By Lawi Auwal Yusuf
The Tsangaya system in northern Nigeria started more than a century ago. It is a traditional and informal system of Islamic education where male children are taken to a far place from home to memorise the Qur’an and study other religious books. This will help them to concentrate more on their studies than in the comfort of their homes. They can be seen in every part of the region, and they mostly come from rural areas and are predominantly taken to the cities, while some come from neighbouring countries.
It has taken a parallel dimension in the last decades as there has been a massive influx of these young children into the urban areas.
This rural-urban migration is exacerbated by rising poverty in the countryside, dilapidated infrastructures, unemployment, rising cost of living and a corresponding decline in the standard of living. Moreover, monetisation of the rural economy, desertification, effects of climate change and lack of social amenities worsen the situation.
Similarly, this mass movement has its repercussions on the metropolitan areas such as overcrowding, squalor housing and homelessness, poverty, the spread of diseases, starvation, poor sanitation, joblessness, criminal activities and fanaticism.
The pitiful and awful plight of these vulnerable children, including minors of about five, is very sorrowful, disheartening, and sympathetic. These oppressed kids below the legal age of responsibility and accountability roam in nooks and crannies of cities hungrily begging for food wearing tattered, shabby and ragged clothes without shoes in the scorching heat. They wander from house to house, in marketplaces, on the streets, motor parks/stations, mosques, traffic intersections and social gatherings in search of livelihood. They scavenge through refuse and garbage, looking for food and other valuable materials. These miserable children sleep on the roadsides, under bridges, marketplaces, uncompleted buildings and other unfortunate places under intense bites of mosquitoes and other insects.
Moreover, they defecate in the open as there are no toilets to use. They equally lack access to safe drinking water, prophylaxes, vaccines and immunisations that can help to prevent them against dangerous diseases.
Some of them are not much acquainted with their parents, siblings and other extended family members. They know little about their hometowns. They depart home when they are too young and are rarely visited or go home to reunite with their families, while others never return. Some years ago, I overheard one of them narrating his ordeal that there were only two rooms in their mud house. One was for the parents and the other for the children. The father wanted to marry a second wife while there was no vacant room to accommodate the bride. So he enrolled them in Tsangaya school and arranged the children’s room for her. This is why tribal and political bigots revile and vilify the Northerners on this savage and barbaric behaviour.
These filthy children are left to fend for themselves as no one cares about them. Everyone abandons them. They do not get the psychological support, love and affection of their parents and the bond of kinship ties. They live their entire unwholesome lives away from home. In addition, they also fall victim to child labour, exploitation and abuse. Hence, the teachers and other older co-students ruthlessly maltreat the younger ones and confiscate the food and money they get.
They have equal rights to benefit from the state resources and the public treasury like every citizen. They have equal rights with the children of the so-called prominent personalities, the President, governors, ministers, lawmakers and traditional rulers whose kids are taken to Europe and America to study. They also have the rights to normal life, adequate healthcare, decent shelter, and qualitative education with the requisite skills to make them marketable in the labour market and equal opportunities. Unfortunately, they have been deprived of these constitutional rights and are treated in their fatherland as sub-humans.
In their teenage, they spend much of their time on the course of their subsistence than their studies. Therefore, only a few of them receive the desired education. The unfortunate ones grow up without adequate knowledge, socialisation, professional training, and skills that necessitate them to wander the street and do menial jobs. Appallingly, some end up in theft, mugging, thuggery, drug dealing/addiction, sexual and other street offences.
It is very irritating that these vibrant, vigorous and exuberant youths are not made very productive to our nation. It vexes me to see them idle, redundant and wandering freely without a specific purpose or destination. Had they been adequately trained and made more productive to the society, they would have become professionals in different fields and therefore facilitate its development. It would have been more advanced than it is now. Sadly, all the intelligence, talent and youthful exuberance are being squandered negligently and not made helpful for their benefit and the whole society. This is why Nigeria still lags behind its peers.
This mindlessness of the Nigerian authorities resulted in the December 1980 fracas in Kano. Maitatsine took advantage of this and brainwashed thousands of his students into extremism and fundamentalism. The conflict, which lasted for almost three weeks, put the city at an impasse and led to the loss of nearly 5,000 lives, including Maitatsine himself and enormous property worth millions were destroyed. The survived students initiated another tumultuous disturbance in the subsequent years, whereas in Bulumkuttu, Maiduguri and Kaduna in October 1982, over 3,000 lives were lost. Other riots broke out in Yola in 1984, where over 1,000 people were killed, and more than 60,000 people were displaced. And it also took place in Gombe in 1985.
Furthermore, Boko Haram is more destructive, disastrous, and catastrophic that analysts see as an offshoot of the Maitatsine sect re-emerged with similar ideologies, putting the country in a war for more than a decade. Maiduguri has the largest concentration of these students, where you can find a Tsangaya school with thousands of students. Since the beginning of their offensive attacks in 2009, tens of thousands of lives were lost, and more than 2.3 million people were displaced, and roughly 250,000 fled to the neighbouring countries. The Global Terrorism Index declared it the world’s deadliest terror organisation in 2010. They have engaged in mass kidnappings of innocent civilians, including schoolgirls in Dapchi and Chibok and aggravated famines and food insecurity.
The government should reinvigorate the Nigerian educational system to meet international standards. Similarly, there is a need to introduce an integrated educational system that will completely uproot the dichotomy between Islamic and Western education that will correspond with our religion and culture. A system that will give room for the memorisation of the Qur’an, Islamic subjects alongside the other conventional subjects to be acceptable to all. This was what Muslim countries like Sudan, Libya, Malaysia, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and many others have done. A similar provision should be put in place for Christians to be fair and just to all. In addition, primary education should be entirely free, compulsory and accessible to all.
The governments at all levels should make genuine efforts to eradicate poverty in the villages, combat desert encroachment and revamp agriculture which will help tremendously improve the income of the rural dwellers. And also provide adequate and effective infrastructures and social amenities to make their lives better and easier.
Apart from all these, the government should urgently evacuate and return them all to their homes and enact a statute that will be strictly and rigorously enforced outlawing this incessant desertion. The legislation should also oblige the parents to be responsible for their children’s custody, supervision, and safekeeping.
There is a difference between a man and a father. The latter is a title of birth and guard. So, it is natural to take up the mandate; it is unnatural not to.
Lawi Auwal Yusuf writes from Kano, Nigeria. He can be reached via email@example.com.