Almajirai and other challenges of the North
The article authored by ANTHONY ADA ABRAHAM on page 28 of Leadership Newspaper of 1st April 2014 titled “Continued Plight of the Almajirai” caught my attention and I feel compelled to once again address this serious social problem in Northern Nigerian.
The actual meaning of the word almajiri (singular); almajirai (plural) is student and students. However, because of the way the system has come to be viewed, it conveys a meaning of “beggar children”, not its real meaning of children seeking knowledge for its sake.
In real life today, these children are not actually in Quranic schools learning Islam and imbibing its teachings. They are children born and abandoned by their parents. They are children, at their most tender and vulnerable stages of their lives uncared for by their parents, and unrecognized by the authorities and society. They grow to adulthood without the parental care or guidance that every child is entitled to. No one knows, or cares, where they sleep, with whom they interact or what kind of lives they lead.
Their permanent abodes are in the motor parks, market stalls, brothels and drug and drinking joints. Few, if any, are actually in the so-called Quranic schools. This is the society we are breeding. The result can only be imagined.
The Almajiri Schools, like the schools for nomads before them, are not honest schemes to address the educational and social problems of Northern Nigeria. The Nigerian Constitution provides the right to education for every Nigerian, although this is not justiciable.
The administration of General Gowon, in 1973, declared a policy of Universal Primary Education, beginning January, 1976. The timing and sprit of that declaration was so that every Nigerian child born from the year the Civil War ended would have a place in a primary school anywhere in the country, and be entitled to a full primary education. A law was to be passed to make this compulsory.
In 1999, the Obasanjo government declared a policy of Universal Basic Education that extended the previous policy by three years up to JSS III, at which level the graduating students could choose a career path and could go on to pursue full secondary education, or choose a professional line as career and go on to train in a field of his or her choice.
If these policies had been faithfully implemented, assuming that the budgetary provisions had been made, there would have been no almajirai walking around the streets with “plastic, begging bowls”, anywhere in Nigeria. As far as we know, the necessary budget provisions have always been made and money spent. The question that must be answered: how was all that money spent? Yet, according the president, more than ten million male children are not in school therefore special schools must be built for them, equipped and staffed specially for them. If there are ten million male children not in school, there is likely to be about ten million girls, also not in schools, hawking in the streets and being abused.
That is twenty million children being multiplied every year ad nauseam. It is not an educational problem. It is a fundamental society problem. There is no way we can continue to allow ourselves to lead this kind of life and expect a normal viable and responsible society and nation.
If we are to honestly face this issue, we must also acknowledge that this is not an issue which is applicable to all Northern societies. It prevails and applies largely to the Moslem Hausa Fulani societies of Northern Nigeria. Other Moslem ethnic groups, such as the Tiv, the Idoma, the Kanuri and so many others, do not encourage “almajiranci”. Their children are not in the streets with begging bowls.
If the above reality is factored into the millions of out-of-school children the president is relying upon, then the population of Out of School of just primary school would be approaching forty million; hardly likely. We must look at our figures more carefully and plug the financial leakages.
Does the Federal Government have any business with primary education, anyway? The responsibility for primary and secondary education, under our constitution, is vested in the states and local governments. The Federal Government can, however, intervene in order to achieve certain national policy objectives. I assume that this is what President Jonathan is doing in the case of the Almajiri Schools. And it is the justification for the Federal Government, from the first Republic, to engage itself in establishing and running of Federal Government Colleges and other federal interventions in other sectors of education of the country. The purpose of these, however, is only to bring together and educate Nigerian children in order to enhance national unity.
This Almajiri Schools and the Nomadic Education Schools, when viewed dispassionately, only identify and segregate special ethnic and religious groups to be educated separately from all others. This will come with its own consequences. Such as Boko Haram and other destructive elements
Why do I hold such strong views? Between February, 1971 and August, 1975, I served as Permanent Secretary of the Federal Ministry of Education. During that period, the Federal Government recognized that the wide gaps in school enrolment and of standards of education could pose dangers to the unity of the country, if not attended to. It was for these reasons that the government mounted programmes for the crash training of teachers by the creation of more Federal Colleges of Education, polytechnics, financial assistance to disadvantaged states to expand all levels of education, as well as the introduction of the Universal Primary Education Scheme. If all these policies were faithfully implemented, Nigeria would today be one of the most educated nations of the world. The fact is that we have failed in our policy implementation.
The politically designed steps we have been adopting towards a solution to this dangerous and festering problem have all failed, because they were, ab initio, designed to fail. It is time we face realities. We must first change our way of life fundamentally. Agreed that large chunks of our society are Muslim and are permitted by our religion to marry up to four wives and bear as many children as we like. The question we must ask ourselves, however: are we observing the tenets and the conditionalities of the religion in the way we acquire wives and procreate?
We must ask ourselves, whether it is responsible for any man without any means of livelihood to marry two, three and up to four wives and bring forth numerous children who we cannot properly bring up as responsible members of the society.
We must seriously face the issue of promulgating laws which strictly regulate our system of marriage and family life in order to preserve our society and reduce ignorance, poverty and disease.