly, and suspected gang members can be detained indenitely (Dan-Asabe, 1991; Yau, 2000). Thus, the criminalization of the yandaba phenomenon gives further impetus to the gang members to commit violence against society in an attempt to protect their space and autonomy. This explains why they are noted for employing the services of traditional native doctors for protection. These traditional doctors (boka, mai magani) provide charms or voodoo to protect the gang members against injuries from weapons, such as knives, cutlasses, machetes and nails. The belief in the effectiveness of these charms often encourages the gang members to engage in intimidation, kidnapping, ghts with rival gangs, gang rapes, petty theft, armed robbery and promoting public terror (Kushee, 2008; Yau, 2000). Despite the yandaba members antisocial activity and the subsequent effect on both themselves and their victims, there has been little research into the social conditions (e.g. economic hardship and inaccessible education) that may propel street children and youths towards gang membership in Nigeria. Most of the available literature on the subject is anecdotal, or media reports that are not academic in nature or lack a scientic approach, coupled with biased presentation and strong emotional language (Salaam & Brown, 2010). To ll this gap, the current study aims to analyse the physical environment and social conditions experienced by youths before joining the yandaba as a means of generating a livelihood in Kano, Nigeria. Understanding this is crucial to fashioning public policies

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A.O. Salaam

aimed at reducing the number of vulnerable children and youths who join the gang and the antisocial activities that may follow. To achieve this, the following research questions were raised and answered in the current study:

r What are the demographic proles and histories of the participants? r What are the various social conditions experience before turning to the yandaba by r What are the forensic proles of the participants?
Social conditions, youth gang involvement and antisocial activities The social conditions that could propel vulnerable youths towards gang membership and subsequent antisocial behaviour are associated with various psychological variables, including increasing poverty, large family size, forced early marriage, physical abuse or neglect by the family, illness/death of a parent and forced work, the increasingly fragile social support system, peer inuence and unwanted pregnancy (for a review, see Aderinto, 2000; Moazzam, Saqib, Hiroshi, & Aime, 2004; Mustafa, Plummer, & El Hag Yousif, 2008; Olley, 2006). These social conditions are not mutually exclusive and, in many cases, combine to precipitate antisocial behaviour. The research on street children and the youth gang phenomenon in developing countries has revealed that poverty may increase a childs vulnerability to antisocial behaviour (e.g. street children, gang membership and criminal offending; Aderinto, 2000; Plummer, Mustafa, & El Hag Yousif, 2007; Olley, 2006). For instance, Tucker and Phogat (2009) found that most street children belonged to a lower socioeconomic class accompanied by extreme parental neglect and maltreatment. The effects of family poverty can also impede cognition and learning in children. Most vulnerable youths who later join gangs have poor levels of education (Aderinto, 2000; Ebigbo, 1996) and ve or more siblings (Tucker & Phogat, 2009). This larger family size may precipitate a greater risk of delinquency as a result of inadequate parenting practices (Olley, 2006; Salaam & Brown, 2010). However, it should be noted that the presence of decient social conditions among youths does not necessarily suggest delinquency, due to a number of protective factors. Research has shown that youths from families characterized by warm interpersonal relationships and effective parenting are likely to afliate with non-criminal groups and non-violent peers (Henry, Tolan, & Gorman-Smith, 2001). The evidence also suggests that youths from families with higher levels of parental warmth display lower levels of initial involvement in gang activity (Jones, 2008). In sum, protective factors can reduce the risky social conditions that can prompt involvement in youth gangs and later criminal offending, and these factors need to be strengthened if gang involvement and criminal offending is to be reduced. Methodology Research design The research received ethical endorsement from the University of Surrey Ethics and Quality Committee. Before the researcher travelled to Nigeria, a pilot study was conducted to identify where the gang members lived to pretest the adequacy of the questionnaire, and to determine the logistics for the researchers safety. Given the haphazard lifestyle of and difculties associated with contacting the yandaba, the research design employed for the current study was opportunistic. The system of opportunistic sampling (i.e. the non-probability technique) is justied in this type of research because the often chaotic the participants?

