It’s a well known fact that the Almajiri system has outlived its usefulness. This is even as reforms with Almajiri schools have not had a meaningful impact on the culture. The system has created a cover for criminally minded individuals to abuse innocent minors, exposing them to anti-social behaviours. CHRISTIANA NWAOGU, ANKELI EMMANUEL, UMAR MOHAMMED, ANDY ASEMOTA, and YAHYA SARKI, write that as the nation marks the 2nd Almajiri Child Rights Day today, there is urgent need for the government at all levels to address the educational, nutritional and security risk asscociated with Almajiri in Nigeria.
May 26, last year, was formally institutionalised as the Annual Almajiri / Vulnerable Child Rights Day as advocacy strategy, to focus the nation’s attention on Almajiri crisis and provoke necessary action by relevant stakeholders.
The Almajiri Child Rights Initiative (ACRI) is a non-profit move that aims to end the systemic abuse of Almajiri children through access to better healthcare, nutrition, shelter and a reinvigorated educational curriculum that prepares them for a life of dignity in the 21st Century.
LEADERSHIP Sunday gathered that ACRI was initiated as a set of advocacy activities for remembrance, solidarity and to demand for political accountability as well as government commitments for the education and welfare of ALMAJIRI children and all vulnerable kids like IDPs.
It has almost become a normal feature, a cultural norm – children roaming the streets in certain parts of Nigeria (mainly northern).
The word Almajiri derives from the Arabic word Al-Mahaajirun, which literally means a learned scholar who propagates the peaceful message of Islam.
LEADERSHIP Sunday learnt that Almajiri, originally known as the Tsangaya was established under the Kanem-Borno Empire, one of the oldest ruling empires in the world, extending from the frontiers of northern Nigeria across the Chadian region up to the borders of Libya.
The word also refers to a person who migrates from the luxury of his home to other places or to a popular teacher in the quest for Islamic knowledge. Its philosophy is hinged basically on the Islamic concept of migration which is widely practiced especially when acquisition of knowledge at home is either inconvenient or insufficiency.
Sadly, this system of Islamic education embraced in the Northern part of the country mehas, however, been bastardised with many of the children left to beg for food and money on the streets by the Islamic teachers.
Regrettably, the Almajiri culture has since outlived its purpose and has become a breeding ground for child begging and in extreme cases, potential materials for recruitment into terrorist groups.
Deprived of a normal and decent upbringing, Almajiri children who are usually little boys between the ages of three and sixteen (3-16 years) are sometimes products of polygamous or broken homes and poor economic families.
Against the goal, these children who lack adequate family cover are sent out to the streets under the guise of Almajiri, as soon as the family’s resources are overstretched.
As we all know, Almajiri’s grow up in the streets without the love, care and guidance of parents. They struggle for survival and are dangerously exposed to abuse (homosexuality and pedophilia).
They are used as slaves, brainwashed and recruited for anti-social activities and even used for destructive and violent activities. The above explanation is the picture of the tragic plight of an Almajiri child in Nigeria.
While the Almajiri culture epitomises child abuse, social exclusion and chronic poverty, owing largely to the fact that the system is believed to be rooted in Islamic religion and Fulani cultural practices, moves to reverse the ugly trend or put an end to such abuse of humanity has proven abortive.
A scholar, Salihu Hassan Abdulrasheed in Nyanya, Abuja, told LEADERSHIP Sunday that , “the fact that Islamic teaching strongly forbids begging, except in very special circumstances which include a man’s loss of properties or wealth in a disaster, or when a man has loaned much of his money for the common good, such as bringing peace between two warring parties, already proves that Almajiri system as it is being practised today is totally unIslamic.”
Abdulrasheed explained that “ A child neglected by his parents is vulnerable to diseases and social crimes. In order to survive, he often has to beg from ‘dusk to dawn’ after which he returns to the makaranta (school in Hausa).”
