We laud the recent decision of the 19 northern governors to relocate almajiris to their state of origin. It could not have come at a better time than now. Though belated, it is better late than never. The exercise is coming on the heels of the earlier ban of the inimical system in some parts of northern Nigeria.
It is good that the governors have realised that the almajiri system is archaic and out of tune with contemporary social reality. We believe that now is the time to totally abolish the system in all states in the North. Although the relocation of the almajiris is being carried out at a time Nigeria is battling to contain the coronavirus pandemic, we think that everything should be done to ensure that the exercise does not escalate the spread of the deadly disease.
In fact, relocating the children to their families is perhaps the best way to ensure that they do not spread the pandemic. While those with the pandemic should be treated at the isolation centres, the rest should be reintegrated to their families. Therefore, it is commendable that the COVID-19 pandemic, which has invariably exposed the oddities of the system, has also provided the northern governors the opportunity to rise to the challenge of the almajiri system of education.
We enjoin the governors to use this opportunity to finally dismantle the obnoxious system that has not in any way helped the development of the region and the country as well. Apart from relocating the almajiris to their states, the governors must ensure that they are integrated into their families as well as the formal school system.
At the same time, the governors should give them the opportunity to acquire basic education, which ought to be the right of every Nigerian child. Doing so will drastically reduce the growing number of Nigerian children who are reported to be out of the formal school system. Available records show that about 13.2 million Nigerian children are outside the school system. Out of this figure, the North has 6.9 million or 69 per cent.
To frontally address this problem, the northern governors must rejig their basic education system to accommodate the almajiris. They should think of building more schools or expanding the existing ones. They should also plan to train more teachers and allocate more funds to the education sector. We say this bearing in mind that any development of the region that does not factor the integration of the almajiris into the formal school system is a ruse.
There is no doubt that the almajiri system constitutes a great danger to the society. If the menace is not tackled holistically now, it is likely to haunt the country in the future. It may even compound the country’s security situation.
The Almajiri system is anti-development. Besides failing to teach young children vocational skills, it makes them easy recruits for gangs and terrorist groups.
Those in the system are also vulnerable to sexual exploitation. In September last year, the police rescued more than 300 boys and men found chained at an Islamic School in Kaduna. The victims were chained and beaten. In Daura, Katsina State, about 300 youths were rescued on October 14, 2019, where they were chained and sexually abused.
The recent report that over 30 almajiris relocated from Kano to Kaduna tested positive to the coronavirus says a lot about the inherent health challenges in the system. It is likely that some of the children sent to other states may also have been infected by the lethal disease. Beyond integrating the almajiris into the formal school system, efforts should be stepped up to ensure that those who are not good in cognitive learning are encouraged to go for vocational training.
There is also need to persuade parents to adopt family planning and have the number of children they can cater for. The COVID-19 pandemic has exposed the inadequacies of the almajiri system. The northern governors should be supported to end it once and for all. Above all, let the governors ensure that ensure that they are fully integrated into the society through formal schooling.