By Denrele Animasaun
“Almajiri has nothing to do with Islam but an issue of poverty on the part of parents.” – Sultan of Sokoto, Sa’ad Abubakar III.
I thoroughly concur with the above quoted position credited to His Eminence, the Sultan of Sokoto, and agree also that it is about time we addressed the greatest scourge and abuse of millions of people in our society. It is a common place in our society to accept that some citizens are meant to be nothing and do nothing but beg from cradle to grave. Those holding this belief, inadvertently, promote and relegate a huge number of citizens to a bleak future. And those who make begging their livelihood purposely marry and breed their offspring for a lifetime of begging. And the ones that give to them are equality responsible for perpetuating this heinous practice. Giving to professional almajiris will not absolve them of their sins, it is a false sense of absolution. it will be better to consider what is better of the two sayings: “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime,” and the better option is clear. The almajri system has created a dependent culture.
Shocking as it may seem, there are millions of almajris in the Northern states and in Kano State, in particular, there is over a million of them. Imagine, if all these people were educated, trained and subsequently employed, they would have contributed to the economy. Almajiri is not a victimless practice in that many of the children involved suffer horrendous neglect and sexual abuse in the hands of their custodians, who see this as a way of life and would want us to believe that it is a religious calling. No. It is not.
‘Almajiri’ is Arabic derivative of “Al-muhajirin,” meaning a seeker of Islamic knowledge. The today’s almajiri is synonymous with beggars and begging. In fact, it has become a form of abuse, to pejoratively tar any person from certain part of Nigeria.
Almajiris beg daily on the streets and they are doing so in places of worship, religious events and anywhere they can get people that would give them money. Many people that give them money do so believing it is part of the tenet of Islam. This is clearly a misinterpretation of Islamic injunction on culture of giving. Islamic teachings strongly prohibit begging except, in very special circumstances and they include a man’s loss of property in a disaster, when a man has loaned much of his money for the common good such as for bringing peace between two warring parties. This is not the case of the modern day almajiri system. This has become a way of life and generations have pedalled this archaic and regressive lifestyle. Apparently, there are people who feed fat on the misery and poverty exhibited by this system.
Sadly, majority of Almajiris are young people, robbed of a future, a productive life and living. They have been neglected, ignored, derided and abused by the people that should have cared for them, and the governments haven’t done much either, in alleviating the sufferings of this class of people.
They have become folk-devils, despised by society and community leaders have given up on them.
NGOs and health workers have indicated that almajiri children are neglected, and are vulnerable to diseases and social crimes. The young beggar-children are forced to beg round the clock. Some attend Qur’anic school, where the young Almajiris are taught how to recite and memorise the Holy Quran and Hadiths.
The past administration’s initiative to address the almajiri situation was not fully supported by some of the Northern governors as they failed to address the underlying problems neither did they commit any fund to provide standard education. The move then was disingenuous, to say the least, and at best it was a veiled attempt to challenge the ranks of young almajiri, who might be attracted to joining Boko Haram. Fatimah Shagari ,from the ENHANSE project said of the the Almajiri system that it was originally designed to give children Qur’anic knowledge but that the structure had been changed from its original intent. She said, “The Almajiri child is presented only as a begging street child. People of the society have used the Almajiri system to abuse the Muslim child, to traffic the Muslim child, to make the Muslim child vulnerable to all source of diseases, unsafe conditions and to some extent expose them to terrorism, thuggery and other menaces, to be used as social destructors, and to some extent also be used as sex hawkers or homosexuals in particular.”
It is gratifying to know that ENHANSE project is on the ground, meeting with Imams, the legislators, parents whose children are Almajiri and the Muslim Ulamas.
So, understandably, the Sultan of Sokoto, His Eminence, Alhaji Muhammad Sa’ad Abubakar III, speaking earlier in the week while chairing a meeting on girl child education of the Sultan Foundation for Peace and Development, said unequivocally that the almajiri has nothing to do with Islam but that it is simply a case of poverty on the part of parents. The Sariki Mu’minin of Nigeria said, “It is the poverty state of most parents that makes it impossible for them to send their children to school and allow them to go begging on the streets.”
It makes sense to break the cycle of poverty. Only by accessing education the poverty level that plagues this group of people can be alleviated. What is clear is that, if you educate a woman, you educate a whole generation.
He said the importance of educating the girl child cannot emphasis enough that educated women are much better assets than uneducated women and, most times, educated men. If a girl is educated, she is less likely to be a child bride, she is less likely to have children young, live in poverty and have poor life chances. So she and her family will be consigned to life of penury.
On girl child education, the Sultan queried, “Why should our girls be turned to street hawkers? We must work hard to make sure that our girls are better than us. It is pathetic that in the Northern region, we don’t pay attention on girls education. As far as I am concerned, a female doctor is of more value than a male doctor. This is why we are putting necessary measures in place to have an all-female university in Sokoto State in which government must play a leading role.”
According to the Sultan, it is the poverty state of most parents that makes it impossible for them to send their children to school and allow them to go begging on the streets.
There has to be a change of attitude from a life of destitution and helplessness to one filled with potential. Any plan to change the culture has to be a long game and this is not going to deliver immediate results. In time, with sustainable and quality education and in time, the young people can become future doctors, engineers, teachers, farmers, accountants, administrators and (who knows?) a future President.