Mallam Mustafa Isah who spoke to LEADERSHIP Sunday from one of the Mosque in Asokoro, lamented that the Almajiri system has created a cover for criminally minded individuals to abuse the Nigerian child, trafficking in innocent minors and exposing them to anti-social behaviours, and to be used as sex slaves.
Mallam Isah expressed worry that surprisingly, the elite care less either about their plight or the table that turned on the negative side.
His words, “To conclude that the Almajiri system has deviated from its original purpose and is currently giving Nigeria a bad image in the international community is to admit the obvious.”
He stated that ,”Even though the immediate past administration of former President Goodluck Jonathan designed a programme under which a few Almajiri Model Boarding schools were established courtesy of a Federal Government intervention, which was aimed at integrating conventional western education into Islamic education only turned out to be merely ‘removing a spoonful of water from a filled tank’ .
Mallam Isah argued, “For me, that move wasn’t enough to properly address the problem of the destitute children. Less than five percent of the children were captured by the Federal Government’s programme, which was meant to remove the Almajiri off the streets.”
He said, “There is an urgent need for government to banish the Almajiri culture once and for all and save these innocent little ones from perpetual abuse. “
He categorically warned that “Unless it is banned or adequately reformed to meet the modern day demands, challenge and realities the problems of underdevelopment, educational backwardness and mass poverty in (northern) Nigeria would continue to go from bad to worse.“
Hajiya Aisha Abubakar who wept profusely at the dangers associated with Almajiri expressed worry that , “ People bear children they do not have the resources to cater for, just because they know they could easily push such children out on Almajiri.”
Mrs Abubakar who lamented that the level of child abuse is worrisome; “The deliberate breach of the fundamental human rights of our young ones calls for urgent concern and the neglect and lack of commitment to the plight of these minors is unfortunate” she said, as it is presently, Almajiri is the face of poverty and it is anti-Islam.
Hear her, “ This is time for President Muhammadu Buhari to urgently put measures in place which would see to the banishment or positive reform of the Almajiri system in order to save this country from a possible massive humanitarian Crisis.”
Hajiya Abubakar who prayed fervently for Allah’s quick intervention to the plight of Almajiri’s revealed that, “For instance, a multi- million naira Almajiri school established to help build the future of the itinerant children; for qualitative schooling and proper education in her home state, Sokoto has been lying waste as there is no schooling there, years after the project was commissioned by President Goodluck Jonathan.
In her words, “ My dear, you can go cross check facts. Let me sight an instance, on April 10, 2012, the then President, Goodluck Ebele Jonathan, through his goodwill commissioned (Tsangaya) Almajiri Integrated Model Boarding School, situated at Gagi village in Sokoto South Local Government Area of Sokoto State.
“This multi -million naira was among many other multi-million naira Almajiri school projects in the country and was built with a vision to provide equal access to qualitative education for the almajiri but regrettably, today, that dream is far from attained”.
She said, “I am talking about a model school that is well equipped; class rooms, computer room, science laboratory, recitation hall, library, language laboratory, dormitories and so on, yet not utilised.”
Unfortunately and in spite of the best effort of government, the goal of providing access to quality education has not been fully realised in Nigeria as the North-West geo-political zone alone accounts for almost five million which is over 60 per cent of the total population of Almajiri nationwide.
While LEADERSHIP Sunday gathered that there are about 35 of such multi -million Almajiri model schools scattered across the northern part of the country, the United Nations Intervention for Children and Emergency Foundation (UNICEF) has consistently stated that “Even though primary education is officially free and compulsory, about 10.5 million of the country’s children aged 5-14 years are not in school.
UNICEF has continually said that “Only 61 percent of 6-11 year-olds regularly attend primary school and only 35.6 percent of children aged 36-59 months receive early childhood education.
“In the northern part of the country, the picture is even bleaker, with a net attendance rate of 53 percent. Getting out-of-school children back into education poses a massive challenge.”
