Almajirci is a symptom not a cause of myriad of problems bedeviling the northern Nigeria. It is a tip of sharp iceberg of poverty, ignorance and inequalities that have became endemic in the region. Many fingered and vilified almajirai as the only hurdle in the course of economic and educational transformation of the region. Some believe, banning almajiranci will make the insecurity and insurgency that have been eating deeply into the fabric of the society to vanish into the blue. I am not saying almajirci is a good practice but the thesis of my argument is that discourse around almajirci as problem in northern Nigeria is incomplete without being holistic in order to have a fine grasp of the bigger picture.
I see Almajirai as victims of the problem rather than the cause. The probable reason we are different from the Almajirai on the street is the fact that we are lucky to have better parents and more favourable environment than they had. Almajirai had their dreams too as children with some wanted to become doctors, teachers, government workers etc. and unfortunately their dreams were shattered by the circumstances they found themselves. Many of us wouldn’t have become what we are today if not for the unrelenting efforts of our parents, relatives and our immediate environments. These are the privileges that the almajirai lacked that resulted in their current predicament.
Hannah Hoechner, a postdoctoral researcher in anthropology and migration studies at the University of Antwerp conducted extensive research on Quranic schools in Kano and she had been interacting directly with currently enrolled and graduates of Quranic schools. In her book titled “Quranic Schools in Northern Nigeria, Everyday Experiences of Youth, Faith and Poverty.” She chronicled how religious, cultural and economic factors interlaced to produce the web of Almajiranci and the horrible experience as well as stigmatization they face in their everyday life. Hers is a pioneer research into the life of Almajirai in northern Nigeria. She wrote: “The Almajiri system is often described as a relic from the past that will disappear once the resistance of backward parents against modern development had been overcome. However, such thinking overlook the role that the current conditions and ongoing social changes in keeping the system alive and in fuelling demand. “She further wrote’’ it helps families cope with seasonal food shortages that are indicative of wider processes of rural impoverishment, and offers a way forward, at least for boys, when household break up as a result of death or divorce. “What is obvious from her work is that poverty is the fulcrum around which almajiranci revolve. Therefore, enacting law to ban almajiranci is only a half solution to the problem. The second half is economic empowerment.
According to Micheal J.Losier’s book title “Law Of Attraction, The Science of Attracting More of What You Want and Less of What You Want” People attracts to their lives whatever they give attention, energy and focus to, whether positive or negative. We are taking about Almajiranci as social problem precipitated by poverty fueled by having more children that could be catered for but at the same time state governors sponsored free weddings to poor individuals. The benefiaries are people with weak financial muscle and poor knowledge of family planning. Additionally, we all bothered about Almajirai because of the begging practice not because we despise the Quranic education. However, government is feeding the primary school children and excluding the pupils in the Quranic School. Why can’t we feed them too with a caveat that nobody should go and beg? The reality is that the antialmajiranci rhetoric is not backed by sincere actions and our practice is doing nothing but attracting the practice according to the Law of Attraction.
A casual and superficial look might reveal almajirai as the only nuisance on the street but deeper observation albeit anodectally one might conclude that for every one Almajiri on the street there are five or more non-almajirai street children wandering about in the nook and crannies of our cities and villages. These are children who move unhindered under the watch of their parents, respecting nobody in their society and being manipulated by politicians to the detriment of their future. The only difference between some of them and the almajirai is that while former carry bowls to beg for food the later feed from their parents’. Infact according to Hannar, these children lured some of the Almajirai into thuggery and substance abuse. Some of these children will have been Almajirai if they were born in the rural areas. I have been approached several times on the street by people that looked apparently educated and some speak good English begging me for money. They are called corporate beggars or more appropriately corporate almajirai.
Education is a stringboard for social and economic mobility. Finland has one of the best education model in the world. They have a dichotomous pathway in their educational system. People have a choice of undergoing three to four years vocational education that can earn them a job immediately or a university system that earns them a career job. Why can’t government transform the Almajiri School to reflect the realities of the contemporary life?
Rev. Father Mathew Hassan Kukah, catholic Bishop of Sokoto diocese came up with a laudable initiative to train 10 million Almajirai using his Kukah Foundation. This novel and unprecended effort, which should have been celebrated by all and sundry, came under attack by Muslim Right Concern (MURIC) who described the project as a Trojan horse. While their skeptism is justifiable in view of the benefactor and the beneficiaries came from different faith, I still could not reconcile the argument with reality on ground. I don’t know why it is okay for children of Muslim elites to be sent to school established by missionaries but it is abnormal for Almajirai to be trained under Kukah foundation. The erudite Emir of Kano attended catholic boarding primary school and yet he is one of the most knowleageable Emir in Islamic Jurispedance.
The MURIC should consider the Bishop initiative as a challenge and go back to drawing board to come up with similar project to help curb the scourge of Almajiranci in the north not to sabotage his effort.
Dr. Mohammed wrote this piece from Abuja.