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ALMAJIRI SYSTEM: Northerners differ on way out

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…How ignorance, poverty entrenched street begging in the name of Islamic education

…What Islam frowns at

…El-Rufai dynamic, out with a bill to end street begging

…Govts must make laws, not policies that die with new regimes

…Banning it will be disastrous

…Imposition of western education caused our problem

…Kano’s bold steps to end it

…Let’s ban street begging first

BY BEN AGANDE, KADUNA, WOLE MOSADOMI, MINNA, UMAR YUSUF, YOLA;   MARIE-THERESE NANLONG, JOS; PETER DURU, MAKURDI; BASHIR BELLO, KATSINA; ABDULMUMIN GIWA, KANO;  BALA AJIYA, DAMATURU, CHARLES AGWAM, BAUCHI AND NASIR DANFULANI, GUSAU.

Noble move turns albatross

What started as noble course to imbibe in young children, the knowledge of Islamic education several years ago has become an albatross and a threat to the security of lives of children in many states of northern Nigeria.

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Sometimes, children as young as four years are plucked from the loving comforts of their parents and sent to faraway places where they are placed under an Islamic teacher (Mallam) to learn knowledge about Islam and Islamic religion. Though this practice endured over time, abuse of the process began to set in as the teachers, who are neither remunerated by parents of the children nor the government, began to lose grip of the unusually large number of children that are dumped on them by parents.

Although there still exists the Tsangaya system that follows the main system and most of the pupils are children enrolled within the immediate community, some even go to formal western education in the morning and attend the Tsangaya in the evenings and weekends, and some that were brought from towns that are not far away from the Malam, the bulk of these Almajiris attend the so called Islamic schools that are none conventional, unregistered, unregulated and uncensored. And because their Mallams do not have the means to cater for the children, they resort to begging as a means of not only survival but also to take care of the Mallams that are supposed to look after the children.

SECURITY THREAT

The increasing insecurity in the country has forced many Nigerians to have a more than cursory look at the Almajiri system and how it affects National security. It was perhaps to avoid a situation where by the large pool of idle, uneducated children would be ready tools for terrorists that the then government of president Goodluck Jonathan tried to build schools that could accommodate the large pool of almajiris in some of the states in the north.

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Though the attempt was at best a failure, many northerners have expressed concern about the implication of the large number of beggars in the north on the economy and security of the region as well as the future of the young children as leaders of tomorrow.

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But with the risks associated with the system, governments in the region acknowledge, even if unwillingly that the issue of Almajiri is a time bomb that can explode with catastrophic consequences on the region and the country if nothing is done about it.

KANO’S BOLD STEPS

In resolving the menace of almajiri in Kano for instance, Governor Abdullahi Ganduje  has taken a bold step to address  it. As a first move, he constituted a technical committee to remodel the Almajiri system of education in the state as a way of arresting the menace of children roaming the streets and begging.

He charged the committee with the task of initiating ways of integrating the system into the mainstream curriculum-based education system that will comply with international standards.

Explaining the rationale behind the governor’s action, the Chief Press Secretary to the governor, Abba Anwar told Saturday Vanguard that ‘the new initiative will checkmate the menace of street begging among Almajiris.

He added that “With the recent pronouncement of free and compulsory primary and secondary schools education by the governor, this new development would, among other things, integrate Qur’anic schools with mainstream government-controlled schools where English, Mathematics, Hygiene education, among others would form part of the curriculum for the identified Almajiri schools”

In order to give bite to this move, the state government had already  recruited 600 teachers to teach in the remodelled Almajiri schools as part of efforts to stop the Almajiri school pupils from roaming the streets and begging.

The teachers were recruited under the Best Education for State Delivery for All program that is newly founded.

About 393 Almajiri schools were selected across the 44 local government areas of the state for the pilot project and the pupils would be taught English, mathematics and other relevant subjects on Thursdays and Fridays.ý

To further motivate the newly recruited teachers, the governor also said that transport fares would be given to all the Qur’anic teachers and that the state government had approved over N200 million for the purchase of books for the Almajiri schools.

Although the Kano state government has taken steps to check the Almajiri system, a Kano based Islamic Scholar, Sheikh Ibrahim Khalil who is also the Chairman of the State Council of Ulama cautioned that proper steps must be taken to identify the class of Almajiri that need help most. He classified the beggars into categories that include the children who are not necessarily pupils of the Quranic schools but are sent to beg by their parents as a way of making money, bogus beggars who pretend to be needing assistance, those who don’t have enough to sustain them throughout the year who come from rural to urban areas to beg and those with seasonal jobs.

