President Jonathan’s Place in the History of Islam in Nigeria
Miffed by the ungodly and inhuman acts of terror, bloodletting and insecurity on the one hand and the corresponding heightened mutual suspicion, endless rancour and borne conspiracies that have come to characterize the darkened dawn of the Boko Haram insurgency over the years, certain fundamental issues have not ceased to baffle me. They bother on the coordination of the religious space (Islamic in this case) side by side the democratic form of government in practice. This cuts across the individual, informal/ unstructured; and the formal / structured levels. In between these levels lie the extremely traditional levels of informal groupings and coalition and allegiance. They all in varying degrees interconnect and sometimes overlap. The answers may not be easy to come but the far reaching effects of the various forms of dislocation are evident.
In 2012, President Goodluck Jonathan made history as the president who took a significant and bold step to “modernize” the almajiri system of education known as tsangaya in hausa. Obviously working on sound advice to do so, the president ordered the establishment of an almajiri school with the strategic thinking that such a move would stem the appeal of young boys into the recruiting pool of Book Haram. The thinking was hinged on the believe that poverty and a lack of education was a natural incubator of resentment, anger and disillusionment which provide a fertile mind ready to accept the planting of negative ideologies like Book Haram's. On the 10th of April 2012, the president commissioned the first “modern” almajiri school in Gagi village, Sokoto.
The menu for today is the education of the almajiri child on the mosaic of the country's educational, social, religious and economic canvass. Are the almajiri's illiterates? No. The basic definition of literacy is the ability to read and write which they can do to a large extent in Arabic and Hausa. Are the almajiri's educated? Not really. Why? The Collins dictionary defines “education” (N) as the “ …teaching [of] people various subjects, usually at a school or college, or being taught. It then defines the verb “educate” in the following words: to educate people means to teach them better ways of doing something or a better way of living”.
Encarta's second entry for the adjective “educated” is: cultured: showing good taste or refinement. So, in reality, while the almajiri's may seem literate and slightly educated in various subjects of Islam, such education, which in most cases is haphazardly incomplete, does not give those poor children the necessary skills to compete in the modern world. It is estimated (bearing in mind Nigeria's allergy to data collection for any sort of planning purposes and statistical inferencing) that about 9.5 million children are almajiris spread across the northern states with kids as young as five years roughing it out between the rote of the stifling tsangaya and the synchronized begging they undertake to keep body and soul together. But who really carries a child for nine months and then after five years or a little more throws him to the streets with the parting words “May God protect you; best wishes”?
With no skills to compete with their peers who have had a more robust and relevant education which we erroneously call western (forgetting the countless contributions of Muslims like Al-Khawarizmi to Algorithm; Ibn-Jabr to Algebra; Ibn Khaldun to sociology and the philosophy of history; Al- Biruni to chemistry, Ibn-Sina to Medicine and a whole lot of others), they end up as manicurists, water vendors; sugarcane and date hawkers, porters, watchmen (maigadi) and labourers among others forms of specialized producers of unskilled labour . Naturally, disillusionment can and will most likely set in and the consequences of getting a demagogue to make them see how much they have been shortchanged by the system can be far reaching with disastrous consequences.
But how did it escape all the Muslim men and women of northern Nigeria that at least ONE almajiri school could not have been transformed to catch up with the times? It has been about 100yrs since the fall of the Ottoman empire; humbled as the last Bastion of the Islamic caliphate and power; and it has been over 200yrs since the jihad of Usman danfodio. Motor cars have replaced chariots and camel backs; bush paths have since been tarred with bitumen; pilgrimage to Makkah is now by aeroplanes; and here in the 21st century we can watch the five daily prayers live in Makkah via satellite tv. The times have changed; Islam has not. How did the almajiri school set up remain so in Muslim territories without being integrated into the realm of modernity? Where went all the Governors, Ministers, Sultans, Emirs, Muslim bourgeoisie between 1960 till 2012? The Muslim circumspection that gripped parents in the early days of colonialism and early post-independent Nigeria can be excused. In south-western Nigeria, the region to have first contact with the Europeans, people like Prince Bola Ajibola were made to drop their muslim names before they were allowed into schools by the missionaries. However, post independence Nigeria did not pose that subtle and outright threat anymore, yet the Muslims in Nigeria and in the north in particular aren't perturbed by our backwardness. That Sir Ahmadu Bello, Tafawa Balewa, Aminu Kano; and now the “last of the Mohicans”, Alh Mudi Spikin (who passed away recently) and co were beacons of northern excellence should have dispelled whatever remnants of suspicion lingered in Muslim and northern minds. Sadly though, we have refused to budge; trapped in the conservatism of time and space, modernity seems to us a synonym for apostasy. How wrong could anyone get?
With a population of approximately 170million, there is no doubt that a conservative estimate of Muslims in Nigeria would be around 85million. This is nearly thrice the population of Saudi Arabia. How then is it that not a single world class model Islamic school that teaches Mathematics alongside Tahfizul Qur'an and Tajweed (Qura'nic memorization and the sciences of recitation); Chemistry alongside Nahw (Arabic grammar); Biology alongside Hadith and Taarikh (Islamic history), exists in this country or at least in any of the northern states? Where are the Muslims? Are there almajiris on the streets of Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Egypt, Qatar, Iraq etc? Is that the way Islamic and modern knowledge is being imparted to children in those places even among the bedouins? In all the travels of our Alhajis and Hajiyas to Saudi Arabia and other parts of the world are they not challenged to better anybody's life? Are they not challenged to raise the bar and do for home as others in their countries did for theirs?
