By Charles Kumolu, Deputy Editor
SPOKESMAN, Coalition of Northern Groups, CNG, Abdulazeez Sulaiman, in this interview, interrogates reports that almajirai are ‘invading’ southern states, saying those apprehended are not almajirai.
He argues that northerners are being wrongly profiled by southern governments, blaming northern governors for the fate of almajirai. He also states how best to handle the almajirai challenge in northern Nigeria.
Do you think the repatriation of almajirai to their states of origin by northern governors is the way to go?
I certainly don’t see this as a solution. It is rather further complicating an already complex situation. For one, which is perhaps most important, state governors, especially those of northern states don’t appear to operate within the tenets of democracy.
Most northern governors operate a rather militarised form of democracy by which they tend to resort to force as the only solution to even the most civil of problems.
This forced deportation by oppressive regimes in northern states is essentially a brutal encroachment on the fundamental rights of these Nigerian children which as some learned legal professionals warned, could spark a constitutional crisis. There is no adherence to due process in the exercise and no good faith by most state governors who only seek personal political ascendancy at the expense of the vulnerable.
I can see many people including state governors are either speaking from a deliberate mischievous standpoint, or from the position of ignorance. The people condemning the almajiri system of education are speaking from those standpoints. It is simply a system of scholarship which has been neglected for ages by authorities and which thrived despite and in spite of all odds.
Like what we refer to today as the formal schooling system; that is the model we accept presently, started as mission schools that were later transformed through a series of reforms, assessment and reassessment. The system is still undergoing reforms globally.
So it is not the people. I mean the parents or pupils that made the current system what it is today. It is rather the interest of the elite that subjected an initial mission schooling system to government reforms while deliberately neglecting what they deride as an Islamic system of scholarship which they readily derogate.
Why I said others are speaking from the point of view of stark ignorance is because most people have been misled to believe that the almajiri, is a ‘child beggar.’ It is rather a system of education that you can call informal or non-formal and that has been in existence before the advent of western education system.
Almajiri was coined from an Arabic word “al-muhajirun” and in this context, almajiri is just a boy that seeks Islamic knowledge and he is given to a malam (teacher) or an “alaramma” by his father. The parents know where they have taken their children to but their number has increased recently, and that is alarming.
Again, after a certain number of years, they finish what they are supposed to do and they go into something else. Some are trained to become teachers. It is a well-organised system which was subsequently reformed.
It is not every almajiri that is a beggar and it is not all those that beg that are almajirai. In fact, one can even say that the more responsible segment of the northern elite is made up of a large percentage of those who have at some point passed through that informal system of Islamic scholarship.
Most flourishing small and large scale businesses in the north are owned in most cases by people who only had that Islamic learning. I can tell you that the richest and most successful entrepreneur in Zaria today is solely a product of the almajiri schooling system brought to Zaria as a child. So is the case in many other cities.
Most governors and top government officials in particularly the far north, are from almajiri backgrounds which they now deliberately and mischievously associate solely with street begging.
Talking about beggars, it is complex. There are several classes of beggars all over Nigeria that have no relation with almajiri. For instance, the police today beg at checkpoints, corporate beggars beg on the internet and at ATM locations, airports and malls. All these are not almajirai.
So, for me, I am not against the almajiri system of education because it has provided what the basic education system has failed to. I am not of the opinion, that these children should be forcefully taken away from their malams and alarammas because they were given to these alarammas by their parents.
Reports indicated that some almajirai were intercepted on their way to some southern states. What do you make of that?
When I read such reports I laugh because I know that those said to be apprehended by the southern state governments are not almajiri kids. They are rather everyday northerners who the South humiliate, harass and suppress by hiding behind the name almajiri.
What is happening in the South in the guise of intercepting almajiri is part of a wider agenda to frustrate all northerners, particularly the Hausa/Fulani out of southern Nigeria.
For too long, enemies of the North both foreign and local have worked strenuously to ensure that the region remains backward, weak, confused and bewildered by myriads of challenges and problems.
