It is most apparent that the dreaded coronavirus, otherwise known as COVID-19, did open the eyes of northern state governors to the undesirability of the Almajiri system. Rising from a teleconference meeting in March, governors from the 19 states on the upper belt of the country pronounced a ban on the Almajiri system, as one of the measures to curb the spread of coronavirus. They highlighted the risk children, under the Almajiri system, are exposed to and therefore decided that they should not only be taken off the streets but also sent back to their states of origin.
Unveiling the governors’ decision, Makut Simon Macham, Director of Press and Public Affairs to Governor Simon Lalong, said in a statement: “The governors also discussed the risk that Almajiri children are exposed to because of the coronavirus disease, where they unanimously decided to totally ban the Almajiri system and evacuate the children to their parents or states of origin.
“They agreed to take a cue from Kano, Kaduna and Nasarawa states who have begun returning Almajiri children to families and states of origin, while those within their states, who do not have parents, are taken care of by the government. They vowed never to allow the system to persist any longer because of the social challenges associated with it, including the perpetuation of poverty, illiteracy, insecurity and social disorder.”
With the pronouncement of northern governors, one can only say: “welcome to reality.” No serious government should encourage a system that makes children less privileged owing to the tragedy that their parents shirk their responsibility and therefore leave them to roam the street begging for alms, while pretending to give them Qur’anic education. Parents are under the obligation to take care of their children. They should not, under any circumstance, leave their children to literally fend for themselves, which the Almajiri system encourages more or less.
The ban on Almajiri system, therefore, is commendable. Where parents fail to take care of their children, it is the duty of government to make them do so. It is also the duty of government to provide certain things and infrastructure for the training and education of children. That’s why nations provide qualitative, compulsory and free education for children in primary and secondary schools. Nations also give children free health care. This shows the importance attached to the education and welfare of children.
However, it is not enough for northern governors to ban the Almajiri system without taking necessary actions that would ensure that the social malaise is totally abrogated. There are legal instruments already in place to ensure this, like the Universal Basic Education Act of 2004, which made the provision of free and compulsory education for Nigerian children up to junior secondary school a must do. There is also the Child Right Act, which made it compulsory for Nigerian children to be in school up to secondary school level. Sadly, these laws are just there, without state governments implementing it conscientiously. Regarding the UBE, some states fail to provide their counterpart funding, while others which do mismanage what they get from the Federal Government.
With no programme for the Almajirai, it is not surprising that the children are now migrating to other parts of the country, where they would constitute nuisance, which the northern state governors say they want to solve. Banning Almajiri system without having a programme to absolve the children into meaningful endeavours, therefore, has raised the suspicion that there is a sinister motive to get the children out of the North into other parts of Nigeria. Indeed, such failure on the part of the governors has left room for insinuation that the migration of these children to the southern part of Nigeria is a ploy to infiltrate the South for religion agenda.
There is much northern governors can do to ensure that Almajiri system is totally eradicated. The good work government could do in this regard was demonstrated during the government of President Goodluck Jonathan, when a whopping N15 billion was spent to establish Almajiri schools in the North and South West. The Almajiri schools, in Models 1, 11 and 111, were equipped with classroom blocks, administrative blocks, recital halls, toilets, hostel blocks, furniture, mats, beds and beddings, boreholes, libraries, computer rooms, laboratories, workshops, staff quarters, kitchens and dining, among others.
Former President Jonathan, while speaking at the Peace Summit of the Junior Chamber International, in Malaysia, after leaving office, confirmed his effort at educating Almajirai through the establishment of these schools. According to him, with the Northern Nigeria accounting for 80 per cent of out-of-school children, it became necessary to do something to arrest the trend. He said: “Knowing the value of education, I could see that the ugly situation was limiting the opportunities of these children and negatively affecting the development of my country. That was why my administration decided to build 165 Almajiri Integrated Model Schools, which combined both western and Islamic education in its curricula.”
The Jonathan Almajiri schools were ready, but soon after he left office in 2015, they were abandoned to rot away. Some of them were remodeled by the state governments and renamed Tsangaya model school, outside what they were established for. If northern governors had sincerity of purpose, what needed to be done was to maintain the Almajiri schools Jonathan built and also to establish more to absolve the teeming Almajirai. This was not done, while the number of out-of-school and street-roaming children in the North increased. No doubt, seeing the inherent danger of a growing population of Almajiri, the Senate once sought the revival of Almajiri schools built by President Jonathan.
Through a motion, entitled, “The Need to Integrate Almajiri Education into Modern System of Education in Nigeria,” Senator Adamu Aliero from Kebbi State lamented that the schools Jonathan built were “either laying fallow or put into uses other than what they were originally intended for and some of the facilities in the Almajiri Model Schools are already decaying as they have never been put to use.”
Defining the Almajiri system, he said: “They constitute not only social problems, but also security problems, to some extent. Therefore, it is our responsibility to do whatever we can to ensure that they are enrolled in primary and secondary schools.”
The northern governors, who have banned Almajiri system without any concrete plan for their education, are therefore playing funny politics. They should rise up to their responsibility by ensuring that the children are not just displaced but also gainfully engaged. Pretending to be sending the Almajirai purportedly to their so-called states of origin, only for them to migrate to other parts of the country, is just like transferring a problem from one place to another. It would not work because apart from the security risk it constitutes in the places these Almajirai are moving to, there mass migration will overwhelm the states, who already have an idea of their population and already unfolded programmes for it.
The vigilance of the states where the Almajirai are migrating to is therefore necessary. No state should allow itself to be a dumping ground for whatever, be it human or material.