By - Adedoyin Shittu
A common sight in the North of Nigeria are the children, in almost every street, corner, junctions; young, homeless, poor, neglected and maltreated, roaming the streets begging for food and alms with dirty clothes and their plates. They are commonly known as the “Almajiri”
Almajiri, borrowed from the Arabic word ‘Almuhajjir – Emigrant’ means disciple who is subjected to the study of the Qur’an. The Almajiri is an Islamic migrant culture which sees young children especially young boys leaving the tutelage of their parent to learn the Quran under a Islamic scholar. The word Almajiri literally means a learned scholar who propagates the peaceful message of Islam.
In the glory days, the Almajiri system used to be a functional one in the pre-colonial times, which provided the platform for young people to acquire knowledge of Islam. It helped to ensure the spread and diffusion of Islamic knowledge as students travelled some distance away from the comfort of their homes to learn at the feet of great Islamic scholars.
It was well funded by parents and the governments and the communities also did what they had to do to support scholars who had come from far to acquire Islamic knowledge. Quranic Mallams had farms from which wards in their care could be fed.
Most of the elite class in the North were once beneficiaries of the system, from late Abubakar Tafawa Balewa to late Sardauna of Sokoto Sir Ahmadu Bello to Late Alhaji Waziri Ibrahim. That is far from what we have today.
Situation of Almajiri today
Today the word almajiri evokes images of tattered looking children between the age of 4 to 15, 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. The almajiri have also become a breeding ground for those out to recruit suicide bombers and other untoward anti-social miscreants.
There is an estimate of 9 to 10 million Almajiri in Nigeria at any given time and a recent report by the National Council for the Welfare of the Destitute (NCWD) said that six out of every ten will never find their way back home and there are over 3 million just in Kano State, Nigeria alone.
Almajiri are children usually boys between the ages of 4 to 15 and are direct products of polygamous homes, broken homes or economically challenged homes. Leaving the sanctity of a home to live under a mallam who on most occasion abuse them physically and/or sexually.
These young children who barely know their age or names are expected to make returns to their teachers daily from the proceeds of their menial jobs. These are children as young as six years of age, out on the street trying to survive on their own. Many become victims of human traffickers and many more become exposed to a lot of vices such as stealing.
The Almajiri children are among the most vulnerable sets in the society, they have no identity whatsoever and they live a marginalised and precarious existence always desperate to make a living anyway they can. Though the practise involve sending away of children to receive education, most of the children do not receive any education and there are next to no job opportunities for them in this highly competitive society.
According to UNESCO 65 million Nigerians, which represents 50 per cent of the total population of illiterate in the world) are stark illiterates and 55 million of them are from the north. The almajiri system has contributed largely to this statistic.
This makes them highly amenable to the nefarious activities of exploiters, who force them into various forms of servitude. It was also this vulnerability of Almajiri that make them prime target for radicalization by the Boko Haram sect. A scrutiny of the literature on Boko Haram reveals how the bureaucracy of the then fledging terrorist sect went as far as providing food and distributing motorcycles to win thousands of the almajiri youths into their fold.
Over 90 per cent of the recruits and foot soldiers of Boko haram are these almajiris. Recently the three persons used as human bombs in the attack carried out by the sect in Borno were children.
Two girls and a boy (ages unknown), were used to detonate explosives that killed 30 people and injured 40 others at a community football viewing center in Konduga, Borno State, on Monday June 17. Many more children have been used to carry out similar attacks in the past.
They succeeded in recruiting almajiri children by filling the gaps their parents and the government left vacant. The government only recognise these almajiri during election time for number purpose and also to help in carrying out acts of violence.
Terminate NOT reform the Almajiri system
According to UNICEF, the heartland and base of pedophiia, child sex, child slavery and child marriage on the African continent is Northern Nigeria.
The Northern states, where the Almajiri system is encouraged is said to have the highest infant and maternal mortality rates in the country, the lowest rate of child enrolment in schools, the highest number of unemployed young people, the highest levels of poverty.
Under the child’s Right Act which Nigeria adopted in 2003, every Nigerian child has a right to dignity, to free Universal Basic education, to a family, to protection from forceful displacement against his or her will, from child labor, from exploitative labor and any other form of exploitation. The Almajiri system violates all these rights.
Under the Universal Basic Education Commission (UBEC) act, it was stipulated that every child of school age must be in school if not the parents will be penalized. The age when these children are sent away by their parents is the same age level for enrolment into the Nigerian Universal Basic Education programme.
The almajiri system in time past has produced many Islamic scholars and 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. However what economic, social and scientific benefit of learning Arabic at this age inculcate in the student aside the knowledge of the religion? Will it make them able to compete among their peers in other regions? I believe the answer is a BIG NO
No child should be denied the right to learn under the supervision of his parent or guardian if the parents are dead. These mallams that control the almajiri system are stupendously overwhelmed by the number of children thrown to them and they cannot give the proper tutorship and love they need.
Parents must take up their responsibility to shepherd their house and Nigerian government must immediately rise to its responsibilities and sworn obligations to uphold the constitution and outlaw the Almajiri system for prosperity to return to our North.
How the government and the parents who are the major stakeholder in the system will determine the future they want for Nigeria.
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