ALMAJIRI SYSTEM:
THE HUSHED CHILD ABUSE
by
Barr. Arif Kasim Bala.

The issue of almajiris has remained worrisome on my mind, the minds of northern elite and the government of Federal Republic of Nigeria. This is because the practice has become a source of embarrassment to the name of Islam.

In traffic everyday around major towns in northern Nigeria, you see boys with plastic bowls begging. When I was much younger, I used to mistake these children for orphans but they are not. They are students of Islamic boarding schools, known as Almajiri, People send their children from all over northern Nigeria to get Islamic education from respected Islamic teachers known as Mallams. This practice is common in many West Africa countries and goes as far as Gambia and Senegal. Some children come from as far as Chad, Niger and Sudan to learn at the feet of some Mallams in Nigeria. These children are as young as four or five years of age.

Account of how Almajiri system emanated

The word ALMAJIRI emanated from the Arabic word “AL- MUHAJIRIN”, the concept of Al-MUHAJIRUN came as a result of Prophet Muhammed’s (PBUH) migration from Mecca to Medina, meaning the emigrant
In Nigeria, history has shown that, this system started in the 11th century as a result of the involvement of Borno rulers in Qur’anic literacy. Over seven hundred years later, the Sokoto Caliphate was founded principally through an Islamic revolution based on the teachings of the Holy Qur’an. These two empires run similar Qur’anic learning systems which over time came to be known as the Almajiri system.

Under the Almajiri system of education as practiced during the pre-colonial days, the pupils lived with their parents for moral upbringing. All the schools were located within the immediate environment from where the pupils came from. The Dan-Fodio revolution brought with it some modifications; the establishment of an inspectorate of Qur’anic literacy. The inspectors reported directly to the Emir of the province, concerning all matters relating to the Quranic school. It was argued that, this period, was the height of Qur’anic education in the northern Nigeria.

The schools were maintained by the state, communities, the parents, ‘Zakkah’ (arms giving), ‘Waqf'(endowment) and supplemented by the teachers and students through farming. Begging “Bara” as it is known today, is completely unheard of. Teachers and their pupils, in return provide the community with Islamic Education, reading and writing the Qur’an, in addition, to the development of Ajami (writing and reading of Hausa language using Arabic Alphabets). Based on this system, which is founded upon the teachings of Qur’an and Hadith, the then Northern Nigeria was largely educated with a complete way of life, governance, customs, traditional craft, trade and even the mode of dressing.

THE STATE OF ALMAJIRI SYSTEM

The Almajiri system has now become alarming because it has take a different dimension from the initial idea of Almajiri formation. Almajirai plural of almajiri are children that are sent to school for learning by parents, but instead of doing what they are expected to, they will be seen roaming the street beging and engaging in unnecessary activities in which they will eventually became a burden to the society due to lack of parental control career guidance and counseling4.
Such children (the Almajirai’) are usually aggressive and violent as they are exposed to different forms of pressure such as, hunger and jobs that demand several times their energy and weight before the job Is accomplished. Some of them do go to restaurants to wash plates, fetch water so that they will be given left over foods. They are all over the streets, very dirty, hungry looking, they lack the basic necessities of life and at times they cause traffic hazards5.
There was nothing wrong with being an itinerant student. The reformer, Sheikh Othman Bin Fodio was an itinerant scholar. He travelled as far as Sudan and Saudi Arabia and came back to the Gobir kingdom not only enlightened by his travels but also bold and ready enough to challenge the then status quo in order to form a better society devoid of the unislamic corruption and innovations that were disguised as Islamic practices. Dan fodio’s search for knowledge took him to centre of knowledge and he studied under reputable and learned scholars. His first teacher was his father and it was at his father’s insistence that he left home to gain a wider and deeper intellectual exposure. Similar to our hierarchical system of western education where you start your primary school at your local environment and you drift farther away from home geographically as you go deeper in your academic quest.

But unlike Sheikh Othman Bin Fodio story, today parents have discovered a way to dispose their very young children in the name of seeking knowledge. In so many instances I have seen very young children that don’t even know the name of where they come from and the most disturbing instance that i have seen that triggered me in writing about this article was when I saw a blind young almajiri left on the street to beg for food.

The “act of begging” which the parents and teachers (mallams) of this children pushed these almajiris to do in order to survive has its self been frowns in Islamic religion. Islam commands and encourages working and views it as a high virtue; it forbids and disapproves laziness and begging.
The Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him, regarded begging which is taken as an occupation as disgrace and said:

“Some among you do not ever abandon begging. Finally, on the Day of Resurrection, that dishonorable person will meet Allah with no flesh left on his face.” (Muslim, Zakat, 103)
“Whoever continues to beg people for their property in order to accumulate much property, surely asks for a piece of fire…” (Muslim, Zakat, 105).