Statistically, UNICEF says, “In north-eastern and north-western states, 29 percent and 35 percent of Muslim children, respectively, receive Qur’anic education, which does not include basic skills such as literacy and numeracy. The government considers children attending such schools to be officially out-of-school.”
A respondent in Kawo, Kano state, Hamzat Bashiru had this to say. “ My dear journalist, am giving you attention because I believe that this is the set time to reverse this security threat. I have been bothered yet quiet about the ordeal of these homeless kids.”
According to Bashiru, “ I once took my pregnant wife who was in labour to the hospital ( I mean here in Kano) and guess what? the medical team at the hospital sought of ignored us because they were attending to an emergency. I initially flared up, but had to calm down when I sighted a 10 year old boy who was bleeding from his anus as a result of sexual assualt on him by the same persons who were supposed to protect and nurture him.
He said, prior to that unforgettable sight, “I groaned inwardly each time I see very hagard looking Almajiri’s with bowls clutched under their arms in the scorching sun, running after every moving being to beg for money.”
Bashiru who called on the Kano state government to embark on a rescue mission as part of its policy programme after the May 29 inauguration said, it’s quite worrisome that government at all levels are pretending not to be in the know of this disturbing issue.
He questioned, “How on earth will government, mostly those in the north explain to the world that they don’t see these dirty and hungry kids who could be their extended family members trekking in a stretch of not less than 10 kilometres – for their daily routine: singing and begging for food and money and other things that could aid their survival and that of their families?”
Meanwhile, LEADERSHIP Sunday recalls that while there is no confirmed number of almajiris in the country, the governor of Kano state, his Excellency, Abdullahi Ganduje, had in August 2018 said there were over three million children out of school in the state.
On his part, Manga Ibrahim who told LEADERSHIP Sunday that Almajiri’s are male pupils of school age who left home in search of Quranic education explained that they were placed in care of teachers, who would prepare them for learning the basics of the Quran but are usually unable to meet all the needs of their pupils, making them obliged to beg in the neighbourhood to supplement their rations and other needs.
In Bauchi State, 12 years old Abdullahi Musa who disclosed that he was neglected by his parents and deprived of the least of basic life necessities, leaving him vulnerable to all sorts of danger narrated his ordeal in the hands of his supposed caregiver.
With his hands clutched round his bowl like he has all his life treasure in it, he said, “ Though I desire to be cuddled by my parents as I watch loving parents do to their God’s given gift (children), I cannot remember the last time I saw my parents. To be sincere, I miss my siblings and everything about family.
“My master maltreats me,” he said in Hausa. I am being flogged like a Camel. In most cases punished even without committing an offence. I hustle, starve and labour under the harsh sun and in the rain just to have something to submit. This is not life. Even those who use to respond by giving us peanuts are fed up.”
Asked what he was doing outside during school hours, he responded, “I am here because this is where I get food to eat. I return home to sleep every day. But I desire to be in school because I aim to be rich. I will do any work that will make me wealthy and if I eventually achieve my dream, I will stop at nothing to take Almajiri’s out of the streets.”
Asides Musa, a few other Almajiri’s who spoke to Leadership Sunday admitted they were looking forward to when they will go to School.
Ahmadu Yakub 13, said his goal was to become a doctor so as to save lives and help Nigeria. According to him, “I had attended a school before but they removed me after sometime. I want to go to school so that I can save lives, especially that of Almajiri’s who are often killed by hit and run drivers.”
Another almajiri, 14 year old Haruna Abdullaziz from Jigawa state said he has never seen the four walls of a school and so would love to be tutored to become a trader.
Hamzat Sani, who was seen helping a stranded driver fix his car for reward in Niger state said Jokingly,” This is my trade. In place of studies and being utilised by those who rather than put food on my table would give me a token , waving a N50 note at our correspondent or better still, a verbal thank you.”
Sani who spoke in a sad and tortured tone filled with anguish said in Hausa, “I regret that Allah even gave me to my heartless parents. Each day I wake dreaming that a good hearted and very caring Nigerian would adopt me so I can join my peers in school. I envy those that go to school, their uniforms and the english they speak.