GOVTS MUST MAKE LAWS, NOT POLICIES THAT DIE WITH NEW REGIMES

“The best way to resolve this problem is for government to implement a policy that is sustainable. The problem is that when policies are made by one regime and another regime comes in they throw that away. There needs to be a lasting plan that should be under an agency that is bounded by laws that will make it standard. If this is not done and everything is not placed on the right footing the problem will continue.

“First, a body that will regulate everything will have to be established such that with or without the regime it will continue to exist and is protected by laws, and is made to be part of the budget” he stated.

WHAT ISLAM FROWNS AT

On his part,  the Legal Adviser of the plateau State Chapter of Jama’atu Nasril Islam, JNI, Ishak Lawal warned that cultural practices must be isolated from Islamic religion as according to him, most of the children found to be begging in the name of going to Islamic schools only use the name of religion to perpetrate what he said Islam frowns at.

”Almajiri is a very serious issue that is defying all solutions. If you look at the teachings of Islam carefully, it doesn’t support the issue of taking children away from their parental care and entrusting them to the care of someone who calls himself a mallam or whatever to be roaming about from one place to another.

“That one is not Islamic practice, it has its historical background within the Hausa culture whereby they feel that if a child is staying with the parents, he won’t have the necessary training for him to study the Koran very well. People started abusing it and you see a mallam that has no capacity of taking care of five children, taking in 20 children because of what he feels he can get through them that is why you see this problem is defying solutions.

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“There is no way almajiri problem can be taken care of without the input of the government. Sometimes, you need to be very harsh on some Nigerians before things can be done in a proper way, I am advocating for a law completely banning street begging first, because you have to do it gradually, and when that is successfully implemented, the issue of roaming about with many children in the guise of studying the Koran can also be taken care of.

“It is a matter of orientation, take the instance of polio eradication, it took a lot of sensitization, orientation and what have you before it was accepted, the same can apply here if the government can adopt that so that the leaders would know what government is trying to do and the government should be serious in doing what needs to be done. If we are serious about stopping this problem, we can do that though it is not going to be easy, it would be time and resources consuming” he said.

On his part, the Plateau State Secretary of the ruling All Progressives Congress, Bashir Musa maintained the Almajiri system should be integrated into the Nomadic Education curriculum and its activities regulated.

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”The Almajiri system is also a system of education but it has its positive and negative effects. The negative effect is when you allow the trust the parents of the children under your care to be abused. When you allow the children entrusted to you to wander the streets without necessarily concentrating on the primary aim of you taking them away from their parents; that is acquiring the knowledge and you subject them to street begging and all manner of things that are not helpful.

“The almajiri system should have a curriculum so that the programme would go in line with what is happening in the western education so that you will be able to know how far you have been able to cover within a given period you are expected to cover it. The Islamic body has been operating on its own without any supervision, it will be better if they can be integrated into the secular body of educational system rather than leave them alone to wander and do whatever they like.

“The system should be carried along with the nomadic education and riverine education so that they will be all encompassing but if they are left alone, I am sure they will feel they are on their own and whatever comes out of that, we may not like it. Let them be integrated in the education system.

“The koranic teaching supports searching for knowledge even from the time you are born to the time you die but it frowns at the way almajiris are being treated and used as hunting dogs for some of the mallams because they rely on them to go and get food, clothing, money and almost everything they need for them which is not proper. This method of searching for knowledge is wrong” he said

On his part, another Islamic scholar in Damaturu the Yobe state Capital, Mallam Mohammed Isa called for the complete abolition of Almajiri as it is presently practised in most parts of the north as according to him, it is against Islamic teachings.

“The system should be totally abolished, since it is contrary to the teaching of Islam , Islam never allows anybody to beg in which ever form . And beside, the method of teaching these Almajiri’s is odd, therefore I suggest that the system should be banned and any parent found enrolling their children into any Almajiri home should be prosecuted to serve as a deterrent to others “he said.

His views were shared by another  Islamic Scholar in Yola, Adamawa state, Ustaz UMAR Abubakar who described the issue of  Almajiri as unIslamic, and constituting nuisance  to themselves and the society .