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nature of Nigerian street life does not lend itself to systematic random sampling (e.g. see Aderinto, 2000; Morakinyo & Odejide, 2003; Olley, 2006). Sampling A total of 71 members of the gang participated in the present study, with an age range of 1327 years [mean = 18.73, standard deviation (SD) = 4.82] recruited from the Faggae (9; 12.7%), Sabon geri (13; 18.3%) and Panshekara (7; 9.9%) areas of Kano metropolis. Two prison yards were also visited to recruit members of the gang who were awaiting trial for belonging to criminal gangs. The prisons visited were Goran Dutse (25; 35.2%) and Central Prisons Kano (17; 23.9%). As stated earlier, opportunistic sampling was adopted to recruit participants for the current study. The adoption of this sampling technique did not affect the condentiality and informed consent of the participants, as members of the gang recruited for the study were told:

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r not to put their names on any of the pages of the questionnaire or make any marks r that their participation in the research was voluntary; and r that the return of a completed questionnaire constituted informed consent to
participate in the study. Research instrument The questionnaire adopted for the current study covered a range of topics, including personal demographic characteristics, social conditions of the participants prior to and when becoming a gang member and questions about their forensic prole and criminal history, as follows: that might identify them;

r Personal demographic characteristics: to ensure that the researcher recruited a wide

variety of the gang members, the participants were asked to state their age, gender, state of origin, highest educational achievement and family size. r Social conditions variables: this scale measured the extent to which the respondents nancial circumstances might be responsible for becoming a member of the yandaba. The items in this scale included a description of the family income before joining a gang, their main source of income, their patterns of living, their reasons for leaving school and whether they were once a member of the almajiri (street children). r Forensic prole: this scale contained questions on arrest history of the participants, the types of offence arrested for in the past 12 months and the participants previous conviction history. Statistical analysis Prior to the computation of the data, the responses were coded and then summed to create three major indices to reduce the complexity of the data and so facilitate the analysis. The indices were demographic variables, social conditions variables and forensic proles of the participants. Odds ratio statistics were also computed to determine the risk estimate of various social conditions (e.g. family income, family size and almajiri experience) to the youth gang involvement and subsequent involvement in criminality.


A.O. Salaam

Results Personal demographic characteristics The participants recruited for the present study were all male, with half of them being aged 18 years or younger. They had low levels of educational attainment, and almost a fth had had no formal education. More than a quarter had completed only Arabic and primary school. Almost half the sample was of Kano State origin (49%), followed by Plateau (8.5%), Kaduna (7%), Katsina (7%) and Jigawa (7%). The overwhelming majority of the participants (95.8%) were from a large family size of ve or more (see Table 1). Table 2 shows the social conditions prole of the yandaba recruited for the current study. More than half the sample (56.3%) stated that they lived below subsistence level; 39.4% claimed that they were just managing; while 4.2% agreed that their family income was above the subsistence level. Various sources of income were given, predominantly: assisting motorists to procure passengers (23.9%); commercial bike-riding (achaba) (18.3%); waste recycling (14.1%); roadside petroleum selling (12.7%); hustling (9.9%); guardsman (7.0%); and other sources (9.9%). Slightly more than half the sample did not have any permanent accommodation (53.5%), and those with accommodation lived mainly in poor quality housing (46.5%) and a mixture of poor and good quality housing (49.3%). Their reasons for not attending or leaving school were stated as: nancial

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Table 1. Sample characteristics of yandaba (n = 71). Demographic variable Age group (years) 1317 1822 2327 State of origin Kano Plateau Kaduna Katsina Bauchi Borno Jigawa Lagos Kebbi Niger Educational levels attained No formal education Arabic school Primary Junior secondary certicate Senior secondary certicate Family size 14 59 1014 1519 20 and above
Note: SD: standard deviation.

