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Eliminating ‘Alm’ in the Almajiri (Opinion)
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Eliminating ‘Alm’ in the Almajiri (Opinion)

Dealing with the Almajiri menace

Itohan Ferguson

A sojourn into core Northern States in Nigeria (Kano, Kaduna, Borno, Gombe, etc.) will reveal the Almajiri menace. Not many know the history of the Almajiri clan, but theirs is a sad tale of victimisation, from a system doomed to fail from the start.

Almajiri colloquially means 'street urchin'; although in the past, the word 'Almajiri' was dissimilar from such mundane negativity. Instead, it was a word that embodied one of the core values of Islam - 'One who leaves his or her home in search of Islamic knowledge'.

The word, 'Almajiri' is Hausa and it is derived, from, 'Al Muhajir' which is Arabic with the Quranic nuance: "He who flees his country in the path of Allah' s religion (Q4:100)".

The Almajiri system of education is predominantly a curriculum of religious studies, with an Alfa, (Muslim cleric) overseeing the scholarship of children left in his care.

Almajiri school teacher and his pupils
Almajiri school teacher and his pupils

It used to be a non-discriminatory system of education as children from both rich and poor backgrounds were equal in their pursuit of Islamic knowledge.

Before the debilitating effect of colonial hegemony, the Almajiri system of education was somewhat efficient and idealistic.

Powerful Sultans and religious leaders believed and contributed to it; besides, they had absolute control of the scheme.

Nevertheless, power was wrested from these Sultans, by colonial masters who were uneasy about a system of education they did not understand or have full control over.

Almajiri Graduation
Almajiri Graduation

Consequently, the Almajiri system crumbled as they lost the financial, moral and social support from benevolent contributors. Wealthy individuals promptly withdrew their children from these schools and its foundation of egalitarianism was destroyed as Almajiri became education for just the poor.

Also, it was a dumping ground of sorts for children from low-income families. The unfortunate situation was made worse by the unchecked birthrate of children in Northern Nigeria as a result of polygamy.

With more children than resources, the scheme was overrun, and these young ones spilt over from the controlled environment of these schools into the streets.

In a bid to escape the abysmal state of perpetual hunger and lack, these Children scrounged, foraged and begged to survive.

Almajiri Children in Northern Nigeria
Almajiri Children in Northern Nigeria

Thus the modern-day representation of the Almajiri are children dressed in rags; oozing helplessness while begging for alms in the mosques, streets, marketplaces and even private homes.

As if to add insult to the festering injury, the Almajiri children were exploited by the very society that should be protecting them in the first place.

They were used by the minority Northern Elite to bully and enforce its selfish political will, in terms of underage voting and election malpractices.

They have also become the 3rd force in ethno-religious crisis plaguing Northern Nigeria; ready to perpetrate mayhem at the slightest provocation against people of different ethnicity and religion.

As a result of the propensity for violence, the Almajiri clan constitute a bountiful supply of soldiers for the terrorist group Boko Haram.

Contrary to popular belief that the Almajiri menace is solely a problem of Northern Nigeria, these victims are nomadic. Illegal panhandling syndicates traffick them from the North to other parts of the country.

These panhandling rings deliberately maim these children, because a deformed child is likely to make more money from sympathetic onlookers.

Eliminating ‘Alm’ in the Almajiri (Opinion)

Although the Almajiri clan pose a national problem, government after government have been unable to stem this looming crisis.

Regrettably, they constitute a significant percentage of children who have no access to primary education.

Currently, the Nigerian government has announced its intentions to phase out the Almajiri school system amidst objections from Governors from Northern states.

Ironically these Northern Governors maintain that phasing out the Almajiri system of education tramples their sacred Islamic way of life.

Begging the question; are the noisy objections of Northern Governors an attempt to preserve a decaying way of life?

Or protect the power they wield against the less fortunate and gullible section of the citizenry.

Thus we confront the startling realisation that the Almajiri are deliberately weaponised.

In the face of such palpable objections surrounding this decaying way of life, how then can Nigeria eradicate 'Alm' in the Almajiri?