By Yusuf Muhammad Tukur Illo
It has obviously become the norm among those who call themselves ‘intellectuals’ or arrogate to themselves ‘advanced civilization’ especially from the North, to at the slightest opportunity, revile not only the poor Almajiri children but also their parents and anyone/anything they deem directly or indirectly connected with their own notion of Almajiranci practice.
You will often read them carelessly throwing descriptions such as ‘irresponsible parents who bring to the world children that they cannot take care of’, showing absolutely zero regard to the plight of most of those children and their parents – being victims of systemic injustice who otherwise should deserve better treatment from their governments.
Moreover, the so-called intellectuals have constituted themselves into an anti-Almajirai vanguard, advocating for banning of the practice in its entirety and vehemently opposing any call or move to reform the system. Literally, giving the children no chance to benefit from any initiative to improve their lives, especially from the governments that have neglected and reduced them to destitution.
HOWEVER, the attitude shown by these ‘civilised intellectuals’ is an entirely different ball game when other than Almajiranci is the case. I will give a few examples attesting to that double standard.
1. They passionately call out any State Government (from those Northern States where Almajiranci is prevalent) that has failed to pay the examination fees (WASSCE and NECO) of its graduating secondary school students, criticising and blackmailing the government until it settles the money running into hundreds of millions. The flimsy reasons they advance is that there are children of the poor who cannot afford the examination fees. But to them there are no children of poor among the Almajirai that deserve government support in whatever form.
After enjoying virtually free education with feeding (mostly for those in boarding schools) courtesy of the State Governments, the parents failing to pay only the exam fees of their children are not irresponsible and not deserving of condemnation, simply because they sent their children to a school other than an Almajiri school. Consequently, our ‘intellectuals’ will pressure the governments to shoulder that responsibility on their behalf.
2. They equally criticize any State Government that discontinues payment of University Registration fees for its indigenes (as is the case in some Northern States) or cuts down scholarship stipends of its students in the highly subsidized public universities. Why won’t they deserve free or highly subsidized education from Primary School to the University since it is Western Education, as it is popularly called?
And their parents are not irresponsible for giving birth to children whose education in public institutions they cannot even pay for, but rely on the Government to do it for them.
But the Almajiranci practice should not benefit from any government scheme that will aim to reform it, because their parents are irresponsible for giving birth to them and failing to look after them.
3. They always support the struggle of ASUU (which I have been a member of, for over a decade) in demanding more Government funding to revitalize our universities, making all kinds of commentaries on how our governments care less about the educational sector due to low budgetary provisions for the sector. That is because university education is sacred to them.
But they will oppose groups that advocate for schemes to intervene and reform Almajiri practice, because those who engage in it are lesser humans and therefore deserve no such interventions. That’s even though the Almajiri school settings are no where near the universities in terms of needs.
4. They endlessly praise any State Governor that sponsors his indigenes to study abroad. And any successor who dares to end the sponsorship due to lack of funds or redistribute the students across universities in less expensive countries or even transfer them to private universities in Nigeria, will come under fierce criticisms of the ‘intellectuals’.
But the Almajiri practice should receive total ban rather than government initiatives that will reform it and make it better for the citizens who have chosen it.
With all sense of modesty, I have been a beneficiary of government funded foreign scholarships for both MSc and PhD, and I know the humongous amounts of money the government spends on foreign scholars yearly, which has yielded only very low Return on Investment for the country so far.
Should a meagre fraction of those amounts be allocated and used to reform Almajiranci practice, the impact will be immediately noticed and the poor children will have a chance to live a decent life facilitated by their governments. But our ‘intellectuals’ are opposed to that, because Almajiranci practice is a useless venture from which comes no good, as they have repeatedly claimed.
5. After all the aforementioned interventions, the students of Western Education graduate from the universities and complete their NYSC, then majority sit at home idle, only adding to the country’s unemployment statistics. Our ‘intellectuals’ will seize the opportunity to criticise the governments once more for failing to create jobs or provide employment opportunities for the youths.
Interestingly, the graduates are not irresponsible for failing to secure a job or even knowing where to start from, despite benefitting from free or highly subsidised education. Likewise, their parents are not irresponsible for giving birth to them and failing to guide them to obtaining jobs or entrepreneurship, even though the government has shouldered most of their educational responsibilities.
However, our ‘intellectuals’ expect the neglected Almajirai and their disadvantaged parents who have most likely never benefited anything from the government, to be self educated and enlightened and even create those enabling environments and opportunities for themselves to thrive and become ‘responsible’.
6. Whenever they discuss about the Almajiri practice, they try to bring out only the woes of it, without a single possible benefit which they have already concluded does not exist.
However, whenever anyone discusses the ills of their unimpeachable Western Education, they go berserk, pouring invectives on the person regardless of their social status – accusing them of trying to drive Northerners away from acquiring modern education to be able to compete nationally instead of encouraging them, and eventually blackmailing them into silence.
But the fact they keep denying is that there are as much troubles and abuses in our Western educational systems as there are in the Almajiri practice.
I do not need anyone to tell me this, because I am a stakeholder with nearly 2 decades of cumulative teaching and lecturing experience across Nursery and Primary Schools, Polytechnic and University.
