John Adams (Minna), Mohammed Munirat Nasir (Gusau), Olanrewaju Lawal (Birnin-Kebbi)
When the Northern Governors Forum, a body of the 19 northern states, resolved to initiate steps to end the Almajiri system, which has become a menace across the region and a major security risk, the decision struck the right chord in most people, both in the northern region and other places.
Originally, the Hausa word, Almajiri, referred to a pupil under the tutelage of an Islamic teacher, to receive Qu’ranic education. Decades ago, the Islamic students were sent by their parents or guardians to far villages or towns to seek for knowledge under the guidance of a Qu’ranic teacher.
While in the home of the Islamic teacher, he was to be cared for by his parents, who were expected to send essential upkeep supplies to the teacher. But with time, adverse economic conditions forced the teachers to send them out to beg for food, to stay alive. Gradually, the situation got worse and grew into a social menace in the northern parts of the country.
Today, Almajiri system has been misinterpreted by parents who supposedly release their children or wards to gain Qu’ranic education without having the wherewithal to cater for their stay during the years of study years. Thus the children are left in the care of the Qu’ranic teachers (Mallams) who are often too poor to provide the students with food and other basic needs.
Indeed, Almajiri system of education is now simply equated to begging. In the quest to find morsels of food to eat and stay alive, these Almajiri children no longer engage the Islamic education. They simply roam in droves all over the cities in the North, begging for food. And as they grow up, they become very willing tools for other criminalities, anti-social and deviant activities. In this report, Sunday Sun x-rayed the Almajiri system in the northern states and what the governments are doing to curtail the menace.
Kano State governor, Dr Abdullahi Ganduje has initiated a laudable effort to wipe off the shame brought on the North by the Almajiri menace, which has led to millions of young children of school age roaming the streets in most urban centres in that part of the country.
Vice President Yemi Osinbajo was so happy about the development in Kano that he declared: “Governor Ganduje has triggered educational revolution in the northern region and Nigeria by extension.”
What prompted the effusive encomium poured on Ganduje was the step taken by the Kano State governor to begin the process of ending the discredited Almajiri system, which has only succeeded in breeding miscreants and beggars out of the unfortunate children thrown into the Almajiri vicious cycle.
The Managing Director of Royal Publicity Publishing Company, Mohammed Isa Bilal, a publisher and author, whose firm is based in Jos, Plateau State, captured it succinctly when he said in an opinion piece sent to Sunday Sun: “From every indication, no state in the North has any justification to allow the continued existence of the obnoxious Almajiri system. However, it is better to be late than never. It is a good omen that Governor Ganduje has summoned the political will to enforce free and compulsory basic and secondary education in his state, which has a significant concentration of out of school children.
“Governor Ganduje was conscious of the fact that public schools, especially at primary and secondary levels have been neglected and rendered ineffective for too long. There is dearth of infrastructure, instructional materials and other teaching aids that are required for qualitative teaching and learning in virtually all our public schools. In order to defeat these challenges and ensure the smooth take-off of the free education scheme, the governor constituted a committee to take inventory of all existing public primary and secondary schools in the state.”
As at the time he sent the opinion piece, 1,180 public schools had been indentified and designated for the take off of the scheme while N200 million was set aside for the monthly upkeep of the schools.
Governor Ganduje disclosed that the sum of N 2.4 billion would be expended annually for the maintenance of the schools. Already, N381 million has been paid for the sewing of 800,000 school uniforms and accordingly distributed to the 779,000 primary and secondary school new intakes. The state government had also released the sum of N350 million to complement the Federal Government’s Home Grown School Feeding Programme in the state. To discourage apathy often seen in girl-child school enrollment, the state government disbursed the sum of N40,000 each to the indigent parents of 31,000 girl-children to prepare and enable their schooling in the 2019/2020 session, which began in September.
The governor further gave directives for the immediate recruitment of 3,000 teachers to compliment and assist in the integration of the Qu’ranic and conventional curriculum across some selected schools in the state. Also, the traditional almajiri school mallams are to be registered to enable them enjoy a monthly allowance.
Clearly with all these interventions, no parent has any reason not to send his child to school. To demonstrate the seriousness of the state towards implementing the free educational scheme about 100 school age children that were found roaming around as almajiris were recently arrested.
During the flagging-off ceremony of the free and compulsory basic education and disbursement of cheques to 110 schools at the Sani Abacha indoor stadium, the governor declared: “I am ready to do anything within the law and spend our last kobo to ensure we change this negative trend. Our children must henceforth remain in classes and not the streets.”
In Niger State, a move to end the menace of the Almajiri system has kicked-off under the sponsorship of the World Bank. The intention, as revealed by the Secretary to the State Government, Alhaji Ibrahim Matane, is to integrate them into Western education.
