The emotive story in the Daily Trust on Saturday edition of April 28, 2018 is the prime factor that informed the subject of this column’s discussion this week. It is an account of a Qur’anic school teacher whose brutality led to the amputation of the two hands of one of the pupils attending his school.
The 13-year old ZubairuYushau was enrolled in a Tsangaya Qur’anic school located in Kagarawal area on the outskirts of Gombe metropolis. On Mach 3, 2018, Zubairu went to one of the houses he frequented in search of food remnants. There, he saw what to him looked like an abandoned handset and thus picked it up. Three days later, a lady who was the owner of the phone came to Zubairu’s teacher and said she suspected Zubairu had stolen her phone. When Zubairu overheard them speaking about the phone, he quickly turned it over and apologized; saying he thought it was out of use.
Dissatisfied with the explanation, Zubairu’s teacher, Malam Suraj, got a rope, tied his hands and left him under the scorching sun. When the teacher returned several hours later to untie Zubairu,the hands have swollen.When Zubairu was taken to the hospital by the police, it was too late. Amputation was the option left for doctors who wanted to prevent the infection from reaching other parts of Zubairu’s body.
The traditional Qur’anic school system also known as Tsangaya was not founded in the way they are operated today. So many things have certainly gone wrong with this over-a-century-old system. It has regrettably become synonymous with child destitution. The Almajiri pupils are forced into begging because they are taken to Tsangaya schools in distant towns and cities without their parents making any concrete arrangements for their feeding, shelter and healthcare. It is characteristic of such parents to just dump their children in faraway Tsangaya schools; sometimes without dropping one naira with the proprietor of the school.
This is how the Almajiri system has suffered bastardization by highly irresponsible parents whose gross dereliction of responsibility leaves much to be desired. This gives credence to the insinuation that such parents give birth to as many children as they cannot cater for. Using a hadith of the Prophet (SAW) in which he said, “Marry and procreate for I will be proud of you”, they reject spacing between children. By all intent and purpose, the Prophet (SAW) did not mean he would be proud of children brought up as street beggars, delinquents, scoundrels or rascals. The pride mentioned in the hadith is about the Prophet (SAW) being proud of children who received necessary parental care and training that shaped them into well-behaved, knowledgeable, self-reliant and resourceful human beings.
Street begging by which most Almajiri pupils survive takes a large chunk of the time that should have been used for learning the Qur’an. Street begging exposes these innocent children, in their search for food, to several deviant behaviours including drug addiction. They also become vulnerable to the wicked intentions of kidnappers and ritualists. Almajiri pupils are equally not safe from the manipulative and exploitative machinations of politicians who use them to disturb public peace. In some instances, Almajiri pupils grow up to become criminals sometimes without the Qur’anic knowledge they were sent to acquire. As a student of Arabic studies and a product of Qur’anic school, I wasn’t subjected to the odds faced by Almajiri pupils today.
I strongly believe that President Muhammadu Buhari is better disposed to removing this intractable ‘thorn in the flesh’ from the once functional system of learning. Being a Muslim and from the northern region of the country where the Almajiri trend is endemic, he cannot be accused of being bias or sentimental in reforming this system. All the indecent practices associated with the system must be eradicated with a comprehensive reform package. The resentment against efforts to integrate this system with western education is also counter productive. The systemhas remained higgledy-piggledy because of government’s refusal to see its strategic intervention as part of the solution. Absence of the right political will especially by affected state governments to regulate the system with relevant laws has been a major challenge. Now that the bastardized system is threatening the future of the north and Nigeria, it should worry President Buhari because of its overall consequences on national security.
Worried by the then worsening crisis of militancy in the Niger Delta, late President Umaru Musa Yar’adua created the Ministry for Niger Delta Affairs. The crisis was a threat not only to peace, progress and development in the South-South region of the country but indeed to national security. The concerns of Almajiri phenomenon similarly have threatening consequences not only for the north but also for the country. Believing that the phenomenon is disturbing enough, it is acually time for Buhari to act on this matter since it is what bothers one’s mind that he sacrifices his time, energy and (sometimes) money in the search for a solution.
I find it relevant here to recount a story once divulged to us by Malam Mahmud Jega in one of our weekly editorial board meetings at Daily Trust. He said former President Olusegun Obasanjo once visited the late President of Cuba, Fidel Castro. Chief Obasanjo was taken on a tour of some provinces in Cuba and when he returned, Castro asked to know about the places visited. When Obasanjo mentioned the places visited, Castro asked the former if he saw a cow that was daily producing 15 gallons of milk in one of the farms. Surprised at his host’s knowledge of the milk produced by a cow at a farm, something he considered trivial; Chief Obasanjo quickly responded with a question saying, “You mean as a President of Cuba, you have time to know about such inconsequential details?” Castro who answered in the affirmative further said, “Are you saying you do not have such details about the oil industry in Nigeria? I know this much about these cows because milk production is my country’s industry”.
Assuming that the Almajiri system were also something “trivial” but yet critical, President Buhari is encouraged to submit an executive bill that seeks to standardize the curriculum and operations of the Tsangaya system. It is important to quickly do this given the potential damages the bastardized system is doing to a whole generation of children. An all-inclusive national summit should precede the proposed bill. May Allah (SWT) guide us to preserve the sanctity of the 15-year-old system of Quranic education, amin.