The current onslaught in the pretext of sending back almajirai, is, therefore, part of a mega but clandestine plot spanning several years. It is one aspect of the plan to dehumanize the North and decapitate it through exploiting its internal weaknesses and cleavages.
What do you make of the repatriation of those headed down South by security agencies in states where they were intercepted?
With the current peculiar situation accentuated by the COVID-19 scare, there is nothing wrong in government taking drastic extra measures to identify people going into their states from other parts of the country and even from other countries of the world.
This vigilance must however not be targeted at just people from a particular part of Nigeria for profiling, dehumanization and vilification. And if need be, authorities can take measures to turn back suspicious persons right at the entry points. It will not be acceptable to drag out people of other ethnicities already settled in communities even long before COVID-19 pandemic.
Southern leaders described the movement of some almajirai down South as being suspicious…
I have pointed out earlier that there is no movement whatsoever of the almajirai who are small kids to the South. The southern leaders want to use the opportunity to humiliate all Hausa/Fulani Muslim northerners residing in, or passing through the South.
We read about a certain faction of the Ohanaeze Ndigbo inciting Southeast governors to deport “almajiri” from their states. This was said without providing the criteria laid down for the identification of who should be termed almajiri.
The southern leaders are merely arrogating to themselves the powers to determine who to accommodate in their midst irrespective of clearly defined constitutional guarantees for citizen residency.
It is regrettable that in the execution of this plan, the consciousness is eroding the southern leaders that for decades, different tribes in Nigeria have been accommodated and tolerated in many parts of the North without discriminatory official actions specifically to intimidate, harass and endanger them, their families, their properties or their trades.
Leaders of the South and other jingoists seem not to bother that their people are so tolerated by the North despite abundant hard evidence that shows how most of them take undue advantage of the region’s tolerant culture to pursue illicit trades.
In view of prevailing circumstances, how can the almajirai institution be restructured without hurting interests?
I think we have different phenomena. In the South, we have the issue of the ‘boy child’ that is not going to school. In other instances, we have the issue of internally displaced children. They may be with their parents in Internally Displaced Persons, IDP, camps, or orphans.
The boy-child issue is different, the girl-child issue is different and the almajiri issue is different. To successfully reform and update the system, reference should, for instance, be made to Professor Galadanchi’s report which is currently domiciled at the Universal Basic Education ,UBEC.
Nigerians can look at it and see how we can implement it and remove these young children from the streets.
We are as well aware that at a point, the federal government under late President Umaru Musa Yar’adua set up a committee to evaluate the problem.
The committee discovered that several countries practice one form of almajiri education or the other as Tsangaya, Madrassah, or under other names depending on the country. But after the death of President Yar’adua, the policy was completely changed. We saw during Jonathan’s administration, construction of schools that were tagged Almajiri schools.
But the system started failing because the policies that Yaradua came up with were not adhered to and the parents didn’t have any confidence in the so-called new Almajiri schools.
If we really want to take the almajiri to conventional school, we should not throw away the almajiri system of education because it provides skills – one of the goals of primary education. The system gives them basic literacy. They can read and write. They can read the Holy Qur’an at a time when our children in conventional education cannot even read.
The solution is, therefore, to appraise the almajiri system and then come up with an encompassing policy that will integrate both the almajiri child and their teachers into the basic education system. It can be done. Indonesia had 30 million out-of-school children, now 99 percent are in school.
Indonesia only took three subjects out of western education – Mathematics, English and Science – and inculcated them into the Madrassah system of education and that was it. The alarammas and the malams should be integrated into the basic system so that, they have confidence in what the government is doing.
You also have to carry the parents along. You have to come up with a reorientation system whereby you tell the parents the ills of taking their children out of their environments- from a known environment to an unknown environment, especially with the insecurity in the country.
We should also make sure that the basic schools we want to put the children into are very attractive. Some of our schools now have about 200 pupils sitting on the floor in a class. The almajirai will rather prefer to go back to their informal Tsangaya schools, sit down on the floor and read because their teachers give attention to them.