Reforming The Almajiri System; The Way Forward. By Prof. Shehu Usman Adamu (Danfulani)

The Almajiri issue of recent has become a trending issue in both print and social media. Several Groups of Concerned citizens and Nongovernmental Organisations were involved with some even staging protest and peaceful march to drive home their point of bringing an end to the system.

Now that the need to proscribe or reform the Almajiranci system is in the mind of all and sundry, considering its Socio economic negative impact and of recent security challenge the almajiri system is posing. A good policy framework and implementation strategy has to be put in place to achieve meaningful results otherwise the proscription will end up like previous Laws that are already in existence only on paper.

The Universal Basic Education Law of 2004 in Part I section 1, 2 (sub section a mad b) 3 and 4 (sub Section a, b, c and d) clearly states that all children of school age must be enrolled in Primary School and parents that refuse to enrol their children into Primary Schools should be fined, and on subsequent refusal should be imprisoned. Accordingly, all the Almajirai roaming the streets are by this Law supposed to be in conventional Primary Schools and their Parents are supposed to be sanctioned for not sending them to primary School to acquire basic education. The big question is who is supposed to sanction the parent? As in which agency is saddle with the responsibility of enforcing the Law? UBEC of course cannot come down to states and enforce the Law and the various State Universal Primary Education Boards (SUBEB) are not empowered to enforce it either.
A brief historical perspective of the Almajiri System and several attempts made since colonial days and first Republic and of recent to bring it to an end or reform it will help in charting the way forward.

According to some Scholars, the origin of Almajiranci, the concept of which is for a young boy to migrate from his village under the guidance of a Known Scholar otherwise known as Allaramma or Mallam to other cities where scholars abounds for the search of Knowledge mostly of the Holy Quran was an old one, as old as the arrival of Islam into the Biladil Sudan as the Northern part of the Country was then Known (Bobboyi, 2010). The tradition became widely accepted then due to shortage of people that can teach the Quran and the high concentration of such teachers in Borno emphire makes it attractable to knowledge seekers. Geographically located eastern to other Hausa States, the term Gabas (East in Hausa) was synonymous with Almjiranci in those days, anyone been sent to almajiranci will be referred to going East for Knowledge (Ya tafi Gabas in Hausa).

Traditional rulers were happy then to accommodate any alaramma wishing to settle in their territory by providing them with a house and farm Land. The Students or Almajirai as they are called will study and cultivate the farm to get food and will as well move from house to house seeking for leftover of food but mostly at Night. It was considered a blessing then to give them food and a lot of people are willing to share with them the little they have as they are considered as immigrants in search of Knowledge for the sake of Allah.

The Old traditional structure was supportive to the Quranic education through the almajiri System and it encouraged people to move in search of knowledge and artisan trade along the line such as weaving, sewing and other craftsmanship. The large number of Almajirai in Borno area coupled with sewing the traditional Hausa cap was a major preoccupation of the Almajirai and Alaramma as a means of lively hood gave Borno comparative advantage in Hausa Cap production, a legacy that still exist.

With the advent of the colonial era, the System suffered neglect from the colonial masters as they neither incorporate it into their education nor administrative system. People in Northern part of the country see it as a viable and only option for Knowledge seeking continue to send their children to almajiranci so much so that by the time the Country was amalgamated, there were over nineteen thousand Almajrai Schools in the North with pupil enrolment of close to fourteen thousand and by 1926 the number of almajirai Schools increased to over thirty thousand with enrolment of over quarter of a million pupils (Bobboyi 2010). While the number of Almajiri Schools is increasing, the western education system is introduced and in most cases supported and encouraged by Christian Missionaries. Majority of Muslims in the North then saw the new western education as a system trying to Christianise its people and therefore detest it and counter it by sending more pupils to Quranic Schools and avoiding the Western Education and in most cases referring to it as Haram. The old Hausa Song of Yan Makarantan Bokoko ba karatu Ba Sallah was still echoed by non-school children as Primary School pupils are passing by even in late seventies in Northern Villages.
Now that a large majority have detested western education and are sending their pupils to Almajiranci, the Educational system was not and is still not in support of the almajiranci. Economic situations been dynamic are changing by the day and the Alaramma and Society cannot support the innocent children, through feedback mechanism the system is now feeding back negatively to the society.

Previous Efforts.
It will be unfair to our previous Governments and Leaders if I categorically states that nothing was done to curb the situation. The Northern states Government started and effort in 1962 by setting up a committee under the chairmanship of Late Waziri Junaidu to study the system in other Muslim countries and come up with recommendations on the way forward, the committee studied the Quranic schools systems in Sudan, Libya and Egypt and submitted its report with recommendations. Efforts were also made by Kano State Government after the Maitatsine riot to control movement of Alaramma and Pupils and some State also attempted such in 1980s. With the return of Democracy, the Northern Governor forum started an initiative followed by Universal Basic Education (UBEC) which developed a working document in 2010 in collaboration with Federal Ministry of Education titled National Framework for the Development and Integration of Almajiri Education into UBE Scheme, a National Committee was then set up at the end of the policy framework discussion charged with the responsibility of Implementation of the National Almajiri Education Programme. Also a blueprint was developed by the then ETF now Tetfund on how to establish a modern Tsangaya Primary School in which Almajirai will learn both Quran and western education.

