Al­ma­ji­rai and other chal­lenges of the North

Daily Trust - - VIEWS - By Ahmed Joda Joda, a re­tired per­ma­nent sec­re­tary and for­mer chair­man of Nige­rian Com­mu­ni­ca­tions Com­mu­ni­ca­tion, wrote from Abuja.

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.

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