Bedevilled, unkempt, and hunger-stricken: so dispiriting it is to see innocent children unleased on the streets of Northern Nigeria to beg around for food, when they should be in school learning towards securing a better future.

Coined from “Al Muhajirun” which translates “an emigrant”, Almajiri simply denotes a seeker of knowledge who migrates from his home to an Arabic school or to a teacher “Mallam”. The archaic Al Majiri practice, without doubt, has birthed more bad than good, especially in the 21st century, where seeking knowledge has advanced with the aid of reforms and technology.

The Almajiri system could have yielded good results in the past, but today, it’s only a system responsible for 14 million out-of-school children, according to a report by the United Nations International Children’s Fund (UNICEF). Beyond the statistics and outpours, the Almajiri children pose great threats to the security architecture of Nigeria, as bandits, kidnappers, and Boko Haram exploit them with trifling lucre and get recruits from them – no thanks to poverty and their illiteracy.

While many concerned Nigerians have raised a dissenting voice against the perilous web over the years, it has rather become worrisome that the practice has only continued to cast an ominous pall on the development of Nigeria. Sanusi Lamido’s condemnations and those of many Northern elders are commendable, but have had little impact on combating the menace. More laudable is the action of Kaduna State Governor, Nasir el-Rufai, who in 2020, facilitated a meeting with 19 Northern governors towards combating the Almajiri system and avoiding inter-state movements of the Almajiri children. Dr Abdullahi Ganduje’s implementation of free and compulsory primary and secondary school education in Kano, to curtail the Almajirai is also deserving of applause. But beyond these words and actions, more needs to be done.

There is no denying that the (Almajiri) parents, who are the first agents of socialization, have failed these kids; thus, the real sensitization needs to start with them. There is a need for timely sensitization for these parents on the dangers of kids who are left uncatered for, as well as the need for them to stop seeing childbirth as competition or something just to brag about; while serious sanctions should be meted out to parents whose kids roam about the streets.

Through official and unofficial means, Mallams who are the teachers of the Almajiri kids, have been reported to benefit from the proceeds of begging from these children. The Mallams need to be sensitized on the need for the Almajiri kids to go for, not only Islamic education, but Western education as well. Through that, these children will have a balanced view of life and won’t see things from just one direction. The Mallams need to know that illiteracy is not a practice of Islam, as Muslim countries around the world have high literacy rates. An instance is Saudi Arabia, which had an illiteracy rate of 60% in 1972, and in 2018 already had an illiteracy rate of 5.6%. Likewise, Qatar, in 2016, had a literacy rate of 97.26% among citizens between age 15 and 25 years.

The society has a lion’s share of the responsibilities towards tackling the menace of the Almajirai, as well. There’s a need for more voluntary organizations like Act 4 Almajiri Child, PeaceWay Youth Initiative (where this writer had volunteered) and many others, to be at the forefront of struggles against the Almajiri system. As well, there is a need for full implementation of the Child Rights Act 2003 which states in Section 15(1) that “Every child has the right to free, compulsory, and universal basic education, and it shall be the duty of the government in Nigeria to provide such education.”

Hashim Yussuf Amao, Ibadan

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