By Sulaiman Maijama’a
Almajiri System, over the last few years, has come under intense pressure, greeted with mixed reactions by stakeholders, especially in northern Nigeria. Many people have written many pieces on the negative consequences of the system, ascribing it to be one of the underlying causes of poverty, hunger, and insecurity, among other social vices in northern Nigeria. For this reason, it has been a topic of debate. Some call for repositioning the system, and some agitate for its total abolishment. In contrast, others argue that it should remain as it is today.
Undoubtedly, the present-day Almajiri system is, to a greater extent, different from what was obtainable in the pre-colonial era, hence the need for a review. Before British colonisation, the system, aside from the authorities’ high recognition and promotion, had enjoyed the support of other major stakeholders, such as the community, the parents and the pupils. So also, the whole financial burden of the system was being taken by the authorities with public funds. These indicate that the Almajiri system in those days was somewhat formal and, therefore, more organised.
However, the magnitude of the attack the system has now come under has given it a distorted image. It has developed a stereotype in some people, so much so that on the mention of the word “Almajiri”, the first connotation that comes to mind is negativity – illiteracy, poverty, hunger, dishonesty, insecurity and all sorts of social vices.
The word “Almajiri” is a derivative of an Arabic word, “Al muhajirun”, which could be traced right from the migration of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) from Makka to Madina. Those who migrated with the prophet to Madina were called ‘Al-Muhajirrun’, meaning migrants. In Nigeria, the word “Almajiri” refers to those, usually teenagers, who are sent by their parents from respective villages and settlements to urban centres in the quest for Qur’an knowledge.
2014 UNICEF report estimated the number of Almajiri conservatively to be 9.5 million in Nigeria, predominantly in the northern part. If all of them were a nuisance, as widely believed by some people, the situation of our region would be worse than we could imagine.
There is no doubt that there are bad eggs among them, which applies to every category of people. But, as much as bad eggs, there are equally good ones among the Almajiris who have passed through the system and become successful in different facets of life.
Adamu Garba, a former Nigerian presidential aspirant, in an interview with the Punch Newspaper, says the Almajiri system in northern Nigeria produced some of the wealthiest men, including Africa’s pride, Aliko Dangote and the founder of BUA Group, Abdul Samad Rabiu, amongst others. Garba said he was once an Almajiri before he acquired Western education.
When asked whether the Almajiri system promotes terrorism, Garba said Boko Haram has no connection with the Almajiri system because of the dichotomy between Islamic denominations in northern Nigeria. “So, it is very unlikely that you have an Almajiri man becoming a Boko Haram,” he told The Punch.
Garba also mentioned that many business giants are products of the Almajiri system. “Again, if you go to [the] Kano market, most of the rich people in the market are Almajiri. They came through Almajiri, they were able to get [the] necessary training in the Almajiri institutions, and they were able to get to where they are.”
Similarly, several renowned Islamic scholars were once Almajiris. A typical example is Sheik Muhammad Bin-Uthman.
Testimonies from people
Some people interviewed narrated how their encounters with some Almajiri lefts them with a memorable impression.
Abdullahi Muhammad, a resident of Kobi, an Almajiri-dominated area in Bauchi, narrated how an Almajiri once returned his valuable lost items.
“I once forgot my valuable properties around my house. I gave up finding them, but to my surprise, an Almajiri found and returned them to a nearby mosque. It was announced after a couple of days. I claimed ownership and recovered my items intact. I was surprised [at] how honest the boy was.”
In an interview, Aisha Abubakar, a housewife in the Kobi area in Bauchi, revealed that she had two little Almajis coming to help her with housework.
“Two little Almajis come daily to help me with some housework — they fetch me water, wash clothes, and sometimes I send them on an errand. I give them food and sew them clothing when they go home during holidays. For the past two years, they have been coming. They are honest”, she said.
Maryam Abdullahi, another housewife in the Gwallaga area, Bauchi, said she retained an Almajiri who, apart from helping her with housework, teaches her little children Arabic alphabets.