Even for non-stakeholders, the incessant cases reported in the media of abuses in formal school settings from defilement of Nursery/Primary schools pupils by teachers, sexual harassment of junior students by their seniors, induction of high school and tertiary students into prostitution syndicates as well as sex for grade incidents, are more than enough pointers to the degree of rot and risks in the system. But we can continue living in denial and looking the other way.
The Sexual Harassment Act made by the National Assemlby to arrest sex for grade cases in our universities is what has hit the final nail on the coffin in that regard. So, whoever wants to keep denying let them do.
Therefore, for those whose major argument for advocating ban on Almajiranci practice is the risk of abuse the children are exposed to, they would really have to try harder to prove how free our formal education sector is, from those risks.
A very silly argument some of the ‘intellectuals’ often put forward is: “since Almajiranci practice in its current form is good, why don’t you send your child to an Almajiri school?”
Well, the chances of me sending my child to Almajiranci is as non-existent as the chances of me sending them to any formal boarding school. The probability is zero. Because the risks are as high in both, and only effective reforms could endear either of them to me. That is why we call for the reform of the Almajiri practice with integrated skills training and basic literacy and numeracy, to engage the poor kids and offer them chance to live a decent life, at least. At AMORGIC Foundation, we are making plans to give such contributions to some Almajirai, as a pilot scheme. While the ‘intellectuals’ can continue attacking whoever dares to expose the vices that have become rampant in our formal educational sector as they are in the Almajiranci practice.
Another irrationality yet displayed by groups of those intellectuals is: “the Almajiranci practice has outlived its usefulness”, “what do the Almajirai even achieve after graduation?”, bla, bla, bla… That is the shallow and pseudo kind of their ‘intellectualism’. They can see sense in music, drama, film making and what not, but none in graduating from an Almajiri School after committing most or all of The Holy Qur’an to memory?
They should perhaps try to first explain what the millions of our unemployed graduates have achieved after graduation, with some spending as much as 5-10 years searching for jobs. That is when we can easily think of factors responsible for that, right? Likewise, there are factors responsible for the sorry state the Almajirai have found themselves in. So, for every bastardised Almajiri School that you want to use as a model, there are equally bastardised formal institutions that produce millions of graduates adjudged unemployable – many that cannot even write a formal job application letter.
And in case our so-called intellectuals have no idea, a reformed Almajiranci practice brings with it numerous benefits. Apart from producing responsible and law abiding citizens and boosting the skilled labour market, the graduates of those schools can even be ‘exported’ to other countries where their expertise are needed. Yes, exported!
If the Almajirai can have decent learning environments with proper, formalised certifications for their completed studies, there are opportunities for them to be hired internationally and get handsomely paid. A quick destination for them could be the complex for printing and publication of The Holy Qur’an in Saudi Arabia, to be proofreading millions of copies of printed Qur’an among other tasks.
In fact, the graduate Almajirai can be hired even in the United Kingdom where you least expect, as full time Imams.
From experience, an Imam leading just Taraweeh prayers in Ramadaan (who are in high demand) could earn up to £1,000 only, an equivalent of about N750,000.
As full time Imams, they could be entitled to a house from the mosque and a monthly wage of up to £700 – £800 (N525,000 – N600,000). While some mosques have a rate of pay for the Imams per prayer he has led.
Plus, the Imams can run Qur’anic classes for adults or kids or both, with an average charge of £6 – £10 (N4,500 – N7,500) per person per week. Details about this may be discussed another day.
In conclusion, it is apparent that most of those bashing the Almajirai and calling for the abolishment of Almajiranci practice in its entirety, are not really after the betterment of those poor children’s lives. They are only furious because the children roam the streets of our big cities, hence they are insisting that every child be returned to their villages so that our streets are rid of Almajirai completely. They do not care what becomes of them at the villages where there is no government presence whatsoever, in most cases. They will be just fine and comfortable as long as they don’t see Almajirai on their way.
But those ‘deported’ children may be there gradually metamorphosing into monsters that will come to hunt us much later, probably worse than the neglected forest Fulanis who are now terrorising us whenever we pass through their territories. We should have learnt serious lessons by now, honestly.
That is why at AMORGIC Foundation, we try to approach the issue critically rather than emotionally. The children should not be summarily condemned to their villages where their respective governments have failed to provide them any form of basic education. From initial engagements with some of these Almajirai, they do not have even a single block of classroom in their villages. What exactly do we want them to do if they are deported?
We hope to in no distant future, conduct a comprehensive study involving the Almajirai and their Malams, into a multitude of factors that have contributed to the current state of Almajiranci, including the failure of governments in discharging their responsibilities of providing free, accessible basic education for all citizens. Because we believe that for any drastic reformative measures to be successful, governments must fulfil their own part of the bargain. They must take responsibility!
Then if we want justice and fairness for the Almajirai, let us pressure all Northern States Governments with Almajiranci issues to halt the payment of WASSCE, NECO, University Registration fees and/or scholarships for just 3 years and use the money to reform Almajiranci practice. Let us see the results we are going to have.
Until that is that chance is given to them, I don’t think we have the right to scorn them at will.