The agony of the Almajiri system in Northern Nigeria-Bala Ibrahim
Anyone with conscience, living in northern Nigeria, that says he or she is not troubled by the trending Almajiri adversity, is definitely living a life of dissimulation. Before going into the misery of the system, which always brings grief to the children, and most time extreme distress to those around them that have a moral sense, it may help if I do an overview on the history of the Almajiri system, as gathered partly from oral tradition.
For starters, its important to know that the Almajiri system is a non-formal system of education, that got its name from the Arabic word, “Al muhajirun”, or an emigrant. Al muhajirun refers to a person who migrates from his home to a popular teacher in search of Islamic knowledge. Muhajirun were the first converts to Islam and the fellow emigrants who fled with Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) during the Hijrah from Mecca to Medina.
This is the basis of the Almajiri system, which is on its way to becoming a big problem in northern Nigeria. A time bomb that is simply awaiting ignition.
Because the system is geared towards the acquisition of Islamic knowledge, the curriculum is derived from the Holy Qu’ran, with the hope that the children would master and easily memorize the Qu’ran. However, because the system is informal, there is no arranged accommodation or any form feeding plan for the children, hence, they are let loose, to roam about the streets begging for alms and food.
Where available, the children would render menial labour to whoever is ready to pay, the proceeds of which they bring to the teacher, commonly called, Malam in Hausa.
Depending on the temperament of the teacher, the Almajiri, being the child of the poor, who can’t afford the formal schooling system, can be faced by a number of challenges, including physical abuse, sexual exploitation, ritual killing, forced labour, and all manner of maltreatments.
And these challenges are the basis of this article.
A video clip is currently circulating in the social media, two people have since sent them to me, showing a small boy, looking less than 7 years, who presented himself as Muhammadu, an Almajiri in the school of one Malam Maaruf. Almajiri Muhammadu doesn’t know the ward or borough he is staying in. All he knows is that he was brought to the Malam from the village of Magumau, somewhere after Bauchi, in northern Nigeria.
From the interview, which apparently seems to have been conducted by a team of journalists, Muhammadu has been a victim of brutality in the hands of his Mallam. All over his body are marks or sores left on the skin, from wounds and burns, some even unhealed.
The scars are testimonies of savage and physical violence on him, occasioned by the great cruelty of Mallam Maaruf, for the simple reason that Almajiri Muhammadu, is not regular in bringing food and stipends to him.
Almajiri Muhammadu said he was picked somewhere on the bridge, I think its one of those bridges in the city of Kano, because I can guess the voice of the interviewer, to be that of the presenter of a popular programme on the Hausa service of the pioneer private radio station in Kano.
Impulsively, without any forethought, when asked if he wants to be taken home or returned to his Mallam, Muhammadu’s response is a vehement NO. He would rather remain with them there. Perhaps consoled by the comfort of the air-conditioned environment.
Such is the plight of countless number of similar Almajiris in northern Nigeria today, some in even more dangerous and difficult situations, and the society is compelled to live with it.
Indeed the Almajiri system has been an issue that is highly controversial, because of a number of factors, the least of which is the contentious perception of some of the Islamic teachers, who are inculcating a corrupt ideology in the minds of the public and the pupils.
Through a form of weekly fees called “kudin sati” in Hausa, these Malams keep encouraging the pupils to go begging, reassuring them that to beg is better than to steal. This ideological confusion is the biggest among the many agonies of the Almijiri system in northern Nigeria.
Those against the system are accusing the Malams of not subjecting their children to such cruelty, which is promoting youth poverty and delinquency, failing to teach young boys vocational skills, making them unequipped, and eventually radicalizing them and turning them to be perfect recruits for banditry and Boko Haram.
A UNICEF report has put the number of Almajiris in Nigeria at nearly 10 million, or almost 80 per cent of the country’s nearly 15 million out-of-school children.
Even by my estimate, as someone that is terribly bad in mathematics, I know with such a percentage of Almijiris roaming the streets, and the pupils and their Malams having no financial support, the temptation to join criminality is only a cheque away. Anyone with any form of incentive, would have no difficulty in luring them.
May Allah help the system. Ameen.