Following the outbreak of Corona virus in the country, state governors from the north resolved to repatriate Almajiri’s to their respective home states so as to contain the spread of the pandemic. MYKE UZENDU in this report examines how this decision will shape the future of Almajiri system in the north.
The word “Almajiri” has its etymology in the Arabic word “Al muhajirun”, meaning “an emigrant”. It refers to a person who migrates from his home in the quest for Islamic knowledge.
The Almajiri system of education was modeled after the ‘madrasahs’ or ‘Tsangaya’ system of Islamic education practiced in some parts of the Muslim world. Tsangaya was largely funded by the state. Children between the ages of 5-15 were recruited into the school.
The establishment of the Almajiri system of education in Nothern Nigeria dates back to the 11th century. The Islamic revolution of the 18th century placed the system under the supervision of Sokoto Caliphate. Students in addition to the study of the Qu’ran, were expected to learn a trade for livelihood.
The Dan-Fodio Jihad brought the establishment of an inspectorate of Qur’anic literacy, whose inspectors reported directly to the Emir of the province, concerning all matters relating to the school. In those days, the pupils lived with their parents or guardian and were raised by the combined efforts of teachers, parents, leaders and the community.
The Almajiri schools were regulated and teachers reported directly to the Emir of their provinces. To augment their income, students would farm, undertake other menial jobs. The community was expected to support the children as they leave their families to become a servant of Allah.
Most states in Northern Nigeria aligned their socio-cultural identity with the Almajiri system and the Islamic heritage became intertwined with Northern Nigerian culture and tradition.
However during the era of colonization around 1900, the British dismantled state support to the Almajiri system arguing that they were religious schools.
After the capture of Emir Aliyu of Kano and the killing of Muhammadu Attahiru of Sokoto by the British colonial masters, emirs lost their fundamental control of the Almajiri education. “Karatun Boko” western education was introduced and funded by the British in replacement but it lost acceptance and collapsed.
The dismantling of state support to the Almajiri system directly created the current structural problems faced by the Almajiri in Nigeria. Animosity and antagonism grew, worsened by the belief that the western education evolved from Christian-Europe and therefore anti-Islamic. Fears grew that children with western education would eventually lose their Islamic identity.
It is believed that the dismantling of state support is responsible for the socio-cultural distrust against western education which is linked to the emergence of Boko-Haram.
With the seizure of state support, school managers unleashed their army of students on the street as beggars and the proceeds became their major means of sustenance, leaving the children vulnerable to all sorts of abuse and exposing them to social ills at very young age. Some teachers also imposed “kudin sati”, a form of weekly fees, on their students.
The United National International Children’s Fund (UNICEF) in 2014 reported that there are 9.5 million Almajiri children in Nigeria, making up 72 per cent of the nation’s out-of-school children. The data further revealed that Nigeria has between 13.2 million and 15 million out-of-school children and most of them in northern Nigeria are within the Almajiri bracket. Only Kano state has about 300,000 the report noted.
The political class exploited the social imbalance, hunger and homeless situation of the Almajiri’s to actualize their political agenda.
In April 10, 2012, the government of Goodluck Jonathan launched a programme aimed at integrating the Almajiri education into modern system of education in the northern region. The project gulped a whopping N15bn and about 157 schools were built in the North.
The schools were equipped with modern boarding facilities, language libraries, recitation halls, classrooms, dormitories, clinics, vocational workshops and quarters for teachers among others. Unfortunately the schools were converted into other uses.
In Zamfara State, for instance, the school in Talata Mafara local government, according to a Daily Trust report, was converted into Command Science Secondary School while the one in Damba was converted into Government Girls Secondary School. The states probably felt the free facilities could serve better purposes than the ‘worthless’ Almajeri education.
Acknowledging the ticking consequences on the neglect of the Almajiri system, National Security Adviser (NSA) Babagana Monguno while speaking at the launch of the Revised National Security Strategy for 2019 said, “It’s important to face the truth of the challenges facing the Almajiri system.
“This Almajiri phenomenon which we have been talking about, we cannot continue to push it under the carpet because what? Eventually, it will come back to bite us in the butt big time. We need to deal with this issue and it is the responsibility of all of us to try and take care of this issue without any inhibition.
“I will tell you one thing, the administration of President Muhammadu Buhari in its pursuit for greater and enhanced security will not allow itself to be blackmailed or handcuffed by the disarming philosophy of compliance with certain aspects that are socio-cultural in nature which people tend to be adverse to dealing. We must grab the bull by the horn and deal with these issues.”
Attempts to modify the Almajiri situation has been matched with stiff resistance. The latest is the dethronement of the Emir of Kano, Sanusi Lamido Sanusi who has fiercely spoken publicly for a cleansing of the tradition.
With the outbreak of Corona virus pandemic, governors in the North, realizing that they are not safe with the battalion of homeless youths roaming the streets, took an ‘unholy’ step in the Almajiri repatriation to their states of origin and even to the Southern part of the country.
However, the repatriation of these Almajiri’s to the south where there are no tradition Almajiri system has left many thinking aloud on a possible hidden mission of these militants, who were concealed in trucks loaded with cows, cements, tomatoes at nocturnal hours and intercepted at various states boundaries in the south including Abuja.
Their movement to the south at a time the country is on interstate lockdown has generated a lot of apprehension and suspicion and even a push back from most of the states.
Since the Northern governors have realized the dangers of preserving the Alamjiri system as presently constituted, they should take a step further to rehabilitate, educate and arm them with skills so that they can contribute meaningfully to the economy of the state.
The Almajiri system will remain an open wound which can only heal through the evolution of a ‘new world order’ where parental responsibility and care must be placed above political considerations. Northern state government must realize that if they fail to redirect these army of youth to appreciate the values to responsible living, then moving them from state to state at times of pandemic will only be a postponement of the doomsday.