How is that not a single world class Fm station or Tv station exists anywhere in Nigeria to disseminate the true message Islam as handed down to us by Prophet Muhammad (PBUH)? Yes the critics would take up paid advertorials, address press conferences and issue communiqués and embark on ceaseless propaganda campaigns. But beyond these, we need to show it to them that Islam is truly a religion of peace, love, kindness, good neighbourliness and respect for life far from what Boko Haram and other rogue elements have tried hard to fracture. Beyond the propaganda of trying to islamize Nigeria that would have been spurned, these media outlets would have served as a great window through which non-Muslims and even Muslims could have better understood Islam.
Muslim students have for ages been travelling to the birthplace of Islam and all over the world in the pursuit of Islamic knowledge yet they have not been able to coalesce to forge themselves into a bloc to make meaningful impact upon their return. It is a most tragic reality. The alumni of Harvard, Oxford, RGU, Stanford, Princeton etc have found ways of meeting from time to time to keep in touch with old mates; discuss their alma mater or discuss other matters of importance. But where is the association of ex-Islamic University of Madinah students or those of Al-Azhar among others? Imagine the weight of a strongly worded statement coming from such an association in Nigeria and in Saudi Arabia- Islam's birthplace- condemning Book Haram. Imagine that an association of residents in Saudia Arabia existed and buttressed such a position. Imagine for a second that such an association existed and they put resources together to establish a model Islamic school and made it look like where human beings can be properly nurtured in any location of their choosing in northern Nigeria; and let it bear a semblance to what they saw and experienced in Saudi Arabia and the rest of the enlightened world. But like I inferred in a previous article “The North is Not Poor”, there are certain things the North doesn't do; and there are certain things the north doesn't see- sadly, these are some of them. The people of means from among us prefer to outdo themselves in going to Umrah while a greater Umrah is next door (apologies to Adamu Adamu's classic “Memo to Umrah Returnees”). The almajiri kids have been a guaranteed pool of cheap labour and exploitation of all sorts. They have fallen victims of ritualists, sodomists, religious manipulators and much more. We all stood by and watched these things happening and drove past in our squeaky clean cars; and fenced them away from our love with our prison-like fences. Where is the conscience and humanity therein?
By the way how come the almajiri school system excludes girls from the acquisition of knowledge? Why is there no model Islamic school to nuture our daughters, sisters, future wives and mothers? Is it any wonder then that the state of the Muslims is foggy, disorganized and stagnant? Did all the Muslims suddlenly forget that Hazrat Aisha (RA) the beloved wife of the Prophet was such a great scholar and transmited the highest number of hadeeth ? Did we suddenly forget that Nana Asmau the beloved daughter of Uthman Dan Fodio was such a great scholar of Islam with several books to her credit? A famous scholar of Islam did say “if you want to know the state of any society; the state of its men, look then at its women”.
On the occasion of the launch of the almajiri school initiative, I salute the President's gesture for attempting what the entirety of Muslims in northern Nigeria over the years could not. May those young boys excel beyond their limits. Well done President Goodluck Jonathan for sparing a thought for those poor and neglected kids. At least on this one you did give a damn. I just have one plea to the President- please remove the name almajiri from the names of those schools. Sociologists and educational psychologists will agree with me that such an appellation would eat into the psyche of those kids; if not now, it will in the future. In addition those kids need a professional counselor and a psychologist on ground. It goes beyond transforming their schools overnight. The transition has to be watered gently; and in truth we need to reach into their souls and psyche with considerable measure of affection.
I did say to then Dr Galadanchi on one of his visits to ABU in my undergraduate days that: [every child deserves to be nurtured in a home; in the loving arms of a mother and the discipline of a caring father. Our children have grown too long on the streets, and far away from home that love, good manners, discipline and refinement are abstractions to them. Exposed to the elements and robbed of their childhood in installments; their youth in a country of shattered dreams even for graduates with chains of degrees are an endless battle for scarce resources and a sense of self-worth; and their old age and exit a foreclosure on the dreams they could never have dreamt. Indeed who really carries a child for nine months and then after five years or a little more throws him to the streets with the parting words “May God protect you; best wishes”?
It is shameful enough that the governors of the northern states are not in a hurry to bridge the educational gap between the north and the south which in my opinion should robustly integrate the almajiri kids into the mainstream schools after incubating them in the President's prototypes. If Muslims cannot come together to establish model Islamic schools, too bad for us. Perhaps it is to Jeddah, Turkey or Cairo that we may head to find out what the Muslims were doing when the missionaries were building schools and hospitals all over the world or we might as well await the next OIC conference. The President has done well and I hope Nigeria will in no time set a compulsory “education for all” agenda. Why the Nigerian state hasn't made education free for all in the face of the enormous resources at our disposal remains a classical tragedy in our paradox of plenty. But in the interim, it is shame on us all in northern Nigeria- I inclusive.
Aliyu Bala Aliyu
University of Lagos
email: [email protected]