YAHYA SARKI gives a close up on the life and fate of a mass of children from within Kebbi State and beyond who were given away by their parents to acquire Islamic education under subhuman conditions in Argungu, Kebbi State.
here is an army of out of the school children in Kebbi, better known as almajiris, who loiter the streets, houses restaurants, parks, fuel stations and even brothels begging for food and cash. As tender as some of these children are, they walk the streets daily, begging or hawking irrespective of the enormous danger they daily face while on the road. It also touches the heart to often see some of these children serving as guides to their physically handicapped parents or relatives who use them for begging.
Statistics obtained from UNICEF indicates that Kebbi in 2012, had 69 per cent of its children, out of the school (primary). These children according to the world body, stand the risk facing educational deprivation, insecurity or lack of protection against abuse, hard labour and above all, their rights and survival are threatened. The Kebbi State commissioner of Education, Alhaji Mahammadu Magawata Aliero in an interaction with newsmen in Birnin Kebbi in one of his inspection visits to schools in the state, lamented that about 498,000 children are out of school in Kebbi. ‘’We understand that Kebbi State is very very backward in education. We have 498,000 out-of-school children because within the age bracket of six to 18 in Kebbi State only 901,605 are in school, so about 498,000 are out of school.
Investigation carried out by our correspondent on the issue of out of the school children or the almajiris who roam the streets begging revealed that over 90 per cent of the children who engage in begging or ‘almajiranci’ do so under the guise of schooling for Islamic knowledge otherwise known as ‘ Quranic recitation/memorisation as mandated by their parents who hand them over to malams, (Islamic teachers) as their caretakers, who to take them far away from their homes without any proper or particular arrangements for their feeding and accommodation. It follows therefore that a large chunk of the the begging children are hadly natives of the area they operate; rather they come from faraway villages, local government areas, neighbouring states like Sokoto, Zamfara, Kaduna and neighboring countries like Niger Republic. The environment where these children sleep is often filthy and congested with very poor toilet facilities. In a particular Islamic school in Argungu where the children study and sleep, the school which serves as their shelter accommodate over 400 children, and between 40 to 50 of them sleep in a single room. A number of these children spoken to by our correspondent in Argungu local government of Kebbi State shared the experiences of how they left their homes in faraway places and handed to Malams; how they parade the streets begging; how they engage in domestic work in pittance for their efforts. They narrated how street begging/hawking crushed both their ambition of going to school or becoming what they dream of in life.
Abubakar Umar is an 11-year-old boy from Sokoto State and from a village called Sanyinna. According to him his father brought him to the malam four months ago and just left him and disappeared. ‘’My father brought me here and handed me over to Malam Lawali about four months ago and said I have to learn how to memorise and recite the Quran. Every day I have to go and beg for food outside because the malam said my father did not make any arrangement for my feeding because he did not give him any money for my up keep. Each time I finish reading the Quran, I will go for begging to get some food and money which I will partly give to my malam.” Abubakar said that if given the opportunity he wants to go to conventional school and later become a veterinary doctor to address the health problems facing their animals.
Another boy of 14-years, Samaila Garba is from Muza Village, also from Sokoto State. He said he spent four years in Argungu studying the Quran and begging to get food to eat and also hawking from street to street. According to him he started by begging but later was attached to a woman who sells local drinks like ‘Sobo’ or ‘ginger,’ which he sells for by hawking. He also does other domestic labours like washing and cleaning the environment as well as fetching water. ‘’I spent four years in Argungu in the hands of Malam Umar, who takes care of many of us. We were about 100 in number from different places. All of us must go out to beg, to work and return back to our malam.’’
Shafiu Murtala, 11 nurtures the ambition to becoming a headmaster but he could not actually go to conventional school because his parents don’t want him to obtain Western education, so they sent him to Argungu in the name of going for Islamic education.
A more touching story is that of 12-year-old Baraka Adamu, a girl who was forced out of public school by her parents. Although Baraka did not take to the street begging as her male counterparts in the same Islamic schooling, there a many like her who are out there roaming the streets, begging and looking for what to eat.
According to Baraka her parents forced her out of school and told her she will only be going to Islamic school and forget the Western type of education. ‘’My dream of becoming a lawyer was shattered by my parents who said they no longer want me to continue with the Western education I have started. Up till now my other colleagues go to school daily and I don’t. I still want to become a lawyer in my life but my ambition is shattered,’’ she lamented.
The Islamic teacher, Malam Lawali who is in his 50s is from Argungu local government area. He said his school has over 200 children from different places, far and near like Gulma, Kangiwa, Jega, Sokoto, Danwarai, Yauri and even Niger Republic. The malam who described the condition of his school as pathetic disclosed that the school cannot afford to feed the children; therefore they will have to go and fend for themselves by engaging in domestic work for people and begging. He admitted the poor environmental and health condition of the school as expressed by the dirty and poor toilet facilities and overcrowding.
‘’We receive these children from many places. We have over 200 of them. In a room 30 to 40 children sleep in one place. The toilet facility is not enough because of the big crowd of students I have. I want to point out that we have 10 rooms as accommodation and we require government assistance for improved living condition.”
Is Malam Lawali aware that some of the children would rather prefer Western education if they were to choose? “I am not opposed to integrating the Islamic system of education to the Western type of education. We can spare time for them to study Western education’’, he said. When asked if he has some female children as students he said: ‘’We have about 20 female children from six years and above but they don’t sleep here. After the day’s study session they go back to their houses; they are like day students,’’ he said.
It is pertinent to note here that Islamic education or Islamiyya School derives from a good concept. The likes of Sardasuna, Sir Ahmadu Bello who was the first premier of the Northern Region and Alhaji Abubakar Tafawa Balewa, the first prime minister of Nigeria and many notable northerners were all products of Islamic education, ‘Islamiyya ‘or ‘ Makarantar Allo;’ however, they did not engage or follow the current pattern which trends in most of Northern Nigeria in which the Islamic school children are emptied into streets for begging or hawking, all in the name of seeking Islamic knowledge.
Remarkable also is that these notable northerners, who passed through Islamic education, equally acquired Western education. The concept of Islamic education is rooted in producing disciplined and God fearing persons, useful to themselves and the society; however, many people in the society misunderstand the issue of almajiri, they see it as purely religious and even cultural thus adulterating the noble concept. The Nigerian Child Rights Law is clear on the fact that the survival of the child, his development, protection and rights must be ensured in all his engagements with adults.
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