Alhaji Metane said the Almajiri issue has remained a problem in the northern region because successive administrations only paid lip service to what he called “a time bomb waiting to explode.”
He explained: “At our own level here in Niger State we already have a framework which is being piloted under a World Bank assisted project. Within that project there is a component to integrate the Almajiri into the Western education system.
“Once we succeed with the resolution of the northern governor’s forum, the issue of street begging will be a thing of the past. We don’t need to repatriate them to their place of origin; rather we will properly take the census of all of them, engage their teachers in an interactive session with a view to gradually integrate them into the new programme.”
The government scribe maintained that the whole essence of the northern governor’s resolution is that there is Islamic education in every state in the North and, therefore, there is no point in migrating from one northern state to another for the purpose of seeking knowledge.
“What the northern governors said is that there is nowhere in the region today that you don’t find an Islamic learning centre where these children can be taught. Gone are the days when children moved from one state to another in search of Islamic knowledge. That is the position that the northern governors have taken and every state of the North is expected to domesticate this resolution.
“Niger State is pioneering it and we are prepared to do the needful to key into the resolution of the northern governors so as to reduce the number of out of school children in the region.”
On the streets of Minna, the Niger State capital, you find that traffic junctions, major markets, supermarkets, restaurants, filling stations and other public places have been taken over by beggars who poured into the state.
Anywhere you go to in Minna metropolis, you find the beggars in their numbers – men, women and children – of all ages, under the rain and sun, asking for alms. They accept any kind of gift – food or money – offered by any passerby.
The situation and the rate of begging, especially among the teenagers is worse in most restaurants and other eateries in Minna.
As customers eat, they monitor every hand that goes into the mouth, and pray fervently for the remnants. The customer would hardly wash his hands before the plate is taken away from him.
As a result of this phenomenon, open restaurants and eateries in Minna have engaged the services of some private security personnel to control the nuisance of these beggars who are always found in their numbers near these eateries.
The story is the same in supermarkets or filling stations in Minna, where they besiege any person that drives into the filling station or supermarket. Anytime you visit most of these public places, they are there.
A teacher in one of the public schools, Mallam Audu Bello, who teaches in one of the Islamic centres in the evening after the close of work, wondered what time the teenage would have to attend the Islamic schools they were really enrolled in to study by their parents.
His words: “Even if they will go out to beg, that should be after their “Islamia” (Islamic teaching), but now you see them all over the place and all the time, moving in their numbers. Many of them don’t even know the name of their Islamic teacher. I think some of them came to Minna just to beg and not to acquire Islamic knowledge, which is the primary aim. The situation is actually disturbing. I pray that a solution is found to this problem.”
The influx of these beggars into the state is not peculiar to Minna. Other cities in the state, such as Bida, Suleja, Kontagora and Bida have all been witnessing influx of these beggars, especially the teenagers.
They are believed to come from other northern states like Sokoto, Katsina, Zamfara, Kebbi, Kano, and Jigawa. From interaction with them, one quickly learns that no Gbagy or Nupe native, the two major tribes in the state, can be found among these beggars.
Despite this, the Commissioner for Women Affairs and Social Development, Hajiya Amina Musa Gwar while briefing newsmen on the activities of her ministry recently, claimed that about N26 million was expended to reunite 16 almajiri girls repatriated from neighboring Sokoto State.
Worried by the mass movement of beggars into the state, the former governor, Dr Muazu Babangida Aliyu, in 2013, banned street begging in the major cities of the state.
He went further to evacuate all the beggars from the streets of Minna to their states of origin after thorough screening to ascertain where they came from.
While embarking on the eradication of street begging in the state, he argued that whatever was the motive of their coming to the state could equally be achieved wherever they came from. He insisted that begging is not part of Islam as the religion is against begging in so many ramifications.
This submission by Aliyu was echoed by an Islamic scholar, Dr Ibrahim Husam Iman of the Department of Languages, Nigeria Defence Academy, Kaduna, when he said that Islam discourages laziness and begging, saying that “begging impairs human honour and virtue.”
However, Dr Ibrahim Husam, in a paper entitled, “Street Begging; Causes and Remedies: An Islamic Perspective,” said that according to the Prophet (SAW), begging is permitted for only three categories of people: “A person who becomes a debtor or guarantor of large amount of money to reconcile people. Such is allowed to beg for the period of being in debt till he pays off; any person that suffered from a disaster or a misfortune that affects his property, like fire, flood and armed robbery. Finally, the needy person who cannot satisfy his necessary needs except by begging.”