According to Ustaz Abubakar, no section of the Holy Quran said one should send his son or Ward to far distances in search for Islamic knowledge, where the same knowledge can be acquired in your locality.

UMAR Abubakar expressed worries that such children are no longer receiving the intended knowledge they were brought for, but rather their Mallams have commercialized them either for farming or for other purposes that can earn them money and material gains. He alleged that the Almajiris constitute the large percentage of the insecurity ravaging the country, especially in the Northern states.

Ustaz UMAR  Abubakar, advised the Northern state governments to as a matter of urgency go back to the drawing board and revive the Almajiris school system planned by the former Goodluck Jonathan administration as a way of keeping off the Almajiris from the streets.

GOVTS MUST BAN STREET BEGGING, TAKE ACTION AGAINST TEACHERS

Another Islamic teacher in Katsina, Sheikh Yakubu Musa did not only advocate that government should take firm action against any Islamic teacher who sends children under his care to beg but also added that parents who expose their young children to such risk should also be held accountable.

“Islam is against street begging. Government must ensure parents take responsibility and provide all that is needed before sending their children to such schools. They pay their school fees, pay the teachers for impacting the knowledge on their children. They should be disallowed from taking their children to villages and schools without government permit. They should ban children from street begging. Any teacher found engaging children in street begging should be punished. Government should come up with a punishment according to the law and commensurate to the offence,” Sheikh Yakubu said.

ALMAJIRI IN WHATEVER WAY IS UNISLAMIC

A retired Lecturer in College of Education,Minna,Niger State, Dr. Sallahudeen Suleiman Ayekooto who also agreed that the Almajiri system in the north is against Koranic injunctions blamed the menace on people who marry many wives and sire uncountable children without the requisite means to cater for them.

DON’T GIVE BIRTH TO CHILDREN YOU CAN’T TAKE OF

Dr Sallahudeen who is the chief Imam of the Minna Main market mosque emphasized that begging under the cover of  Almajiri in whatever way is unIslamic.

“There is nowhere in the Quran that children of Muslims must be beggars to remain as Muslim or to remain as Muslim Scholars.  There is no where we are encouraged to even begin at all. Islam totally discourages  the idea of begging somebody to survive. Prophet Muhammad said it is better for you to go to the farm and fetch firewood and sell in order to face one’s responsibilities rather than going out begging.

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“We Africans mostly live fake lives which include marrying many wives and giving birth to many Children we cannot adequately take care of. As an alternative, these fathers use their wives and Children to earn Economic Power by sending them to the farm but life has changed now. life has changed from totally depending on farming to other legitimate and lucrative businesses.

“Those who do this are trying to escape from their Parental responsibilities to their children and then send them out of the house to Mallams in the name of seeking Islamic Education.   Unfortunately, these parents are not even mindful of the Economic status of such Mallams and even their pedigree in the society. Rather than end up learning the Quran and being brought up in the right way, they end up in the wrong way even imbibing the criminal tendencies,” he declared.

Though many people have called for the outright abolition of the Almajiri system in the northern parts of the country, some Islamic scholars in Bauchi seem to have different opinions.  According to an Islamic teacher, Mallam Hussaini Wunti, the Almajiri system is not working well because they lack funds to cater for the well being of the children in their care.

WE CAN’T FEED ALL BECAUSE OF ECONOMIC HARDSHIP

“I don’t want the government to end the Almajiri education because it’s important to have sound Islamic education as a good Muslim. You know, the original plan of this system was for parents to send their wards to us (Islamic teachers) so that they can get Islamic education. But things got economically bad and even worse for parents, to the extent that they can no longer cater for their children’s needs. So naturally, they would expect us to teach and feed them as well. But we can’t do so much, because we lack the capacity to feed all of them. We used to get donations from well wishers, but they barely come these days, probably because of the economic hardship in the country. But if the government begins to support us with funding, most of these problems you see will naturally disappear.”

IT’LL BE DISASTROUS TO BAN ALMAJIRI SYSTEM

His views were supported by an Academic, Khalid Musa who warned that  it would be disastrous to end the almajiri system, citing the peculiar nature and their exposure to the nation’s enemies.

“I don’t think the almajiri system should be substituted with the western education. The almajiri system is a peculiar case in the North. Many of these children do not know where their parents are. So if you say you only want the western system, after providing free education, how do you cater for their domestic needs, including accommodation? The problem we have on our hands is a deep-seated one. It’s beyond sitting in the comfort of your office in Abuja and making declarations. An immediate ban will remove any form of control Islamic clerics have over an already disenchanted group of young people, and will further increase the pool of able-bodied young boys and girls from which Boko Haram and others who want to unleash harm on our nation can recruit,” he said.