Frequency 31 20 20 Mean age = 18.7 35 6 5 5 3 2 5 1 4 5 14 27 22 5 3 3 25 31 9 3

% 43.7 28.2 28.2 SD = 4.82 49.3 8.5 7.0 7.0 4.2 2.8 7.0 1.4 5.6 7.0 19.7 38.0 31.0 7.0 4.2 4.2 35.2 43.7 12.7 4.2

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Table 2. Social conditions prole of yandaba. n = 71 Description of family income Below subsistence Just enough Above subsistence Source of income Touting/assisting motorists to procure passengers Commercial bike-riding (achaba) Waste recycling Roadside petroleum selling Hustling Guardsman Other sources Current patterns of living No permanent accommodation Living in rented apartment Living with parents Quality of neighbourhood Mostly poor quality housing Mixture of poor/good quality housing Mostly good quality housing Reasons for leaving schools Financial difculty Parental decision Going into business Lack of zeal Almajiri Once a member Non-member 40 28 3 17 13 10 9 7 5 7 38 23 10 33 35 3 46 9 9 7 47 24 % 56.3 39.4 4.2 23.9 18.3 14.1 12.7 9.9 7.0 9.9 53.5 32.4 14.1 46.5 49.3 4.2 64.8 12.7 12.7 9.9 66.2 33.8


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Note: Other sources of income include head loading, refuse packing, shoe cobbling, butchery, and kola nut trading.

difculty (64.8%); parental decision (12.7%); going into business (12.7%); and a lack of enthusiasm (9.9%). More than half the sample (56.3%) once belonged to almajiri (street children). Table 3 presents the forensic prole of yandaba who were recruited for the current study. A substantial majority (93%) had a history of previous arrest. Offences alleged and arrested for in the past include: petty theft (26.8%); assault (19.7%); armed robbery (16.9%); narcotics (11.3%); police raiding (8.5%); and a combination of other offences (16.9%). Of those with a history of previous arrest, 77.5% were ex-inmates. Odds ratios were used to determine the risk estimate of family income, family size and almajiri experience to the youth gang involvement and subsequent involvement in criminality. The computed outcomes suggested statistically signicant effects of large family size, inadequate family income and almajiri experience on the youth gang involvement and criminal offending among yandaba samples recruited for the current study (see Table 4).

Discussion The descriptive analysis of the gang members indicated that the majority were male, aged between 13 and 27 years, with a mean age of 18.7 years. This nding was consistent with


A.O. Salaam
Table 3. Forensic prole of yandaba. n = 71 Arrest history Ex-offender Non-offender Offence alleged and arrested for in the past 12 months Petty thefts Assault Armed robbery Narcotics Raiding/gang membership Others Previous conviction Ex-convict Non-convict First conviction Thefts Armed robbery Assault Narcotics Others 66 5 19 14 12 8 6 2 55 16 15 12 10 7 11 % 93.0 7.0 26.8 19.7 16.9 11.03 8.5 16.9 77.5 22.5 21.1 16.9 14.1 9.9 15.4

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Note: Other offences include conspiracy to defraud and other acquisitive crime.

Table 4.

Risk estimates of social conditions on yandaba gang involvement and criminality. 95% Condence interval

Variables Family income (reference: previous conviction) Family income (reference: arrest history) Family size (reference: previous conviction) Family size (reference: arrest history) Almajiri experience (reference: previous conviction) Almajiri experience (reference: arrest history)

Odds ratio value Lower Upper 0.6 1.1 1.1 0.8 0.9 1.0 0.3 0.9 0.9 0.3 0.7 0.9 1.1 1.4 1.2 2.2 1.2 1.2

p 0.01 0.04 0.02 0.05 0.04 0.05

Note: Statistically signicant effect at the 0.05 level; Almajiri describes the phenomenon of street children in the northern part of Nigeria.

