BY Abdulganiyu Hawal
“Almajiri” is a Hausa word that emanates from an Arabic word “Al muhajirun” which means a person that leaves his home in search of Islamic knowledge.
Historically, this system started in the northern part of Nigeria in the 11th century due to the participation of Borno rulers in Qur’anic literacy. Centuries later, the Sokoto Caliphate was founded through an Islamic revolution based on the teachings of the Qur’an. These empires run similar Qur’anic learning system which was later known as the Almajiri system.
However, before the coming of the colonialists, the pupils were living with their parents for the purpose of moral upbringing. Their schools were located within the environment from which the pupils came. The schools were proudly sponsored by the state, the parents and the community in general. But unfortunately, the predicament of the almajiri system began when the British colonialists arrived the north and forbade the funding of the almajiri system, claiming that they were religious schools and thereby replaced them with western education which is contrary to the belief of the northerners. With no one to support them, the pupils and their teachers resorted and depended on begging for their daily survival.
Nevertheless, the present day almajiri system has deviated from the culture of putting funds together in order to support the educational system of little children, rather make them victims of neglect and are seen everywhere with their dirty and torn cloth singing and begging for food. Some have lost their lives while committing crimes and engaging in violent acts in the streets, while others are lost through life-threatening diseases and hunger. This is showing up in rising insecurity as the victims of massive indignity have finally or unconsciously had enough. It is a natural consequence of a shrinking pot to share, a lack of productivity, and a growing population of people fed by resentment, and with no hope for the future.
In 2014, UNICEF reported that the number of Almajiri in Nigeria is about 9.5 million, or 72 per cent of the country’s 13.2 million out-of-school children; this is a disaster unfolding before our eyes. Some other estimates claimed that the number of out-of-school children in the country has risen past the 15 million mark, more of them in the North.
The National Council for the Welfare of Destitutes (NCWD) puts the current population of Almajiri at about 7 million. One can imagine 7 million souls that are referred to as the future of a nation being wasted away.
It’s already a known fact that if a child of about five to six years could be neglected and bounded to cater for his own needs, there is a high tendency of him doing all that it takes to at least feed himself even if its going around to beg or steal because he wants to survive. And by doing so, they might become a victim of sexual and commercial exploitation. When they become older and it becomes shameful for them to beg, they may resort to harming innocent souls to feed themselves because no matter what, they want to survive. Having involved themselves in series of criminal offenses, they try to run away from the wrath of the law but may later find themselves in the midst of militant groups where killing, kidnapping for ransom and all sort of bad acts is what they do for living. By joining this set of people, they also become a source of insecurity to the nation and their lives will surely become useless.
Speaking at the launch of the country’s revised national security strategy for 2019, Nigeria’s National Security Adviser (NSA), Babagana Monguno warned the Nigerian government of the future of the Almajiri system, should it be allowed to continue. Monguno stated the blur future of this country if the system isn’t improved.
“The issue of illiteracy is directly linked to the issue of children not going to school, 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,” he said.
The system as it is presently being practised has outlived its usefulness. The society and the parents have neglected their obligations of properly taking care of and educating their children. These bowl-carrying children have now become so ubiquitous in almost everywhere in the Northern states such that we would almost be made to believe that it’s their fate as a son or daughter of the northern part of Nigeria.
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