The states in the north must invest more in education

In the last few months, the practice of Almajiriinci – street begging often done by children in the name of seeking Islamic education – has featured prominently in discussion particularly in the north of the country. The issue was again on the agenda during the pre-Ramadan conference with the theme, “The Role of Islam in Combating Corruption” where the Sultan of Sokoto, Alhaji Sa’ad Abubakar 11, disowned the entire practice. “Almajiri does not represent Islam, but hunger and poverty,” said the sultan. “Islam encourages scholarship and entrepreneurship and frowns at laziness and idleness as exemplified by itinerant Almajiri. Therefore, attempt must be made to stop the practice.”

The Almajiris are found virtually in all the northern states and some urban cities across the nation. ‘Almajiri’ is said to be a corruption of the Arabic word ‘Almuharireen’ which means immigrants. Originally, the almajiris were male pupils of school age who left home in search of Qur’anic education. They were placed in care of teachers who would prepare them for learning the basics of Qur’anic education. But the teachers, in most cases, were unable to meet all the needs of their pupils. The students were therefore obliged to beg in the neighbourhood to supplement their rations and other needs.

Begging for food was part of the training so that they could appreciate how poor people live. But over time, the practice had broken down and bastardised and the pupils abandoned to their fate. Today, the Almajiris have become a major societal problem.

Abandoned by their parents and neglected by the state, the often scruffy, ill-clad and deprived children always roam the streets in search of livelihood. Aged between four and 18, they constitute the largest number of the country’s 14 million out-of–school children. Governor Abdullahi Ganduje of Kano said recently that there were more than three million almajiris roaming his state, without homes and without any discernible means of survival except begging. “What we discovered from our survey is that many of these almajiris come from Niger Republic, Chad, Northern Cameroon and some from other states of the north-west,” said Ganduje.

As admitted by the governor, the almajiris have become a major source of social and economic problem to the society at large. They also constitute a threat to national security. The street life exposes the almajiris to all kinds of abuse and they are easily lured into all manner of crimes, and have indeed constituted themselves as breeding grounds for violent conflicts. Many politicians and others use them as cannon fodder to advance their interest. There is no doubt that the brutal insurgent group, Boko Haram, recruited a substantial number of its cheap foot soldiers from the rank of the almajiris.

This is why it has become imperative to find a lasting solution to this ancient and obnoxious practice that deprives the nation of many of its youthful energy. Ganduje’s suggestion that legislation be made to prevent the movement of school age children is worth a try. But the poverty and social disharmony in many homes contribute largely to the problem. Thus the Emir of Kano’s repeated advocacy that many parents in the north should learn to bring forth children they could cater for, in addition to establishing more schools for them to seek Western education also merits attention.

To deal with the problem, there must be conscious efforts in the north to take the millions of children off the streets through more investment in education. As Matthew Hassan Kukah, the Bishop of Sokoto Diocese has wisely said, “whether the nation likes it or not, the next owners and leaders of the nation are the almajiris and the youths, who roam aimlessly on the streets.”
We cannot afford a future led by delinquents.