other research, which found that the incidence and prevalence of violent and serious delinquency peak during adolescence and early adulthood (Lowry, Sleet, Duncan, Powell, & Kolbe, 1995). However, the male domination of the yandaba should not be misconstrued as indicating that females are excluded from gang activities. There are a few female members of the yandaba, but male involvement in the gangs activities outweighs that of females for various reasons, one being that girls are rarely enrolled in Arabic education through the process of almajiri, which appears to be the major route to involvement in the yandaba phenomenon. The educational levels attained by the participants revealed that few members of the yandaba might have had the opportunity of enrolling in formal education. In most cases, they do not progress beyond primary education before dropping out for various socioeconomic reasons. In fact, the majority of the participants in the current study had enrolled for Arabic education through the process of almajiri before becoming involved in gang

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activities. Of similar importance is the nding that the majority of the research participants came from large families, due partly to the phenomenon of polygamous marriage, whereby the fathers practice polygamy and the mothers polyandry, arrangements which are often characterized by marital disruption (Aderinto, 2000; Ebigbo, 1996; Olley, 2006). It is, therefore, unsurprising to discover that these children are brought up mainly by relatives or guardians. Parental neglect is evident, and may also explain why most of the youths were driven to the streets for economic survival. Another important social condition that may serve as a risk factor for street youths turning to gang membership is their pattern of living conditions. While a few members of the yandaba, who participated in the current study, were still residing with their parents, a signicant number reside in clumsily constructed, congested settlements, known popularly as unguwa (wards or quarters), either individually or collectively. The implication of residing in such locations under such conditions and with no xed abode is that the gang members are vulnerable to committing crimes, in which case it may be difcult for the law enforcement agents to track them down because of their lack of a specic address. An exploration of the descriptive analysis of the forensic prole of the participants suggests that the majority of them admitted to having a history of arrest and conviction for various offences, including armed robbery, burglary and petty theft, conspiracy to defraud and other acquisitive-related crimes. This type of offence has implications for the participants socioeconomic conditions. Before concluding, a number of limitations in the current study should be acknowledged in order to take them into account for subsequent research. These limitations include: the reliance on self-report (with its attendant social bias); the cross-sectional nature of the data; the small number of participants; the lack of a control group; and the lack of female gang members, which makes gender comparisons difcult. Notwithstanding these and other limitations, the study raises several important issues related to the social conditions faced by impoverished youths in developing countries before they resort to gang membership, which merit further, conrmatory research. Policy implications The policy implications of the present ndings suggest that efforts should be directed towards decreasing the number of vulnerable children and youths joining street gangs due to the risks associated with economic hardship, inaccessible education and large family size. The major task of providing increased economic resources lies with the government in terms of empowering people by focusing its efforts on employment, integrated rural development and youth development. By intensifying the efforts in these areas, people, including youths, will be empowered to take advantage of these opportunities by creating incentives that will embrace prosocial behaviour and shun antisocial activities that may surface due to a lack of empowerment programmes. In addition to providing comprehensive economic resources, special attention must be paid to vulnerable groups (e.g. violent youth gangs, offenders) in terms of rehabilitation and reformation. These vulnerable individuals must be treated as individuals who need help in terms of reformatory services other than incarceration and punishment, which have been the hallmark of the criminal justice system in the developing world. It is also conceivable that there is a need to strengthen free and compulsory elementary education. This will reduce the number of youths who drop out of school due to economic hardship and eventually join gangs to perpetrate antisocial activities. In addition to free and compulsory primary education, it may be important for the government to


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establish well-equipped model schools where both western and Islamic education will be taught as a credible alternative to almajiri schools for parents who might have ideological opposition to mainstream schools. Family planning campaigns may also be a necessary antidote to youth gang involvement and criminality. In the absence of welfare packages in the form of social welfare support from the government and the problem of large family size, family planning campaigns are required to encourage parents to have smaller families for whom they can care adequately. To say the least, the national policy on population for development, unity, progress and self-reliance (1988) in the country, which recommends that married couples should have a maximum of four children (Avong, 2000), should be encouraged by the government and all the stakeholders in the policy. If the policy were to be adhered to strictly by married couples, it would improve the standard of living and quality of life, promote maternal and child health, achieve a lower rate of population growth and address questions of security of life and property posed by vulnerable youths and children joining violent gangs.

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