There should be enlightenment campaigns to change the orientation of parents and guardians of the children

When early in 2012 the federal government announced its intention to build 400 special primary schools for Almajiri, we did not believe it was a wise move and we opposed it with an editorial titled ‘No to school for the Almajairi’. In taking that decision, it was not that we were opposed to taking the young children in some states in the North out of the streets by putting them in school. It was just that we felt the policy was not well thought-out and would end up a waste of scarce resources. Sadly, we have been vindicated by a recent ‘Daily Trust’ newspaper’s report which revealed that practically all the Almajiri schools have been abandoned, despite the billions of naira invested in them.

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. Neglected by their parents and abandoned 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 10.5 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. The street life exposes the almajiris to all forms of abuse since 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.

While we did not query the intention behind the idea which we argued might have been informed by a need to end the exploitation of these vulnerable elements by some misguided leaders, we raised some pertinent issues. In as much as we agree that very dire situations like the existence of the almajiri system require public policy intervention, building special schools for them is not the solution. Instead, there should be intensive enlightenment campaigns to change the orientation of the parents and guardians who seem not to really appreciate what damage they are doing first to the future of their children and wards, but also to the larger society.

As we also suggested in the past, and even now, the affected states should be encouraged, if possible compelled, to tap into the Universal Basic Education Fund and make use of grants which many governors of the affected states have failed to utilise for fear of accountability. Incidentally the worst culprits are the same states where the proposed 400 almajiri schools were built.

The Almajiri school system will not be the first time the federal government has sought to intervene in curbing the menace of a large army of youths roaming the streets begging for alms. In 1989, the government introduced a Nomadic Education Scheme to cater for itinerant Fulani herdsmen. If after billions of naira had been expended on the scheme for political expediency, the nation is yet to see the full impact of the scheme on these Nomads. Why does anybody think it will be different wasting scarce resources on Almajiri schools?