Wanted: The Reformation of Almajiri System in Nigeria
EMERGENCY DIGEST- Almajiri is a system of Islamic education practiced mostly in Northern Part of Nigeria. The term is also used to denote to a person who is taught or undergoing learning within this system called “Almajiranci.”
The word Almajiri is derived from the Arabic “Al-Muhajjirun” an “Emigrant”,who migrates from his home to a particular Islamic school in the quest for knowledge.
Over the years, it has been a normal feature, a cultural norm to have seen children roaming the streets in certain parts of (mainly northern) Nigeria all in the name of seeking Islamic Education through system of Almajiri.
Prior to arrival of British colonial masters, a system of education called ‘Tsangaya’ has since prevailed in the Kanem-Borno Empire. It was established as an organised and comprehensive system of education for learning Islamic principles, values, jurisprudence and theology.
Established after madrasahs in other parts of the Muslim world, Tsangaya was funded largely by the state. Islam traditionally encourages charity, so the community readily supported these Almajiri. In return, the he (Almajiri) gives back to the society, mostly through manual labour.
The system also produced the judges, clerks, and teachers who provided the colonial administration with the needed staff. The first set of colonial staff in Northern Nigeria was provided by the Almajiri schools.
The Colonial masters abolished state funding of Tsangaya, arguing that they were religious schools. “Karatun Boko”, western education was introduced and funded instead. With this loss of support, the system collapsed.
A 2014 UNICEF report put the number of Almajiri in Nigeria at 9.5 million, or 72 percent of the country’s 13.2 million out-of-school children. This is a disaster unfolding before our eyes, as some estimates claim that the number of out-of-school children in the country has risen past the 15 million mark, in which majority of them originated from the North.
Regrettably, the Almajiri culture has since outlived its purpose and has become a breeding ground for child begging and in the extreme cases, potential materials for recruitment into terrorist groups. The pupils who were meant to be trained to become Islamic scholars have now had to struggle to cater for themselves, begging rather than learning under the watch and supervision of some semi-literate Quranic teachers or Mallams who themselves lacked the requisite financial and moral support. Hence, the system runs more as a means of survival rather than a way of life.
This is because, the Qur’anic schools became hapless, thereby not been able to render any help because the head of the school is not also financially stable which ultimately leads him to enforcing a rule that ensures the students to get him food or money. The most annoying part of it is making it mandatory, as punishment was enforce on any one who fail to turn in what is expected from him.
Deprived of a normal and decent upbringing, Almajiri children who are usually little boys between the ages of 4 and 15 may have been direct products of polygamous marriage or broken homes or simply due to economic challenges that hits the family. They lack adequate family cover as children are sent out to the streets under the guise of Almajiri, as soon as the family’s resources are overstretched.
The Almajiri grows up in the streets without the love, care, and guidance of their parents; his struggle for survival exposes him to abuse (homosexuality and pedophilia), used as a slave, brainwashed, and recruited for anti-social activities, and used for destructive and violent activities. This is the picture of the pitiful plight of an Almajiri child in Nigeria.
Additionally, Almajiri culture epitomizes child abuse, social exclusion, and chronic poverty in all ramifications. Because the system is believed to be rooted in Islamic religion and Fulani cultural practices, many attempts to reverse the trend or put an end to such abuse of humanity have always hit a brick wall.
The fact that Islamic teaching strongly forbids begging, except in very special circumstances which include a man’s loss of properties or wealth in a disaster, or when a man has loaned much of his money for the common good, such as bringing peace between two warring parties, already proves that Almajiri system as it is being practiced today is unIslamic. A child neglected by his parents is vulnerable to diseases and social crimes. To survive, he often has to beg from ‘dusk to dawn’ after which he returns to the Tsangaya (Almajiri school).
For the past years and present, Almajiri system has created a cover for criminally minded individuals to abuse the Nigerian child through trafficking and exposing them to anti-social behaviors such as force labour and sex slaves.
Even though the immediate past administration of former President Goodluck Jonathan designed a program under which a few Almajiri Model Boarding schools were established courtesy of a Federal Government intervention, which was aimed at integrating conventional western education into Islamic education only turned out to be merely ‘removing a spoonful of water from a filled tank’ as it wasn’t enough to properly address the problem of the destitute children. Less than five percent of the children were captured by the Federal Government’s program, which was meant to remove the Almajiri off the streets.
Therefore, government should as a matter of urgency put plausible measures of addressing the issue of Almajiri system in Nigeria with a view to taking them off the streets even if it means banning the culture.
Unless it is banned or adequately reformed to meet the modern challenges realities, the problems of underdevelopment, educational backwardness, and mass poverty in (northern) Nigeria would continue to go from bad to worse, as people continue to bear children they do not have the resources to cater for, knowing that they could easily push such children out into Almajiri system.
To conclude that the Almajiri system has deviated from its original purpose and is currently giving Nigeria a bad image in the international community is to admit the obvious.
This problem is a ticking time bomb waiting to explode at anytime. And when it does, it will consume us all. It is still not late, something can be done to stem the tides.
Fagge is a Student of Mass Communication, Skyline University Nigeria.