By Ochereome Nnanna
THAT an estimated 10 million children and young adults are roaming the streets of the North as mendicants is a shame of Nigeria. But more importantly, it is the shame of Northern Nigeria, not because other regions or subcultures of the country do not have their own share of young, uneducated youth.
If you come to the South, you will also see some uneducated or school dropout youth, but you will not see them wearing rags and being pursued by flies as they clutch grubby bowls begging for alms. Most of such youth from the Western part are likely to be apprentices to artisans such as plumbers, mechanics, vulcanisers, and what have you, hoping one day to set up on their own.
Those of them from the East are also likely to be trader-apprentices or houseboys, serving their “masters” and hoping one day to become successful businessmen. Some are already hawking goods in the traffic.
These unfortunate young ones from both sides of the divide have one thing in common: They come from the poorest economic backgrounds and no one found it in their hearts to send them to proper school. I used the term: “proper school” because the youth from both divides are actually attending some sort of schooling.
Those under apprenticeship to artisans or traders are schooling to become self-sufficient in future. On the other hand, it is not exactly clear to me what those attending Qur’anic schools in the North, also known as al Majirai (plural for al Majiri) are training to become in life.
The best guess is that some of them will become Islamic scholars. Some might even become alkali court officers, but that is only if they acquire a certain high level of Qur’anic and Western education altogether. For most of those 10 million young street beggars, that level of opportunity hardly ensues. As they grow into teenagers with no skills; and often exposed to corrupted or even perverted ideologies (since there is little control over what they are taught) they become foot soldiers of influential members of society and foreigners who use them to fight their economic and political battles. The more enterprising ones take to commercial motorcycle business or migrate South to become menial workers or simply continue begging.
The al Majiri phenomenon is a cultural product of the Islamic North. Up till this day, there are sections of the lower classes of which truly believe what Boko Haram has been frank enough to proclaim publicly: That Western education is a sin against Islam. Unfortunately, there are also otherwise well-educated people with a reactionary mindset that fuel this perception among the lower classes, though they send their own children to the best Western-education schools!
In 1988, inhabitants of a village called Alawa in Niger State abandoned their village and fled to a nearby kindred in Kaduna State because the then Military Governor, Col Lawan Gwadabe, introduced compulsory and free Western education up to primary school level. They sneaked in during the day to work their farms and returned to their hideout during the night.
An elder of the community came to Newsline Newspapers where I worked in Minna, to boast loudly: “We have left our village for them”! Meanwhile, this man had a daughter who had finished her secondary education and was working in the Administration Department as a clerk while waiting to gain admission to read Public Administration at the Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria!
You will easily recall how, during Obasanjo’s regime in 2003/2005, opinion leaders in some states in the Muslim North spread the falsehood that immunisation against polio was a ploy to sterilise their children so that they would not reproduce when they grew up. This drew back the war against polio by over 10 years as thousands of children became avoidably crippled before these same people swallowed their own wicked propaganda and the immunisation resumed.
Most of the social, economic and political problems of the North are self-inflicted because they are rooted in cultural perceptions and the basic selfish nature of the upper class. Unlike in the South where education has been accepted as a ticket out of poverty which as many people as possible in society should get, most members of the Northern elite do not seem eager to give this ticket to members of their lower classes to climb out of poverty and destitution.
For the al Majiri menace to cease, Northern leaders must decide it is time to give all Northern youth Western education. When they go to school they can always read Islamic Religious Knowledge as Muslims if they want. Parents can decide to enrol their children for additional lessons in Islamic and Arabic studies if necessary, but this must be funded from parental homes. This is the model that obtains in Western Nigeria where a large section of population are also Muslims without the children of the poor being dehumanised in the name of seeking Islamic knowledge in the lairs of Mallams whom no one knows what ideology they are infusing into the impressionable minds.
The current form of Qur’anic education that breeds al majirai in the North has become outdated, anti-social and dangerous. It does not equip the products with the skills to live rewarding life in the future and contribute meaningfully to society.
Rather, it will increasingly continue to be sources through which Islamic sects with evil intentions both for the youth, the society and the nation, will, with little foreign financing, recruit foot soldiers to destroy the North and Nigeria.
The ball is squarely in court of the North. It does not need the Federal Government’s money generated from the oil wealth of Niger Delta to fund “al Majiri education”. That will suggest rewarding a section of the country where innocent Nigerians are being murdered. However, nothing stops the Federal Government encouraging not just the North but also every part of the country to educate their young ones for the collective national interest.
Unless the North is ready to change this harmful cultural practice which breeds al majirai in millions, any effort by the Federal Government to fund “al Majiri education” will end up just like Professor Jibril Aminu’s Nomadic Education: another bonanza for the parasitic elite; a reward for Boko Haram’s murderous and nihilist campaigns in the North.