How Almajirai rule the streets in Birnin Kebbi
From Olanrewaju Lawal, Birnin Kebbi
Kebbi State, with an area of 36,800 square kilometers, is unique for many reasons. It shares borders with Sokoto, Niger, and Zamfara states and its international border with Dosso Region in Niger Republic.
The state is remarkable for its huge population of out-of-school children, otherwise known as Almajirai in Northern Nigeria. The Almajiri system, described as once a healthy platform for the promotion and deepening of Islamic knowledge in the North, has become a shadow of its own past. In Kebbi State, it has since become an embarrassment for the government and its elite class.
Pummeled by poverty, lack of support from parents and the ever changing dynamics in the society, many of the promoters of this educational system are showing signs of weaknesses in upholding its original values and their failure is indicated in the fate of the pupils, many of whom are neither rewarded with deep Islamic knowledge nor are getting enrolled in the Western styled system of education.
Aged between two and 15, many of these young Almajirai beg for alms to survive while others, among them engage- where there are jobs- in menial works, such as plate washing and farm work in the state to raise fund to eat and funds for the survival of their Islamic school.
Investigation by Daily Sun indicated that most of these young boys had their origins in towns and villages outside the state, while an impressive number of them, took advantage of the porous borders, venturing into the country from neighboring Niger and Benin republics.
The implication is that the Almajirai are common sight in the state.
They are spotted at various motor parks, market places and commercial streets in the towns, where they roam the streets with their plates.
At different special schools for Almajirai in the state capital, the trend is the common. They looked unkempt. They looked hungry. They look far away from any serious learning and far away from home.
On one of those occasions, many of them were spotted pretending doing something by the entrance of their school, but were actually waiting for almsgivers to walk in.
Speaking in Hausa, one of the Almajirai found along Ahmadu Bello Way, Birnin Kebbi, Sanusi, indicated that he came from a village near Jegga town to study Arabic in Birnin Kebbi. On why he and his peers were walking the streets with plates, he merely replied that they were hungry and needed food to eat.
Amid fear, he revealed that their Mallam (teachers) in Birnin Kebbi occasionally made food available for them, but when the food was not available, he usually urged them to take to the streets and beg. In the recent times, the state government partnered with UNICEF to enroll these Almajiria into formal school where they could get sufficient training in Islamic education.
An Islamic cleric, Alhaji S.A Sanusi, cautioned that the problem of Almajiria should not be linked to Islam. He clearly stated that Islam forbade begging and child abuse: “We should all remember that it was when Prophet Muhammad came to spread Islam that he stopped the killing of female children and urged parents to be equal among their children “Whoever is sending these children into the streets for begging is against Islam.”
He also noted that people should not mix cultures and tradition with Islam, adding that there was no verse in the Holy Qur’an that says male children should be sent to Arabic’s schools and be begging for food and alms:
“No, it is the responsibilities of parents especially father, as head of the family, to cater for his children. He must provide them shelter education, clothes and security. Any actions, outside these are contrary to the principles of Islam.”
Another Islamic scholar, Mallam Saliu Mogaji, said the old practice of sending male children to Arabic home without adequate care has nothing to do faith. He advised parents to take good care of their wards, adding that Allah will question every parent on how he nurtured his children: “Whoever failed in their responsibilities would be punish hereafter.”
Secretary to the State Government (SSG), Alhaji Babale Umar Yauri, revealed that Almajiri problem is purely an attitude problem and family upbringing. He explained that government partnered with UNICEF to collate the number of these children and ensure that they were enrolled in formal schools.
He said that part of the arrangements was to make sure that Islamic teachers were made available to them irrespective of their school, to teach them good Islamic principles so that fleeing Boko Haram would not initiate them.
A staff of SUBEB who sought anonymity held that special schools were created for such children but regretted that many parents still abandon their male children in the hands of Arabic teachers, who usually send them to beg for alms.
He said over the years, government embarked on public campaign on the radio and in the streets encouraging parents to take their wards to primary and secondary schools: “The problem is the attitude of the people towards child rearing and their value for education.”
Commissioner for Information, Alhaji Hasssan Musa Karangun, held that free education in Nigeria represented one of the surest means of reducing the menace in the society. He noted that the Federal Government should impose such a policy on the system, compelling parents to enroll their wards in schools, paying their fees up to the university.
He added that the government’s agriculture revolution would also force many parents to withdraw their male children from streets in Birnin Kebbi so that they could help them in the farms.
Nevertheless, many observers believe that the street beggars, especially among the Almajiria posed a lot of challenges to the state’s security, education and human capital development.