Bedeviled, unkempt, and hunger-stricken; so dispiriting it is to see innocent children unleashed on the streets of Northern Nigeria to beg around for food, when they should be in school learning towards securing a better future.
Coined from “Al Muhajirun” which translates “an emigrant”, Almajiri simply denotes a seeker of knowledge who migrates from his home to an Arabic school or to a teacher “Mallam”. The archaic Al Majiri practice, without doubt, has birthed more bad than good, especially in the 21st century, where seeking knowledge has advanced with the aid of reforms and technology.
The Almajiri system could have yielded good results in the past, but today, it’s only a system responsible for 14 million out-of-school children, according to a report by the United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF).
Beyond the statistics and outpours, the Almajiri children pose great threats to the security architecture of Nigeria, as bandits, kidnappers, and Boko Haram exploit them with trifling lucre and get recruits from them – no thanks poverty and their illiteracy.
While many concerned Nigerians have raised a dissenting voice against the perilous web over the years, it has rather become worrisome that the practice has only continued to cast an ominous pall on the development of Nigeria. Sanusi Lamido’s condemnations and those of many Northern elders are commendable, but have had little impact on combating the menace.
More laudable is the action of Kaduna State Governor, Nasir El-Rufai, who in 2020, facilitated a meeting with 19 Northern governors towards combating the Almajiri system and avoiding inter-state movements of the Almajiri children. Dr Abdullahi Ganduje’s implementation of free and compulsory primary and secondary school education in Kano, to curtail the Almajirai is also deserving of applause.
But beyond these words and actions, the Almajiri system is a stoppable drive, effective strategies and solutions are only required to be put in place.
There is no denying that the (Almajiri) parents, who are the first agents of socialization, have failed these kids; thus, the real sensitization needs to start with them. There is a need for timely sensitization for these parents on the dangers of kids who are left uncatered for, as well as the need for them to stop seeing childbirth as competition or something just to brag about; while serious sanctions should be meted out to parents whose kids roam about the streets while they should be in school.
Through official and unofficial means, Mallams, who are the teachers of the Almajiri kids, have been reported to benefit from the proceeds of begging from these children. They Mallams need to be sensitized on the need for the Almajiri kids to go for, not only Islamic education, but Western education as well. Through that, these children will have a balanced view of life and won’t see things from just one direction.
The Mallams need to know that illiteracy is not a practice of Islam, as Muslim countries around the world have high literacy rates. An instance is Saudi Arabia, which had an illiteracy rate of 60% in 1972, and in 2018 already had an illiteracy rate of 5.6% in 2018. Likewise, Qatar, which in 2016, had a literacy rate of 97.26% among citizens between age 15 and 25 years.
The society has a lion’s share of the responsibilities towards tackling the menace of the Almajirai, as well. There’s a need for more voluntary organizations like Act 4 Almajiri Child, PeaceWay Youth Initiative (where this writer had volunteered) and many others, to be at the forefront of struggles against the Almajiri system.
As well, there is a need for full implementation of the Child rights act, like the Child Rights Act 2003 which states in Section 15(1) that “Every child has the right to free, compulsory, and universal basic education, and it shall be the duty of the government in Nigeria to provide such education.” Also, there’s a need for stiff punishment against offenders of the Child right acts and parents whose kids roam about the streets during school hours.
The government at the state and federal levels as well need to hearken to their responsibilities of making schooling an enabling environment. In 2020, there were torrents of reports of students who were kidnapped right inside their schools, like the Kankara, Jangebe and Dapchi schools.
While we seek to have children attend school, it behoves the government to secure these schools and make them attractive to children. Also, a reasonable percentage of the budget – for instance the Federal Ministry of Education’s recommendation that states should allot at least 15% of their budgets to education – should be channeled towards education both at the state and federal levels, that way, much attention and developments would be channeled towards the schooling atmosphere.
Chapter 2, Section 18 of the Constitution also emphasize the need for the government to eradicate illiteracy and make provisions for free, compulsory, and universal primary education, as well as free secondary and university education.
God forbid, but until there is total scrapping of the Almajiri system, banditry, kidnappings, thuggery, and the like will likely continue to ravage Nigeria, especially the northern parts. Almajiri is Nigeria’s ticking bomb, the best time to eradicate it was decades ago, the second best time is now.