Northern Nigeria is a place where one hardly passes a street without seeing an abandoned male child carrying a plate begging for food. This child is who we refer to as almajiri. He is supposed to be receiving Islamic catechesis every morning, afternoon and evening in Tsangaya under the instruction of a given Mallam. He is like what is known as catechenum in Christendom, but sadly not in today's reality.
The term Almajiri is a Hausa version of Arabic "Al-muhajir" which means "the immigrant". Islamic knowledge spread from cities to towns and villages in Northern Nigeria through migration of students of knowledge from one city to another. A person who migrated from his home town to other places in quest for knowledge was referred to Almajiri. Beside the young street begger, Almajiri is also commonly use to denote a student, most especially the one seeking Islamic knowledge irrespective of his social status. Several Islamic intellectuals and scholars among which was Usman Dan Fodio acquired their vast knowledge under the almajiri system in the past.
The almajiri system had passed through alot of negative changes and transformations to become what we see today. The system had produced scholars, thinkers and intellectuals who contributed significantly to the past glory of kanem-borno and sokoto caliphate.
People used to look forward to the outputs of the system for solutions to societal ills and way forward. Reverse is the case today. The fruits of the system today is purely thugs and agents of social vices in Northern Nigeria. The system is now without a reasonable aim and even if it has, the main motive cannot be learning and teaching the Qur'an.
The fact that there is over one thousand ways to learn and teach the Qur'an, is enough reason to put end to this system that render millions of kids to begin struggle for their sustenance as early as three to five years of age.
This system gives room for an irresponsible father in faraway Zamfara or Kebbi state to dump his own child in Maiduguri to "learn the Qur'an" while the same aim is realisable without going a kilometre away from wheresoever area one is situated in North west and North east.
Clearly the motive of sending these kids to almajiri schools is not to learn. The three main reasons why this human traficking still exist in our society in my own opinion maybe;
• Evasion of responsibility of training a child which involves huge financial, time and energy sacrifice. • Provision of free labour and services to the Mallams by the almajiris which include crops cultivation in farms. • Conservatism.
As I earlier mentioned, the system has no objective today and the major factor sustaining it is the economic relief the parents of the children get and the free labour supply enjoyed by the Mallams.
Out of every ten children abandoned to the pit of almajiri system, there is a tendency that five would end up rendering services such as Okada or napep riding, taxi driving or wheelbarrow pushing among other related services to the society. Three would end up in pure thuggery. Afterall, life as an almajiri is a survival of the fittest. The strong always forcefully take anything that is of value from the weak. Thus, becoming a thug is very simple for an almajiri. The remaining two are likely going to learn the Qur'an, memorise it but use it for economic gains by providing spiritual services to greedy individuals in the society that include over ambitious business men and politicians, wicked women and miscreants.
They use the Qur'an for magic and sorcery. Albeit, sometimes they use the holy book positively and contribute alot to bringing up of morally sound children. This is the life cycle of an Almajiri. If you go to Bauchi, the almajiri grow to become Dan sara' sooka. In Gombe, he grows to become Dan kalare. He is the Dan daba in kano and the ecomog in Maiduguri who climaxed as boko haram terrorist.
The estimated number of children abandoned to become almajiris in Northern Nigeria is eleven million. That is almost the population of our neighbour country, Niger republic and a near times two of Singapore's total population. Nigeria is not the only country where Qur'an is recited. The Glorious book is recited all over the world, but only in Nigeria the book is taught through almajiri system. Not even in countries that shares similar culture with Northern Nigeria such as Chad, Cameroon, Niger, Mali and Senegal will you find such a thing called "almajiranci". Eleven million kids abandoned! Yet it never attracted any uprising calling government attention to it. We misplaced our priorities with our nonchalant attitude towards what put our collective peaceful existence in danger. It never bordered us. People from other divide will use almajiri as a derogation to mock us and we will defend the system and even proudly accept it by suffixing almajiri to our names.
Yes, I am almajiri (a student) but not almajiri (the born throwaway). If activists and writers in Nigeria truly care as they want us to believe then what is exactly holding their tongues from speaking out loud and staging series of local and international protests against a practice that amassed as huge as eleven million children only to make them unproductive beggars and potential criminals, but they are very loud in speaking against early marriage. Is almajiri practice less disastrous than early marriage?
Consequently, our insensitivity to gravity of this issue has resulted in a state failure that gave rise to deadliest terrorist organization in the world - Boko Haram of course. They gradually assembled these almajiris and transformed them into killing machines. Killing is what they love the most.
Killing is the only penalty for all kinds of what they believe to be offence. I didn't blame them because they were never treated with care since their birth. They were never shown and taught how to love. They were never shown the importance of their own lives. They were never taught that life is sacred. Instead, they were thrown to the street to do whatsoever they could to keep their bodies and souls together lasting for over a decade. How then do we expect them to love, respect and have sanctity for fellow human lives?
If we can't repeal and replace this inhumanity with something better for the sake of having a productive society full of children with bright future, it is a must upon us to contain it before it totally dispossessed us of all our precious possessions. We have lost a lot that can't be measured in material terms to this almajiri mess.
Monday morning of 16th January 2016 is a day of agony that the University of Maiduguri community will never forget. While observing the fajr (dawn) prayer in SSTH mosque, Unimaid staff quarters, a professor and other two innocent souls were bombed to dead by an almajiri.
Aliyu Usman Mani was a veterinary medicine Professor of Katsina decent. Until his death, He was the Director University of Maiduguri Veterinary Teaching Hospital. Prior to his merciless killing, the University had lost another professor in a more horrific manner. Professor Murtala was his name. He was killed in the first major Boko Haram attack in Damaturu, Yobe state in 2012 while on his way to Maiduguri.
They shot him to dead and later set the remains of his body, his driver that attempted to take his dead body to Unimaid campus and his car ablaze. A young handsome intellectual of Adamawa ancestry he was. The University also lost in the same year another lecturer from Department of Geography in person of Dr Abba Kagu. He was abducted and like many of the Chibok girls nobody knows his whereabout till this moment. An assistant lecturer in the Department of Accounting by name Mr Philemon was also assassinated in 2012 by boko haram. Beside the financial and other costs, only the time cost of making a professor is forty years on the average while it takes only an irresponsible man to marry an illiterate irresponsible woman, cohabit with her, conceive and give birth to a child then throw him to the street when he turned four or five years to produce an almajiri.
As a matter of urgency, we need to wake up and do anything possible to put a stop to proliferation of these nearly useless elements in our society. Our prosperity as a nation is at stake if we are going to allow a system that is gradually causing untimely separation between us and our intellectuals. We have all agreed on education as the only path to development, why then should we allow millions of children without education only to grow and target the lives of those educating the society and take it once opportune?
Although, to uproot the system is going to be a very big challenge as the conservatives will also do anything possible to maintain the status quo. But there is nothing worthy to be conserved in letting small kids to struggle on their own to get sustenance. There is nothing worthy of conservation in putting apart young children and their mothers. There is nothing to conserve in making a child to live every day in dirty garment.
And there is nothing to conserve in almajiri system as a whole. The government need to tackle this almajiri of a thing with a radical approach even if it will include arrest and jail sentence despite the possible fierce resistance it may attract. The state need guts to do this. In the words of one Nigerian rapper: "NO GUTS NO GLORY".
Ahmad Mubarak Tanimu writes in from University of Maiduguri
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05 July 2022