He said, “ Unfortunately, fate seem to have ordained it that I make garage my model school. And my teachers; drivers whose vehicles break down.”
Sani who broke down in tears added , “The thought of wanting to know my biological parents is a sad reality that hurts me visibly. I will like to see them because I have questions which they have to provide answers to.”
The Way Out
Though the high rate of number of out-of-school children, has been blamed on several factors including Boko Haram insurgency, communal and farmers/headers clashes as well as low funding. Analysts put the blame on the gross failure of state governments to do the needful.
A Universal Basic Education Commission (UBEC) report released in 2018, indicated that 24 of 36 states in the country failed to access their portion of the N47billion basic education grant between 2015 and 2017. It added that no state had as at the period under review accessed the N36.5 billion available for 2018.
Recall also that the Senate President Dr. Bukola Saraki warned of the implication of the growing number of out – of- school children in the country.
Saraki was quoted to have said that “An uneducated population will be locked in a cycle of poverty for their entire lives, adding that, these children could constitute the next generation of suicide bombers and militants”. In this regard, he harped that education should remain a national security priority.
He also pledged that ,“The legislature is committed to doing all it can to address the issue of out-of-school children through funding and material resources. The senate is already working with a few state governments which are yet to domesticate the Child Rights Act.”
He said to this end, it is therefore relevant for the various state governments to step up its level of commitment to ensuring every Nigerian child is educated and this also includes accessing funds that are already in place.
But in a swift response, Leadership Sunday got these reactions from states that operate the system.
Giving his position on the Almajiri system of education, the former Secretary of Sokoto Universal Basic Education Board (SUBEB), Alhaji Ibrahim Haliru Dingyadi said sustaining and improving on the Almajiri integrated system of education matters because of its numerous impacts.
According to Dingyadi, most parents who were hitherto aversed to western education, now beg to get their wards educated because of the all-encompassing curriculum of the Almajiri integrated system of education in Sokoto.
His words, “After all, Sokoto being the Seat of the Caliphate and traditional headquarters of Islam in Nigeria, was practicing the system of educating the Almajiris in both Islamic and Western education even before the federal government officially keyed into the system in 2012, when former President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan officially launched the first Almajiri Model Boarding School in Sokoto.
He explained, “The school situated at Gagi area of Sokoto north metropolis, however, became an eye-opener for most parents seeing how well their wards have improved both in the Qua’ranic and Western education.
Findings by Leadership Sunday revealed that the state has about 11 of such schools that are under the control, supervision and staffing of SUBEB.
Though efforts by Leadership Sunday to ascertain the number of Almajiris in the state, a source at one of the schools said he is sure the Almajiri integrated schools across the state have over 3000 pupils at the moment because of patronage.
Giving reasons for the upshot in enrollment opinion, the source said, “Parents of these Almajiris who hitherto disliked western education are now seeing how their wards are faring and hope that they would become pillars of their families in the nearest future.
“Sokoto State piloted the Almajiri system of education in Nigeria. The 11 Integrated Almajiri Model schools in Sokoto are managed by the State Universal Basic Education Board (SUBEB) and others by the State Ministry for Religious Affairs, he explained.
He disclosed that “Six out of the model schools were boarding while seven run daily programmes. In the case of those boarding, we ensure that they do not just eat satisfactory three square meals per day, but also qualitatively balanced diet as well.
The source added that despite being seen as constituting a nuisance, most of the Almajiris are naturally gifted; hence, their creativity.
The Desk Officer in charge of Almajiri Schools of State Universal Basic Education Board Mallam Lawali Gurbi said 10 out of the 13 Modern Almajiri Integrated Schools, constructed by the Federal Government during the administration of President Goodluck were in operation.
The schools that are utilised by state are that of Jangebe in Talata Mafara local government area and Danmarke (Tungar Fulani) in Bungudu.
