By Rotimi Bello
The street urchins, called “Almajiri” in the Hausa language, is an electromagnetic phenomenon that has festered and grown exponentially to become an institution synonymous with northern culture and traditions.
Historically, the word “Almajiri” was derived from the Arabic word “Al-Muhajirun”, meaning the person that migrates from his enclave to another to seek Islamic education. It is an age-old tradition that has outlived its usefulness.
The system is no longer sustainable because of population explosion and lack of physical planning by the successive northern leaders to modify the system to embrace secular schools concurrently with Arabic education.
The bulk of these street urchins is from rustic villages across the north. They moved to the center, specifically the state capital believed to harbour brilliant Muslim clerics, to learn Quran.
It is pertinent to say that historical evidence shows that the “Almajiri system” was well structured during the pre-colonial era. The emirate, spearheaded by the Emir, managed and funded the system from the money that accrued to the emirate’s treasury. Obviously, the British incursion that led to the reduction of emirate power destroyed the subsisting communal effort of using state funds to train the kids in Quranic education.
Characteristically, Sir Ahmadu Bello modernized Quranic education by blending it with secular subjects through the establishment of schools in each province of the North. He was reported to have sent the majority of the then Almajiris to schools across the North. Those who had good secondary school results proceeded to university and those without good results were railroaded to enlist in the military school as soldiers.
The premature death of Ahmadu Bello recedes the initial gains of educational liberation policy pursued by him as the powerful premier of the northern region.
The successive Nigerian leaders’ visual perception of the Almajiris system as northern creation for political agenda betrays the shallow understanding of this complex issue at stake. The sociological reports and researches on Almajiris show that it is a catalyst that needs catalytic converter. Some of us see it as a northern problem, but it is not. This is a national problem that requires a holistic national approach. These innocent boys never aspire to be a public nuisance or street urchins, but society made them one. It is noted that millions of children from age five and above have never stepped their foot in school. The majority of them want to go, but their parents can not afford to send them to school.
Preponderance numbers of adults live from hand to mouth. Life is difficult and this is affecting the family and the social fabric and as a nation, we need to strengthen the fabric of our common humanity as well as educate those who may likely become a social nuisance of the future.
Even Abuja is not immune from this danger of (Almajiris) children of school age, out of school or not going to school at all. At all junctions in Abuja, the specter of hungry children swerving to clean glasses of vehicles at the slightest traffic light intersection in order to get tip is yet to be addressed by the present FCT Minister. These small boys are everywhere within the city of Abuja and beyond.
Something should be done to cater for all these street urchins who may likely grow up to become armed robbers, kidnappers, area boys, and Bokoharam terrorists of the future. As the city grows, they grow with it and they master every nook and cranny of the society where ever you find them across the country.
The indiscriminate deportation of Almajiris across the northern states by the Kano State government was criticized by the political pundits then, knowing that they did not address the issue objectively by their fire-brigade-approach of outright deportation. Some of these boys have found their way back to the cities across the Northern States. Thus, the status quo remains the same and it is back to square one again.
Obviously, the northern governors need help to quell and quash this age-old tradition of Almajiris system supported by Dahiru Usman Bauchi an Islamic scholar and an acclaimed leader of Almajiris in Nigeria who claimed that he was not consulted prior to its prohibition; hence the system continues unabated.
At this juncture, it is apparent that sending them back to their family is a tentative solution which could not address the issue. These kids have been on the street for a long time, therefore they are wild and unconscionable. Rather than deportation, a robust policy that will take care of these abandoned children should be effectively put in place to secure their future. Almajiri education could be tackled by galvanising international donor agencies and philanthropists to support the initiative.
A master plan of an all-inclusive model secular schools with boarding house facilities should be built by all Northern states in the rural areas where learners will be able to farm and produce some of their basic food items like corn, beans, tomatoes, pepper, onion, yam and vegetables. Apart from learning the Quran and secular education, they will learn other vocational skills that will be made available for those who fail to graduate with the best result.
As a nation of common heritage, the fate of these abandoned ill-breeding children on the opposite side of the fence is intertwined with the well-bred and well-educated ones who are schooling in the best institutions across the world. To reduce future catastrophe, we need to build a bridge that reaches all strata of society and beyond. Therefore, we should always remember the words of Chief Obafemi Awolowo that says that “the children of the poor you failed to train (educate) will never let your children live in peace”.
BELLO wrote from Abuja via email@example.com