The Almajiri: A Ticking Time Bomb In The North
The Almajiri, a system of Islamic education practice in northern Nigeria, is as old as time itself. It has been the tradition of Hausa people in northern Nigeria to leave their homes in search of Islamic knowledge. Almajiri is derived from “Al muhajirun,” an Arabic word which means “an emigrant” in English. The Almajiri refers to a person who migrates from his home to a popular teacher in search of Islamic knowledge.
This system was the only source of gaining knowledge in Hausa land before colonialism and the subsequent introduction of western education in Nigeria by the British. The richest person in Africa, Alhaji Aliko Dangote, was a product of the Almajiri system. In an article she wrote in the Guardian newspaper edition of May 29, 2019 , Cheta Nwanze, wrote that Alhassan Dantata, Dangote’s great grandfather, the richest person in West Africa during his time, “had been an Almajiri.” After the death of Abdullahi, Alhassan’s father and the migration of his mother to Accra, the young Ahassanwas left under the custodianship of a slave called Tata. “Tata sent young Alhassan to an Almajiri school in Bebeji, where he worked, and learned from a Tijaniyya mallam,” Nwanze further stated.
The Almajiri system which Alhassan Dantata and the people of his generation went through was an organised and comprehensive system of education for learning Islamic principles, values, jurisprudence and theology. In those days they modeled the Almajiri schools in Hausa land after the Madrasahs in some Muslim countries. There was inspectorate of Qur’anic literacy, whose inspectors reported to the Emir of the province, concerning all matters relating to the school(s).
It is saddening to note that the “Tsangaya” (local Islamic schools) and the entire Almajiri system as it is today in the north are the shadows of their former selves. Even though few profiteers of the system will go to any extents to defend it, the truth is; the Almajiri does not serve any purpose. It is in fact our main problem in northern Nigeria today. The system is the leading problem which is trying to bring down the north to its knees. It produces millions of street urchins, uncountable out-of-school children, beggars, a hopeless multitude of young men, drug addicts and an avalanche of army of unemployed youth the terrorists can galvanize and recruit for insurrection.
The fear of the dangers of Almajiri is not new. Prominent northern elders had foreseen the danger about 20 to 30 years ago. I could remember a lecture in Kaduna in 1994 when general Hassan Usman Katsina, group captain Usman Jibrin and general Shehu Musa Yar’aduwa, among other northern notables, spoke about the impending danger of the Almajiri system. It is sad that the tempo for war against the Almajiri died with the demise of the trio. It is worrisome that the number of Almajiri kids who roam the streets of major cities in Nigeria have skyrocketed several folds in the last few years.
The north conflicts with itself. There are close to 2 billion Muslims spread across the countries of the world. It is curious that the Hausa man is the only Muslim who keeps a family he cannot maintain. We are the laughingstock in the country because of the archaic and a progress resistance culture we operate. Experts warn: “If we continue this way, about 40 percent extremely poor people will be in Nigeria. Poverty in the South West is 20 percent, in the North, it is 80 percent, Lagos is 8 percent and Zamfara, it is 91 percent.” This is scary. Now is the time to tell ourselves the bitter truth and to act. We must change the old ways we do things.
With Poverty, Boko, Haram, Kidnapping, banditry and communal feud, northern Nigeria is one of the worst places to live in the world. We are on the eve of destruction. We have to come together to fight the menace of the Almajiri system before it destroy us. When the bubbles finally bursts, those of us who live in the north will be the first casualty of the crises we created, and cannot manage and control. We are all victims. It is therefore a collective responsibility to fight this public menace.
As a solution to the problem, northern establishment must think in retrospect and return to the old ways. The Almajiri kids should live with their parents and guardians in their hometowns. The government and individual proprietors of Almajiri schools shall build madrasahs for learning within the immediate environment of the pupils and students. State governors should make education compulsory for school-age children. We hope all the northern States will ban the Almajiri system and make education compulsory for children living in their states.The government should arrest any Almajiri boy who flouts the order and send him back to his parents in his home state.
We should critically look at the Hausa culture of polygamy. We must accept the home truth. The emir of Kano, Muhammadu Sanusi the II, advised men “to imbibe the habit of marrying the number of wives and children they can cater. This may sound strange to a conservative Hausa man who may use as a defence the hadith of prophet Muhammad ( peace be upon him) that encourages the ummah (community of Muslim believers) to have many children, “so he will feel proud of them before the other Prophets and nations on the Day of Resurrection.”
It is worthwhile to note that the people who prophet Muhammad (Peace and blessings of Allah be Upon him) will be proud of and happy to receive as his people on the day of resurrection are the righteous Muslims- the righteous descendants who the prophets before him (Abraham and Zakariyya) prayed God to grant them. They are the children who are considered a blessing to their parents and to the nation. We need children who are a comfort and a joy to the eyes of their parents, not the ones that the parents dispense with and sent to a faraway place to lead the degrading life of the Almajiri. We must debunk the lie being peddled by some selfish “Ulamas” and other supporters of the exploitative system. They are exponents of the system because they have been living on the fat of the land while the victims suffered.
I fear the time in the foreseeable future when those whom we look down as an unkempt public nuisance will get back at us. I look at the future with a sense of foreboding. The Almajiri is a demographic time bomb about to explode. The earlier we understand this reality and address the problem, the better for Nigeria.
Saleh Bature is Abuja based journalist, social commentator and advocate of dialogue. You can reach him via email at [email protected]