In a busy canteen owned by a hausa woman, everybody referred to Her as Hajiya, She sales pap and beans cake called Koko and kosai in hausa language.
She had a very large open space with huge patronage. Inside the canteen, more than 30 children (boys) in their teens with torn clothes, unwashed faces and rubber plates held, sat on the floor with their eyes fastened on the customers as they ate.
Most often, when any Hajiya’s customer ate to their fill and there was leftovers, the boys would swing into action. It was like warfare. They boys survival of the fittest lives were hugely dependent on the miserable reminant from the pap and beans cake Hajiya’s customers left in their plates.
They are the Almajiri!.
It’s an ancient tradition. Poor families from rural areas across West Africa send their children to a network of Islamic boarding schools in the cities of Northern Nigeria.
Many Northern Nigerians align their sociocultural identity with the Almajiri school system, because of its long-standing history of involvement with Nigeria’s Islamic heritage and northern Nigerian tradition. Its desecration at the hands of the British created a socio-cultural distrust against Western education that continues today.
It has almost become a cultural norm – children roaming the streets in certain parts of (mainly northern) Nigeria.
Almajiri as the children are commonly referred to derives from the Arabic word Al-Mahaajirun, which literally means a learned scholar who propagates the peaceful message of Islam.
It is a pity that the Almajiri culture has since outlived its initial purpose and has become a breeding ground for child begging and in the extreme cases, potential materials for recruitment into terrorist groups. The pupils who were supposed to be trained to become Islamic scholars and be servants to Allah now have to struggle and cater for themselves, begging rather than learning under the watch and supervision of some semi-literate Quranic teachers or Mallams who themselves lacked adequate financial and moral support. Hence, the system runs more as a means of survival rather than a way of life.
“We can see the manifestations in child begging, child destitution, child trafficking” said Prof M.T Ladan, a professor of Law at Ahmadu Bello University Zaria .
Today, the Northern Nigeria has very serious problems, North has raised more national political heads than any other group in Nigeria. This should have been an advantage except that whenever anyone looked at the National Social Indices, North has suffer set back.
The north is known to be educationally backward and developmentally deficient.
In 2017, Hassan Kukah, a Catholic Bishop from the North gave a blithering criticism of the Almajiri system. He went ahead to proffer solutions, unfortunately Kukah’s advice failed to be considered, his minority perspective did not carry weight going by the religious and ethnic scale.
Early this year, Sanusi Lamido Sanusi, the Emir of Kano, was ashamed of what he sees in his domain, he criticize the Almajiri system, the government of Kano State flared up. Sanusi was dethroned, they want an Emir that sees evil and pretends it doesn’t exist.
The Almajiri grows up in the street without the love, care and guidance of parents; his struggle for survival exposes him to abuse, homosexuality and pedophilia, slavery, brainwashing and ends up being recruited for anti-social activities and used for destructive and violent activities. This is the picture of the pitiful plight of an Almajiri child in Nigeria.
Also, the Almajiri system has created a platform for criminally minded individuals to abuse the Nigerian child, trafficking in innocent minors and exposing them to anti-social behaviours, and to be used as sex slaves. The Almajiri system has deviated from its original purpose and is currently giving Nigeria a bad image in the international community.
In conclusion, I am from the Northern part of Nigeria and I am proud to be, although, I am usually misunderstood because my name confuses people alot. Like Tunde Asaju will say “when we fail to hear the truth, we must see the reality”
I am optimistic that the Northern Nigeria has the potential to be great, but it cannot achieve greatness with it future (the almajiri) lying on the street with torn clothes, begging for alms to survive or waiting to be recruited into any insurgent army like Boko Haram etc.
I therefore make an appeal to the government to banish the Almajiri culture once and for all and save these innocent little ones(the almajiri) from perpetual abuse. Unless it is banned or adequately reformed to meet the modern day demands, standards and realities the problems of underdevelopment, educational backwardness and mass poverty, malnutrition in (northern) Nigeria would continue to go from bad to worse. People will continue to give birth to children they do not have the resources to cater for, just because they know they could easily send them out on Almajirinci which is a real threat that will ravage our nation peace in an unpleasant way.
EMMANUEL BULUS JNR is a final year Law student of Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria.
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