“It is better for one among you to bring a load of firewood on his back and give charity out of it (and satisfy his own need) and be independent of people, than that he should beg from people, whether they give him anything or refuse him (Muslim, Zakat, 107)

With the above hadith quotes it’s very clear that almajiri begging attitude has no basis in islam. This unfortunate practice has reached its peak.

The question of what is the government and the northern elite doing to eradicate this unfortunate development must be running through your mind?

At the local level, few people try to feed this children once in a while, I have seen on several occasion people stop at Akara joint to drop money with the woman selling in order to give this children sitting around her, some other people cook in their homes and share to the almajiris. For example my mother cooks every Thursday for this children other people do theirs on Fridays.
At higher level, some NGOS help in taking care of this children NGOS like Malama Adama Usman foundation, tanmiyya foundation, rochas foundation, jammatul Nasrul Islam foundation, NASFAT and some other reputable foundations take the liberty of making the Almajiri issue their own problem.

At advance level, Kano state government has tried to put up a scheme that will cater for this children and their teachers. President Goodluck Jonathan, launched school for Almajiri in April 2012, equipped with modern facilities.The launch of the school at Gagi, Sokoto, is the first of 400 of such schools to be built in the 19 northern states of the federation. These will later be handed over to state governments.

Now the Question still remains….

Will these philanthropists still drop money for these children at every Akara joint?
Will my mum and others like her continue to be financially buoyant to cook food for these children once a week? If people like her will continue, will these children only eat once every Thursday and Friday?

When a new administration came in Kano state, the existing scheme came to a halt, GEJ has only two term in office and by the time federal government hands over this schools to state government, we all know the stories of our existing government schools! Of recent, NAPTIP ( National Agency for the prohibition of trafficking in person) has announce that we have about 8 million almajiris9, can our government continue to cater for free school, uniform, books and feeding for that number of children forever? When the number of jobless graduates roaming the streets cannot be ascertained?

HOW ALMAJIRI PHENOMENON CAN BE SOLVED
Many institutions have come up with different opinions on how almajiri system can be reorganized but nothing positive have been done to change the present practice with, the following measures can solve the almajiri system phenomenon:

1. In approaching a long time existing problem, the best way to solve it is to use the HISTORICAL SCHOOL OF LAW approach that is to pass laws first by looking in to why the problem emanated in the first place. Since the primary excuse is to seek for knowledge, any parent who is willing to send his/her ward out of the community must cater for him. Penalty or punishment should be enacted for the government to send a message that it’s time for change.

2. A serious enlightenment and education scheme on family planning should be embarked upon to reach out to core villages. Most northerners have more than one wife and tend to give birth in dozens which has become serious problem to the nation.

3. If the above points are achieved, NGOs with relevant foundations should ensure that new and existing almajiri schools are up to standard to complement the efforts of various tiers of government. With time the Nigeria will experience a very low or no number of children roaming our streets.

4. For those states that adopted the Shariah legal system, the Zakkah provision, can be used to tackle the problem. The Zakkah, if properly implemented as is the case in Sudan, it can provide a permanent solution as it is better than any social welfare system anywhere in the world.

In conclusion…

This phenomenon represents a scar on the face of the Northern Nigeria. Nothing could be more degrading and further from the truth, one can imagine 8 million potential judges, accountants, engineers etc. being wasted away. The system, as it is presently being practiced has outlived its usefulness. These children are the leaders of tomorrow as older generations are dying up the younger ones replace them. They are our future hope. Without which the future may look bleak in terms of development.

All these violent exhibiting children grow up to become criminals in the society within which they live, the consequence being a setback for the society and increase in number of crime. The system must be stopped, remodeled and integrated into our educational system.

The northern states must put their heads together, through such bodies like the Northern Governors Forum, Arewa consultative Forum to tackle this phenomenon.
The solution may not be a one shot solution, but a gradual one..

REFRENCE
1. ALMAJIRI SYNDROME AS A FORM OF CHILD ABUSE by oracle site
2. ALMAJIRI SCHOOLS Silent Child Abuse in Northern Nigeria by Uren Majau.
3. AFRICAN history_ BBC world.
4. ibid.
5. ibid.
6. The Almajiri System of Education in Nigeria Today By Professor Idris A. AbdulQadir.
7. To beg or not to beg by Osman ÇETİN and Um Amir
8. Jonathan launches school for Almajiri in Sokoto by By Favour Nnabugwu
9. The Nation July 16, 2012

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