Others according to him are located at Dankurmi in Maru, Abarma and Tsunami in Gusau town, then Kaura Namoda, Bakura and Maradun.
Gurbi also revealed that two of these schools, which were at Talata Mafara and Gusau had been converted to boys and girls command secondary schools respectively. While another in Damba area of Gusau was converted to conventional Girls Secondary School.
A Teacher at Sheikh Balarabe Zawuyya, Almajiri Integrated Model School Abarma Area Gusau Mallam Kabiru Umar said , the school operates on integrated system.
Umar said the students were taught both Islamic and Western knowledge and the teachers where employees of the state government under the Universal Basic Education system.
He said although the school comprises both day and boarding students, there was no feeding support from government at all levels.
Investigations further revealed that another comprehensive Almajiri Schools exist at independent but the school purely teaches Islamic knowledge.
Zawuyya of Sheikh Balarabe Almajiri Schools was the most popular and well structured to meet the modern learning condition ever had in the state.
The Head of the school, Mallam Usman Muhammad said the school was established forty years back by Sheikh Balarabe starting with one school room.
He said the school had 66 class rooms and the enrollment of over 16,000 as the school admitted students every day and the system was both boarding and day students.
He also said all the teachers were on volunteer service as they only benefit from the weekly charity of ten naira per head, from the students.
He boasted that the school has produced many graduates and National Certificate of Education (NCE) holders who proceed to Kuliya the College of Education and University to study Arabic or Islamic studies.
The Secretary to the Government of Katsina State and former Usman Danfodiyo University Don, Mustapha Muhammad Inuwa, in an interview with a private television station recently, said the issue transcends beyond Nigeria because the majority of Almajiri in the country are not Nigerians.
Inuwa said: “Many people can identify many of them (Almajiris) from Niger Republic even though they are in Katsina. It (Almajiri) is a problem of the entire (northern) region. Majority of the Almajiri in Katsina and most cities in Nigeria are not Nigerians because you can’t easily differentiate between Katsina men from Maradi men.
He said, “So, you see, it has been a system, it has been entrenched. It will require the efforts of the entire society: the mallams, the traditional rulers and others for the system to be transformed. There must be a radical departure from the system we are operating now in terms of educational system and the way children are allowed to roam the streets.
The way forward under the current administration in Katsina State includes the establishment of additional literacy centres and recruitment of more facilitators. Today, Katsina State has the highest number of literacy centres and facilitators in the North with 1091 literacy centres and 1669 facilitators with 37,000 enrollment figures.
Chairman Almajiri Support Initiative of Nigeria ( ASIN ), Comrade Shehu Umar , an NGO established in 2002 to cater for the welfare of the Almajiri in Kebbi State acknowledged that the Almajiris in the society face neglect and abuse .
He suggested that all stakeholders must come together to address the issue. He however explained that their core vision is basicically to give them integrated Islamic and Western education as well as skill acquisition.
“We aim to improve economic standards of all categories of almajiris , men and women, old and young. To build their capacity in education and vocational training. We have training or vocational centres where we teach them any trade of their choice.
Since the establishment of the organisation in 2002, we have trained over 3000 Almajiris in various trades, many of them have since become self-reliant and have employed other Almajiris too”, he said.
Bilyaminu Attahiru, an Almajiri, now 30 years, from Alwasa in Argungu Local government area of Kebbi state told Leadership Sunday that he started begging at the age of seven. He came to Birnin Kebbi as an Almajiri, wandering the streets begging for food and money until he abandoned begging to engage in skill acquisition where he learnt how to fabricate and weld metals.
Attahiru is now an established welder and has successfully set up his welding shop after abandoning street begging.
Comparing life on the street to his new found life of self –reliance, he said, “Life on the streets is never the same. It was one full of challenges. One had to be on his toes begging to eat . The story is now different since I acquired skills in welding, I can now feed myself, buy clothes and even take care of myself and support others. I don’t even want to have a flash back of my past life.”