Husam pointed out that according to Islamic beliefs, “no Muslim should ever be hungry and no Muslim must beg. This means that as a Muslim, the community’s responsibility is to assist those who are genuinely in need of any kind including the Almajirai (teenage beggars).”
Ibrahim, however, said that there are different types of street begging in the society today especially in northern Nigeria, stressing that “people living in most cities in northern Nigeria will agree that apart from destitute and almajirai, there are other beggars.”
These include “those begging for project works like building mosques, medical bills, and stranded travelers, among others.” He submitted that “begging is similar to scratching the flesh off your face; so if someone wants to save his face he should avoid it except asking from the ruler or asking in case of dire need.”
Dr Ibrahim stated further that it was disappointing to see that the streets of cities are over run with school-age children, who are barefoot and in rags braving the cold weather roaming around to the benefit of their Islamic teacher and because of the negligence of the poor or indoctrinated parents.
He stressed that the problem of street begging cannot be resolved without the involvement of Qur’anic teachers, “who need assistance from government and NGOs to keep their disciples off the streets.”
The hatred of ill-informed parents in the North for Western education is one of the major reasons for the seeming explosion in the almajiri problem, which now appears to be like a plague in the northern region.
Zamfara State has a large population of almajiri roaming the streets of Gusau, the state capital and other towns and villages in all parts of the state, which is gradually turning into a public nuisance. This has motivated the state government to evolve a plan to rid the state of street begging.
Sunday Sun gathered from the Director General, Press Affairs, Malam Yusuf Idris Gusau, that the state governor, Bello Mohammed Matawalle has moved to integrate all almajiri schools in the state into conventional schools to keep the almajiris off the streets.
The first step in that direction is a census of the almajiris in the state to determine their exact number and make effective planning to address the menace possible.
“Governor Bello Matawalle is making frantic efforts at ensuring that almajiris are taken off the streets because he feels that if they are given the right opportunities they have the capacity to excel and contribute to the development of the state and the nation. Almajiri schools will be built where the students will have the opportunity to acquire both Western and Islamic education,” Idris Gusau said.
An Islamic scholar, Malam Abubakar Abubakar, while agreeing that seeking for knowledge is a divine injunction on all Muslims, argued that the way almajiri students were being turned into street beggars negates the tenets of Islam regarding the teaching of the religion.
“There is nowhere in the religion where you are asked to send your child to go and seek for education without you having the ability to provide all his needs and wants and you make him a liability to the society,” he said.
Abubakar said that almajiri system can be ended if governments truly want to stop it. “It can easily be eradicated by good government policy. Nowhere in the Islamic tradition does it say that you most beg for alms before you can study. Street begging is not sanctioned in Islam, so it can be stopped,” he said.
Comrade Abba Muhammad Gusau said that almajiri street begging could be curbed if the plan by the state government to integrate the almajiri schools into the regular education is well implanted, explaining that “the almajiri beg for food just because they don’t have any other option. If they are given another means of getting food to eat, I believe none of them will remain in the streets.”
In Kebbi State, a move to mop up almajiri children from the streets has commenced. They are to be enrolled in formal schools. To this end, the state government has allocated N1.5 billion for the actualization of the goal.
To signpost the commitment of the government, Governor Abubakar Atiku Bagudu said in his address at an event organised by Mass Literacy Programme and Almajiris Initiative (MALPAI) Foundation in Birnin Kebbi: “My administration will continue to provide assistance to all almajiri schools in the state. Over N900 million will be disbursed through the Ministry of Basic Education in the state. Financial support will be provided to the teachers and pupils in addition just as toilet facilities, accommodation, teaching and learning materials be made available to almajiri schools, to ensure proper upbringing of the children in both Western and Qu’ranic education.”
He said that the almajiri pupils would be taught English Language and Mathematics to enable them to further their education up to the tertiary level in line with the nation’s education policy.
“The aim is to assist the less privileged, orphans and almajiri to have a better life, which is the best form of human development,” he said.
The governor who commended his wife, Hajiya Aisha Bagudu, the founder of MALPAI, for her initiative and urged parents and guardians to enroll their wards and children into schools, assuring that government would support and encourage them to excel in all fields.
Speaking on the matter, Hajia Aisha Bagudu said that her NGO, which was celebrating its 10th anniversary would continue to provide support and assistance to the less-privileged in society and expressed appreciation and gratitude for the support and encouragement from her husband to the success of the initiative.
The immediate past state Commissioner for Education, Alhaji Magawata Aliero, said that the programme of Almajiri system introduced by the wife of the governor had been accepted widely in the state.
“We have established six schools via her initiatives: three in Birnin Kebbi, one each in Dakingari, Koko and Argungu,” he said.
Aliero said that each school would receive between N1 million and N3 million to assist them in improving their facilities and provide quality learning.