Reforming the Almajiri System of Education in Northern Nigeria, Abdulhaleem Ishaq Ringim

As centuries of dictators have known, an illiterate crowd is the easiest to rule; since the craft of reading cannot be untaught once it has been acquired, the second-best recourse is to limit its scope.”
~Alberto Manguel

According to a report by UNICEF in 2014, there exists about 9.5 Million Almajiri in Northern Nigeria constituting almost 72% of the country’s 13.2Million out-of-school children. What a deplorable statistics?

The history and origin of the Almajiri System of Education has been widely captured by a lot of scholars and writers. Tracing its inception in Nigeria back to the pre-colonial era, the Kanem-Borno was the citadel of the system otherwise known as “Tsangaya”, it was a well-organized system of education rooted in the Islamic concept of “migration in search for Islamic knowledge” where students get drilled in the studies of Quran, Islamic Principia, Jurisprudence, theology and lots more in schools outside their comfort zones.

This system was funded by the then Emirates of the caliphate not until 1904 after the British invasion when funding for the system was cut off and was replaced to fund western education by the British rulers. This shift marked a tremendous shift and the inception of the Almajiri system we know today characterized by “bara” which translates to “begging” mainly due to lack of sustainable means of funding the Tsangaya schools and welfare of the students.

Today, the Almajiri System has been attributed as one of the leading sources of manpower for the numerous crimes the country is battling with. Although, some might argue that there stands little empirical evidence establishing the relationship between the Almajiri System and Crimes especially Terrorism, it is believed by many that it is indeed one of the leading sources as the system subjects the Almajiris to hunger, illiteracy and lack of guidance thereby making them susceptible to allurement into several acts of crime. A clear example is the current leader of the most devastating terror group in the history of Nigeria, Abubakar Shekau who happens to be an Almajiri before joining Abubakar Yusuf in the fight against “Boko” or “Western Education”.

For years, Nigeria has been searching for ways to reform the current Almajiri System of Education by ejecting the “Bara” part of it and inoculate modern education into it. In 2012, President Goodluck Jonathan launched the first Almajiri Integrated Model School in Gagi, Sokoto. It was the first out of almost 400 that were built across the Northern States costing about 15 Billion Naira. Yet, due to lack of political commitment, some of them have been converted to conventional schools while most have been abandoned. Some allege that politicians often shy away from addressing the issue because it stands to be counterproductive to their political interests of using such a populous entity as a tool for achieving their selfish political goals, for the illiterate mind they say is the easiest to rule, allure and brainwash.
Some Northern state governments have however recently rekindled the revolt against begging and illiteracy by abruptly banning street begging and imposing the “free education” policy. In fact most recently amidst the ravaging Covid-19 pandemic, some governors have started repatriating these almajiris back to their states of origin (which in some cases have resulted into interstate transmission of the disease).

And just few days back, the Northern Governors Forum finally decided in favor of absolute abolishment of the system and repatriation of all almajiris back to their homes.

While we must commend the efforts of the State Governors for courageously making such a bold move, we also will like to tell them that they can do better.

Let’s try to answer the following questions;

  1. How many Northern States have active Free and Compulsory Education Policies (basic to post basic)?
  2. Which states have the most almajiris (by origin) and are they part of the states with active free and compulsory education policy?
  3. If no, what mechanisms are they going to employ in order to make sure the repatriated almajiris get the formal education they deserve?
  4. If Q3 above is not guaranteed, then how sure are we that their parents (who have proven themselves to be pathological irresponsible people overtime) will take them back and assume responsibility? Even if they take them back, what measures are there in place that could serve as checking mechanisms that’ll ensure these children are not abused in their own houses?
  5. And what will happen if the parents decide not to assume these responsibilities? What will be the fate of the almajiris (that have already been exposed to the rots of this world and are well equipped with knowledge of negative ways they can follow to achieve subsistence)?

Are we shifting from a problem we have substantial knowledge of to one we have no idea how it’ll unfold?

And let’s also give it a thought!

Most studies and observations have shown that if for example a survey is done on the origins of the population of Almajiris in Kaduna State, we would realize that majority are not indigenes of Kaduna State but of neighboring Northern States or even countries.

And most states as standalone entities do not have the unilateral capacity to cater for the education and welfare of all these students, to be frank. Just as Adamawa State government publicly complained in 2016 of the cost of running the Almajiri Integrated Model School, the feeding and other welfare activities for the students.

In fact some would argue that the resources of a state should be solely expended to cater for the need of the indigenes of that state, hence, a scandal might erupt.

Based on the assertions established above, I have personally developed a soft spot for systematic reform rather than absolute abolishment and how I believe the reform should be is for the Northern State Governments to consider the following options collectively;

First, there is need for the Northern State Governments to collectively push, through their national legislators, for the establishment of an agency which will be solely responsible for the Almajiri System of Education. This agency should hold a mandate of constituting a data mining exercise or a mini census of all Almajiris in Northern Nigeria, their states of origin and the total number of Almajiri Schools through a state by state approach. This would give the government an insight on the demographic distribution of the Almajiri population and the census information will serve numerous planning purposes.

Second, a fund should be set up that would draw from the federal government, each Northern state’s budget, and the rich presence of private sector actors in the country which will be duly shared to the states according to the established demographics. International donor agencies should also be approached for funding of the program.

Third, the agency should work hand in hand with the Education ministry, a committee of renowned Almajiri or Tsangaya School teachers and other relevant stakeholders to bring up a standard curriculum that would address the Islamic, Modern and Entrepreneurial Basic Education Needs with a definite duration for the Programme. The agency should also work on proposing the remuneration of the Tsangaya Alarammas (teachers), standards and criteria for admission (e.g age) and teaching in consultation with relevant stakeholders.

Fourth, Tsangaya Schools should then be built in each state based on the established demographics from the census, existing ones should be renovated.

Fifth, A database should be set up which would capture the biodata and all necessary information of each Almajiri including expected durations of stay in the school based on the curriculum and also monitor the movements of these Almajiris between the states. The schools should adopt the model of the Unity Boarding Schools we have in the country.

Sixth, the ban on begging should then be fully implemented with strict penalties attached in cases of defaulting parents. Also, strict monitoring and periodic evaluation of the system should be harshly adhered to.

Lastly, traditional rulers should be given statutory responsibility so as to leverage on their local influence in regards to the strict monitoring of these schools and their operations. They should also work harmoniously with other Islamic organizations like Jama’atu Nasril Islam, Nigerian Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs, Fityanul Islam of Nigeria, Jama’atu Izalatul Bid’a wa iqamatus Sunnah and also the National Orientation Agency and media corporations in leading a rigorous sensitization and re-orientation exercise especially in the rural areas. This will go a long way in disabusing the minds of most locales of their misperceptions about western education and the merits of integrating it with the Almajiri system of the education as most of them hold a grudge against “Boko” because the old Almajiri system was desecrated by the British to be replaced with the “Boko” which they look upon with filth.

With this, I believe we would be fighting the menace in a more sustainable approach and ensuring that these Almajiris get the opportunities they deserve regardless of their origins, while permanently removing the most denigrating and disastrous attribute of the current Almajiri System which is “Street Begging”. This would also go a long way in reducing the rate of crime, the staggering out-of-School children statistics and ensuring a boost in the growth and development of the country.

About the Author: Abdulhaleem Ishaq Ringim is a political and public affairs analyst and an advocate for sustainable development writes from Zaria and can be reached through and on Twitter @Pragmatist_AIR

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