COVID-19: How Northern governors ‘desecrated’ the Amajiri system

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.

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