The outgone Senate, on the eve of its departure, raised concerns regarding the operational pattern of the Almajiri Islamic education system in the Northern states of Nigeria. The legislative body was also worried that the way the system is run is creating challenges that are hindering the young ones from embracing western education, without which they may not be able to make much progress in life.
To address this perceived anomaly, it called on the government to augment the values of the almajiri system with full compliance with the provisions of the Universal Basic Education Act, 2004 which made formal education compulsory for School age children from Basic one to nine.To achieve this, the upper legislative chamber implored the relevant authorities to apply the laws as contained in sections 2 to 5 of the Act against any school age child or his or her parents if found roaming the streets during school hours.
We are aware that the Almajiri education system, under normal circumstances,is important in that it inculcates in the young ones the teachings and practices of Islamic faith. To underscore its relevance in the effort to expose young people to literacy at an early age, the system has produced outstanding scholars and personalities in areas that Islam is dominant. So, the argument is not about the quality and appropriateness of that system of education but the way and manner it is being practiced in the country today which has led to the once beautiful system assuming pejorative connotations.
Today the word almajiri evokes memories of street urchins and breeding ground for those out to recruit suicide bombers and other untoward anti-social miscreants. That was not the intendment of the founders of the education system. Surprisingly, most of the elite class in the North were once beneficiaries of the system, which raises the question as to why they decided to turn their back on a system that served them well in their formative years.
Recently, the federal government made a feeble attempt to revive the system by building modern structures designed to take the young ones off the street. Seemingly, in our view, that effort is bogged down by easily noticeable lethargy and bureaucracy. Or the sustenance of the bad side of almajiri could be deliberate on the part of those intent on keeping the children of the less-privileged who could have benefitted from it perpetually in servitude. Otherwise, this newspaper finds it difficult to understand why a system that has the potentials to enhance the intellectual pursuit of children is being left to flounder.
It is easily observable that due to lack or an outright absence of regulatory supervision, the system is bastardised as most of the teachers (Mallams) have deviated from the real intent and purpose of the Almajiri system. What is present in the psych of the average Nigerian is the image of tattered looking children who ordinarily should be in school carrying bowls singing and begging for food and money in the street and generally constituting themselves into a nuisance. That is not part of the original idea of almajiri. The teachers who are supposed to teach and take care of the children have abdicated their responsibility and the children are left to cater for themselves. This perceivable attitude is not because they lack interest but because those who should provide the needed resources to keep the system well-oiled have since moved on to other things. In some cases, the teachers even sexually and physically abuse the children.The almajiris have, sadly, in our opinion, become reference points for poverty in Northern Nigeria. This should not be allowed to continue.
The Sultan of Sokoto and President General, Nigerian Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs (NSCIA), Sa’ad Abubakar III,had asserted at a public function that the Almajiris are out in search of food. He lamented that they are not having any good training, hence becoming easy prey for engagements by those that never meant anything good for humanity.
A recent report by the National Council for the Welfare of the Destitute (NCWD) approximated the number of almajiri at seven million. This system contributes significantly to the number of out of school children in Nigeria. This is not acceptable. The Goodluck Jonathan administration embarked on the Almajiri Education Programme which saw to the construction and equipping of 157 Tsangaya (Almajiri) Model Schools across Nigeria.
However,the Executive Director, Almajiri Child Rights Initiative, Muhammad Keana, observed that the laudable attempt was not built on sustainability.He noted that the facilities, even when being put to use, are not for the benefit of the Almajiri.
It is our opinion that the system can be salvaged and integrated into the nation’s education platform. All that is required is the political will on the part of the leaders.
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