He said, “I must express my gratitude to ASI, this is an NGO that changed my life, that stopped me from begging by introducing me to skill acquisition-welding by attaching me to a welder. My call is for government and the well wishers in the society to join hands with such NGOs to set up skill acquisition centres or workshops for the Almajiri children, where they can learn various trades and educate them both in Islamic and Western religion”, he appealed.
LEADERSHIP Sunday believes that respite may soon come the way of the Almajiri’s as well as the out- of – school children following a recent meeting of Northern governor’s in Kaduna State which centered mainly on the alarming spate of kidnapping, armed robbery and banditry in Kaduna, Katsina, Sokoto, Zamfara States and the Northeastern parts of the country.
Apart from the Chairman of the Forum and Governor of Borno State, Kashim Shettima, other governors who attended the meeting were Sokoto State’s, Aminu Tambuwal, Katsina State’s Aminu Masari, Plateau State Simon Lalong and Benue State Deputy governor, Benson Abonu.
Meanwhile, in preparation for the Almajiri Child Rights Day, concerned advocates, yesterday, Saturday, called on the federal government to immediately set up a multi-stakeholders task team to come up with a unified position on how to address the social, educational, nutritional and security situation of the Almajiri children in the northern part of the country.
The group, who also called for medium-term enlightenment plan for building consensus with actors and benefactors, further implored the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) commission to work with the affected country to initiate and amend policies that would address the regional implication of ungoverned borders as evidence suggests that migration accounts for a large number of the street begging population in places like Borno State where an estimated one million Almajiris reside.
Addressing newsmen in Abuja to mark Almajiri Child Rights Day, one of the team leaders, Comrade Mohammed Sabo Keana, said the plight of millions of Almajiri children might currently be a Nigerian problem but has potentially grave consequences for all Nigerians.
He said, “In marking the second Almajiri Child Rights Day in Nigeria, he said, we will engage critical stakeholders, especially actors and benefactors, civil society, government at all levels, as well as the local and international community towards developing and implementing policy that offers a long-term solution for returning dignity to the life of the Almajiri child.
He said that was why the group came together as concerned Nigerians, driven by a conviction that just like every other Nigerian, the Almajiri child has the potential to be great and should have a fighting chance in life.
He further appealed that: “The United Nations and our friends across the international community should add their voices to the plight of the Almajiri child, especially as addressing the rights to education, nutrition, healthcare, sanitation and decent work of the over 10 million Almajiri children is critical to achieving the SDGs in Nigeria.”
Comrade Keana lamented that the current state of the Almajiri child portends a real and existential threat, that if left unchecked, could have a profound consequence on Nigeria.
Sheik Nurudeen Lemu, Chairman Governing board ACRI said, “Nigerian government, should be made to know that Article 19 of the United Nations Convention on Rights of Children states that “ State Parties shall take all appropriate legislative, administrative, social and educational measures to protect the child from all forms of physical or mental violence, injury or abuse, neglect or negligent treatment, maltreatment or exploitation, including sexual abuse, while in the care of parent(s) legal guardian(s) or any other person who has the care of the child”.
According to him, the group in its inquest in defence of Article 19 of United Nations charter, aims to, among other things stir the conscience of the political class into developing the political will to address the decade long Almajiri crisis through accountable governance.
Lemu said they were bent to usher in, increase public conciousness , support and stand in solidarity with innocent children currently caught up in the Almajiri crisis in communities across the country, as they acknowledge and accord dignity to every Almajiri child that has been lost or abused, under this condition.
He said, “ We also want to rekindle our sense of humanity and empathy by reminding ourselves that we have moral responsibility to protect and ensure welfare of children in our society, and that no one is immune to societal consequences of the abuse and rights violations of vulnerable children.”
The 2nd Almajiri Child Rights Day, is to be celebrated in Abuja and other locations across the northern states; Katsina, Kano , Kaduna, Sokoto, Yobe, Borno, Adamawa, Nasarawa, Plateau, Zamfara , Jigawa, Kebbi ,Niger among others.
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