IMPOSITION OF WESTERN EDUCATION CAUSED THE PROBLEM

For Malam Ahmad Muhammd Shinkafi, the permanent secretary of Zamfara state Ministry for Religious Affairs, the problems of Almajiri in the north took root squarely with the colonial masters whom he accused of imposing western education on northerners.

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He said before the coming of Europeans, the Almajiri system was the best system of education as the Malams who taught the pupils were the ones on the positions of authority and therefore, had the financial muscle to fend for themselves and also the students.

He lamented that the imposition of western education on the northerners and replacement of the Islamic way of doing things was responsible for the Almajiri menace.

He however said that the state was doing everything possible to eradicate Almajiri system of education, by empowering Islamiyya system of education in order to restore Islamic ways of imparting knowledge to children.

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Perhaps other states in the north may borrow a leaf from the Benue state experience where the Islamic community vigorously discourages begging in the name of Almajiri. Though the state capital Makurdi has some sizeable population of Muslims, it does not have a thriving Almajiri system of education.

According to the immediate past Special Assistant to Benue state Governor on Community Relations, Alhaji Abubakar  Dankeji most Muslim children seeking Islamic Knowledge in the state do so from the comfort of their parents houses.

“We only have a handful of them here in Benue state and those that are here usually go to Islamiya School. At the moment, we have two of such schools in North Bank and Wadata areas of the town. But most of them live with their parents. Fortunately, they have not constituted themselves into nuisance in the state because we adopted the strategy of arresting any one engaging in antisocial activities. That strategy has also ensured that they do not constitute themselves to beggars in the town.

Alhaji Dankeji explained further that Moslems in Benue had also taken deliberate steps to regularly sensitize parents and the children on the dangers of having the children roam the streets to beg for alms.

”We usually take time off at the mosque to sensitize the children and their parents because our policy is that if we catch any of them constituting themselves into nuisance in the town we will arrest and hand them over to the police. We also caution that if we arrest the children we will also arrest their parents or whoever sends them to town to beg for alms end ensure their prosecution.

”That sustained campaign has instilled fear in the parents and even the children and I think that has helped us in Benue state to check the menace they have constituted in other northern parts of the country.  I believe that if the Benue strategy is adopted in other states it could help stop them from being used for begging and other antisocial vices,” Dankeji said.

While different states in the north are still grappling with the best ways to deal with the Almajiri menace, the Kaduna state governor, Nasir El Rufai seems to have taken the bull by the horn by outright ban of street begging associated with the Almajiri system.

While presenting this 2020 Budget to the state House of Assembly, Mallam Nasir El Rufai said from 2020, every child in the state must have access to free and compulsory education and the parent or guardian of any child found on the street during school hours will be sanctioned.

The “State Universal Basic Education Bill will repeal the 2005 law to reflect lessons learnt in the implementation of the domestication of the UBE Act to ensure the elimination of Almajiri phenomenon in Kaduna State.

“An Education Bill to extend free and compulsory education to the Senior Secondary level for all students. Free education up to senior secondary level was previously enjoyed only by female students, while boys had theirs guaranteed only up to junior secondary level.

“From 2020, every child in Kaduna State is required to have 12 years of free, compulsory primary and secondary education. The bill will mandate that those that prefer vocational or technical education after completing junior secondary school would also enjoy three years of TVE.

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“The education related bills signpost our commitment to the enhanced enforcement of the UBE Act, Child Welfare and Protection Law, and the Street Hawking (Prohibition) Law. Our Education Marshalls, KASTLEA and the Kaduna Vigilance Service will jointly ensure no child in Kaduna State roams the street during school hours for any reason without legal consequences for the parents or guardians” the governor said.

Though the Almajiri system appears well entrenched in the north and is seen as normal practice, the renewed interest by both religious and political leaders in the menace may finally galvanize majority of the populace to compel the governments of the northern states to take firm and decisive action to end the menace once and for all. For a region that appears to be backward on all social indices, the Almajiri system is one major drawback that will keep it down for a long time. Resolving this problem will be one sure way of putting the region on one good footing to improving on the well being of its peoples.

Vanguard

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