Similarly, several efforts were made by Nongovernmental organisations and Foreign development partners. Worth mentioning here is the efforts of Education Sector Support Programme In Nigeria (ESSPIN) a UKAID sponsored programme. ESSPIN worked with some state Governments in trying to Integrate western education into the Quranic Schools by sending Numeracy and Literacy teachers to teach the Almajirai on Thiursdays and Fridays, usually and also run some skills acquisition programmes in turn giving the Allarammas some incentives. Although success was recorded in the programme, however it was only able to cover a small fraction of the Almajirai Schools. UNICEF also had some initiatives towards resettling the almajirai and ensuring that they are living in good conditions.

Also the Federal Government tried to implement part of the recommendations of the UBEC Quranic Integration initiative during President Jonathan days when some few Almajirai Schools were built, certainly not with true intention of solving the problem but just to attract votes from Northern part of the Country.
Way Forward.

No that it has finally reached the desk of Mr President and the Federal Government is abolishing or abolish the almajiri System, it becomes necessary for all to put hands on deck and suggest all possible ways out.
Another major problem or challenge that will be faced is moping all the almajiri population out of streets in a day will be a herculean task that will be associated with social problems, the first question that will come to mind is where are they going? And what are they going to face there? Are there enough public schools to accommodate them? Looking at the present socioeconomic realities of Northern Nigeria, some of the villages the almajirai are from don’t have public Schools and Quranic Schools. In some cases, the children dwelling in such villages are worse off than the Almajirai roaming the streets in terms of accommodation, feeding and Schooling.

Another interesting fact worth mentioning is not all the children roaming around and begging in the streets of our urban centres are Almajiriai residing in Quranic school with an Alaramma, some are children from low income settlements of the major cities in Northern Nigeria that took to street begging in Bus Garages, Major streets in traffic junctions and other places mostly begging for cash. So bringing an end to the system and begging generally requires an effort to eradicate poverty and re orient the people.

For the programme of Almajiranci to be successfully proscribed, there has to be a sort of transitional stage of relocating and settling the present population of almajiri which according to rough estimate is over twelve million. Universal Basic Education Commission (UBEC), state Universal Basic Education Boards (SUBEB), the Northern State Governors and the Social Intervention Programme of the Federal Government all have to work in synergy to bring an end to the problem. Luckily, the current executive Secretary of UBEC Dr Hamid Bobboyi is very conversant with the Almajiri initiative and has the capacity to handle the resettlement and re integration programme been privy to all almajiri policies and Northern Governors Initiative and a member of the National Implementation Committee on Almajiri reintegration.

Some possible recommendations and suggestions on how to go about it includes;
1. The Chairman of Northern State Governors Forum, His Excellency Gov Lalong should call an emergency Northern State Governors Forum to discuss the matter and continue with the Northern Governors Forum Initiatives on the Almajiri Issue. The Vice President should attend and possibly chair the meeting because some of the Social Intervention Programmes under his office will be rechanneled to the Almajirai resettlement programme.

2. UBEC Should direct all State SUBEB to work with State Bureau of Statistics to conduct a fresh Census for the Almajirai and their Schools, each with records of the Alaramma and the respective states of origin of the Almajirai under his custody.

3. The National Association of the Alarammas and their corresponding State and Local Governemnt chapters should be invited for a meeting and sensitisation to key in to the resettlement and restructuring programme. Similarly public sensitisation campaign should be embarked upon to enlighten the general public that the intention of the Government is not to Stop Quranic education in its entirety but to reform and restructure the system for the benefit of the pupils and the general society.

4. UBEC and state SUBEBs should liaise with each State Ministry of education to identify Boarding Schools that will be used for the resettlement of the almajirai from their state before subsequent resettlement in to their respective villages.

5. Federal Government Should review the UBEC Law to allow the Commission draw certain percentage of funds accruable to Northern states without corresponding counterpart funding to be used for establishment of New schools in Local Government areas that will be used for resettling the Almajirai.

6. The Social Intervention Programme of the Federal Government in the Northern States should be rechanneled towards resettling the almajirai, and training them for skills.

7. The Home Grown School feeding programme in Northern Sates should be redirected to feed the resettled amaljirai in the settlement Schools within the resettlement period pending when they will all be dispersed to their respective villages and be enrolled in to public Schools.

8. Subsequently within a period of not less than 6 months and not more than 12 months, all Almajirai concentrated in the resettlement schools should be dispersed to their respective villages and be integrated into Public Schools.

9. During the transition period, no Alaramma or Mallam should be allowed to relocate or recruit new sets of Almajirai, All Allaramma and Mallams should be domiciled within their Local Governments of Origin and should participate during the resettlement period by teaching the pupils Quranic education in the respective resettled schools.

Saturday Column