“I have an Almajiri that comes on Thursdays and Fridays to give Qur’an lessons to my children. I’m happy now that my children are good in the Arabic alphabet and Qur’an recitation, courtesy of the lesson they receive from this boy ( the Almajiri). I cannot thank him enough.”
When asked how honest and disciplined she finds the Almajiri, she said, “I send him uncountable times with money to buy foodstuff and other items, and I always find him unblemished.”
Murtala Aminu (Ɗankasuwa), a trader in an Almajiri-dominated area, when asked how he finds the Almajiris around him, he asserted that their stay in the area is a blessing.
“They recite the Qur’an every blessed day and night. This gives us tranquillity and peace of mind. In addition, we cite them as an example for our children to emulate their hard work searching for knowledge. Many of them memorised the Qur’an by heart. What could be more delightful?”.
We take good care of Almajiris under our watch — Almajiri teachers
When interviewed, some Almajiri teachers revealed to us how they strictly manage the Almajiris under their tutelage to be well brought up and face the realities of life early.
Mallam Muhammad Shafi’u Inuwa, an Almajiri teacher in Sabon Gida Tsangaya school, said, “under our school, we have about a hundred Almajiris. We raise them early in the morning to take classes between 5:00 am and 10:00 pm. In the afternoon, we allow them to work to earn a living. At night, between 8:00 pm and 10:00 pm, is also time for classes. We ensure that all the Almajiris return to their apartments when it is time for sleeping.”
On his part, Mallam Khamisu Ali (Gwani), another Almajiri teacher, said, “we try in this Tsangaya (Almajiri school) to imbue in them (the Almajiris) the spirit of hard work. Moreover, we encourage them to be self-reliant because to work and earn a living is better than to beg; that is why we allow them on school-free days (Thursdays and Fridays) to acquire skills.”
When asked whether the parents of the Almajiris come to check on their wards, Mallam Gwani said, “we are in contact with their parents. We face some challenges regarding this, but plans are underway to make it necessary for every parent to come in person and check on their wards at certain intervals.”
Regarding learning efficiency, Mallam Gwani stated that they had produced brilliant reciters, some of whom memorised the Qur’an by heart as teenagers.
Some Almajiris do not beg nor chant for food
In their efforts to face the realities of life and actualise self-reliance, some Almajiris interviewed claimed to have never begged nor gone to houses chanting for food
In this interview, a teen Almajiri, Zaharadden Manu, explained how he sustains his life by harnessing and utilising the skill he learned back home before he was taken to Almajiranci.
“Every day after school hours, I go around nearby communities to do shoe shining, and it earns me a living. Then, on Thursdays and Fridays, I fetch water to housewives for food or money”, he said.
Musa Aliyu is an ambitious Almajiri who reconciles Qur’an learning and hand work. When asked where he sees himself in the decade, he said, “I see myself in the future as an educated person and a business owner with employees under me. I pursue this dream to the best of my ability.”
It was observed that on school-free days, markets and commercial centres get populated with Almajiris who do different works to earn some money to live on.
Give Almajiris the atmosphere to harness their full potential – Educationist
Comrade Abdullahi Yalwa, an educationist lecturer with the Department of Crimes Management and Control, Abubakar Tatari Ali Polytechnic, Bauchi, opined, “I think that abolishing the system may not be realistic or so easily achieved. What should be done is to review and revise to align with realities. There is a correlation between nature and nurture, and the two must synchronise to give an effective and responsible person. If one is bound to succeed if given a better condition, he would be double or triple or would be in the book of record for the exceptional display of talent.”
Comrade Yalwa further said, “to maximise the benefits and reduce or eliminate the negative effects of the system. Parents need to be responsible by sponsoring their children when searching for knowledge. They should give them enough resources to manage themselves, visit them periodically, give them what they need in terms of their basic need and also appreciate the person taking care of them in order not for him to use them as slaves.”
On what the government and relevant authorities should do, Comrade Yalwa recommended that “the Almajiri teachers ought to be registered by the government, and a maximum number of students should be allotted to each, and they should have the basic necessities, especially accommodation facilities, where people have a responsible and decent life.”
Maijama’a is a student at the Faculty of Communication, Bayero University, Kano and wrote via firstname.lastname@example.org.