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Proposed Ban On Almajiri System, A Necessity

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Last week, the federal goverment touched a sensitive subject when it hinted that in view of the rising insecurity in the country,  it may proscribe the Almajiri system.

National Security Adviser, Babagana Mungono, disclosed this to State House correspondents after the National Economic Council meeting presided over by Vice President Yemi Osinbajo at the Presidential Villa.

According to the NSA, banning the activities of the Almajiri system and enrolling them in schools will go a long way in stemming the tide of insecurity in the country.

He noted that inline with President Muhammadu Buhari’s appeal to governors to “enforce very vigorously” free and compulsory basic education for every child of primary and junior secondary school age,efforts will be made to increase school enrollment for the almajiris.

The move has thrown up a wide range of debates on the issue as some have backed the government ‘s plans while some have called for caution.

In its response the presidency said the abrogation of the Almajiri  (Qur’anic learning system associated with begging on economic and religious grounds peculiar to some Northern states) system of education remains an objective but there is no immediate ban of it by the Buhari Administration, as widely reported by the media.

The Presidency,in a statement by the media aide of the president, Garba Shehu therefore, calls for caution in responses to the pronouncements by President Muhammadu Buhari on free and compulsory basic education for every child of primary and junior secondary school age in Nigeria, during his speech on Thursday, June 20, at the inauguration of the National Economic Council (NEC).

The Presidency noted that while the Buhari administration is committed to free and compulsory education as a long-term objective of bringing to an end, the phenomenon of out-of-school children, any necessary ban on Almajiri would follow due process and consultation with relevant authorities.

It is instructive to note that the 8thSenate last month frowned at the model of Almajiri Islamic education system being operated in most parts of the Northern states in Nigeria leading to non embracement of western education by many of the knowledge seekers within the system.

Accordingly, it called for full compliance with provisions of the Universal Basic Education Act, 2004 which made formal education compulsory for School age children from Basic one to nine.

The upper legislative chamber, in that regard.  directed 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.

It is instructive to note that the Almajiri is a system of Islamic education practised in northern Nigeria. Almajiri derives from an Arabic word, rendered “al-Muhajirun” in English transliteration, meaning a person who leaves his home in search of Islamic knowledge.This system of education started in Nigeria in a town named Kanem-Borno, which had a majority of its rulers widely involved in Quranic literacy. More than 700 years later, the Sokoto caliphate was founded by a revolution based on the teachings of the Qur’an. Sokoto caliphate and Borno caliphate started running the Almajiri system together.  The point also needs to be made that the system had produced outstanding scholars and historians especially in the old Kanem Borno Empire with considerable influence in the whole of West African subregion.

That said, in my opinion   the system has outlived its usefulness if the current standard is anything to go by. There is no gainsaying that the almajiri system has completely failed. It can be clearly seen that in recent years, most of the teachers have deviated from the real intent and purpose of the Almajiri system.What we see now is tattered looking children who ordinarily should be in school carrying bowls singing and begging for food and money.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. In some cases teachers even sexually and physically abuse the children.The resultant effect is that most of the Almajiri learning centres are now the breeding grounds for extremist group like Boko Haram.The children are also used as instruments of violent extremism during ethno-religious and political conflicts by terror groups.The Almajiri system, no doubt, has become the poster boy for poverty in Northern Nigeria.

The Sultan of Sokoto and President General, Nigerian Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs (NSCIA)  Sa’ad Abubakar III lent his voice to the debate on this disturbing phenomenon recently when he   debunked the assertions   that Almajiris are out in search of Quaranic education.

The Sultan who spoke when he hosted security chiefs, resident community leaders as well as media executives to a Ramadan dinner at his palace further asserted that the Almajiris are rather out in search of food instead.

He said, Almajiris are not searching for Qur’ani education as is said. They are simply searching for food because I see them roaming the streets everyday. They are not having any good training hence becoming easy prey for engagements by those that never meant anything good for humanity”.

Also, President Buhari had recently blamed the elite for the poverty and almajiri system when he remarked” When I drive round the country, what upsets me most is the status of our poor people…You see the so-called Almajiris wearing torn dresses with plastic bowls. I think we the Nigerian elite; we are all failing,”

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. Equally, a recent survey by the Demographic Health Survey(DHS) which was conducted in 2015 by the United Nations Children Fund (UNICEF) and the Nigerian government   had shown that the population of out of school children in Nigeria had risen from 10.5 million to 13.2 million.This goes to show that the Almajiri system contributes more than 50 percent of the number of out -of- school children  .This is simply not acceptable.

It is instructive to note that between December 2010 and May 2015, the Goodluck Jonathan administration embarked on the Almajiri Education Programme which saw to the construction and equipment of 157 Tsangaya (Almajiri) Model Schools across Nigeria.

With the significant rise in banditry,  kidnapping and lingering insurgency in the country, there is no better time to reform or completely scrap the system than now.Have you ever wondered where the Almajiri children of 10 years ago where they are right now or what they are doing .

President Buhari is one single unfying factor in Northern Nigeria and I strongly suggest he should use his cult- life figure in the north to push for a reform or even scrapping of the Almajiri system . If that will be his only achievement in his second term, northern Nigeria and the whole country will be better for it.This is possible if the President can summon enough political will to push through with the reforms or in my opinion outright ban is more like it.

At the same time,northern governors should make the reforms of the system as priority projects in their states.Laws should be enacted at state level to stop parents from giving their children to this Mallams who lack the financial capacity to take care of them. Stiffer penalties should also be meted out to errant parents.

I wholly support the proposed plan by the federal government as this will go a long way in reducing the insecurity in the country.

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