The man in a village at the outskirts of Tsafe in Zamfara State is just one in thousands, may be millions, of parents in Northern Nigeria, but he provides a perfect example. He produces so much more children than he can cater for. Once his male child is around age four to five, he buys a plastic bowl for him and takes him to the bus station in Tsafe and gives the driver N500 and says ‘a daura min shi a injin’ (let him sit at the bus engine — behind the driver’s seat) ‘and please take him to Malam … in Zaria or Kaduna or Katsina’. He never sends them to Gusau, because it is close by. At that bus station, he has bade farewell to the child and freed himself from the “burden” of feeding, clothing, providing shelter, educating and training that child — his own child whom he gave birth to!
On arrival at the city or village, usually hundreds of kilometers away from his family, the almajiri child is received by a Malam who is expected to teach him to memorize the Qur’an by rote, without its translation, interpretation of its meaning, the prophetic traditions, Islamic history, morality, or value system. Interestingly, the child is taught nothing about how to worship or how to relate with other members of the society. Worse, the little child has to grow up without any form of parental or adult care or supervision. Nobody will cater for his feeding, clothing, shelter, healthcare, education or training. A malam can have up to 200 almajiris at a time, and he does not give one tiny damn about how they manage to feed, bath or ease themselves. In other words, these little children are expected to survive a parental exile.
In the end they learn nothing, while they have already been deprived of western education. These are children who live at the mercy of the society, are groomed by the harshness of the weather, and obtain their values from the streets. They eventually grow into social misfits that harbour anger and grudge against the society. This is why they are willing recruits in any insurgency or organised crime that will bring down the society.
Parents who sentence their children to almajiri practice don’t deserve to have them in the first place. They are already creating tomorrow’s insurgency while we watch them as if it is none of our business. Once parental care is omitted in child upbringing, and the irresponsible culture is practised on such a large scale – breeding over ten million almajiris at a time, then we have at hand a perfect recipe for disaster. I realized that the over ten million almajiris in northern Nigeria are equivalent to the population of seven African countries put together; like Gambia, Gabon, Namibia, Swaziland, Botswana, Cape Verde and Djibouti. What a monumental waste of human resource!
The almajiri system of education has long been overtaken by civilization; but we live in denial of this fact. The system is just too good to let go, because it provides a convenient excuse for even the poor to produce children in double digits without having to worry about the financial burden of feeding or educating them. It’s a system that allows you to relinquish your responsibilities to the society — and encourages you to use religion as a cover for your laziness and irresponsibility.
Obviously, the Hausa/Fulani practice of almajiri education has outlived its purpose. Gone are the days when there were only a handful of Islamic scholars who were only found in major cities. Today, Islamic knowledge is everywhere, and Islamic scholars are found in good number in every village and town, and the whole Islamic world has dropped the almajiri system of education except in Hausa/Fulani societies in Niger Republic, parts of Chad, rural Senegal and Mali and then all parts of northern Nigeria. The system was practised decently in the past, but irresponsibly at present. It is no longer part of Islamic education. It is now an irresponsible practice in Hausa culture.
Gross child abuse, child destitution and child trafficking is happening on a massive scale right in our neighborhoods with zero effort by any legal or trasitional authority to stop it. This is an indictment on all of us — our people, our Imams, our Emirs, our governors and all. We move around with a big scar on our common psyche, though not without consequences, both immediate and remote.
Insurgencies have happened more than once in Borno which has received the largest number of almajiris in northern Nigeria’s history. When Islam came first to present day Borno, and to a few Hausa city-states, the Kanem Empire received almajiris from Hausa land to acquire Islamic education. When the trend was sustained for over a century, the Kanem caliphate started dispatching Islamic scholars to Hausaland to spread Islam and teach the religion to the Hausa tribes. This (and trade) is what accounts for the large Kanuri population in present day Kano, Zaria, Jigawa, Katsina and other northern cities and towns. Despite sending scholars to Hausa kingdoms, tsangaya schools in Maiduguri, Bama, Potiskum, and other parts of the Kanem Empire still received almajiris in thousands.
Today, the insurgency that is at war with Nigeria has fighters that were not shown parental love while growing up, thus have no love to reciprocate. They were deprived children who grew up without hope for the future or a purpose in life. So Boko Haram gave them money, guns, and a purpose to die for. They are victims of a system we condoned, so we must learn to see them as our own shadow chasing us.
No single politician in the whole of northern Nigeria cares about this menace, this time bomb. Thanks to Goodluck Jonathan who was the only leader in recent time that attempted to sanitize almajiri practice and even partnered with the Islamic Development Bank to build 35 modern almajiri schools across northern Nigeria, all of which have now been abandoned by the current northern state governments. Though, modernizing almajiri practice is only a cosmetic solution. it is more therapeutic than curative.
The only solution is to regulate the irresponsible mass production of children. This can be done through the promulgation of a strictly enforced legislation by the national and northern state assemblies to criminalise the almajiri practice – in the light of the danger it promises all of us if allowed to linger. This legislation should entail the deportation of all almajris back to their villages to live under the care of their parents. If parents realize they have to cater for their children, they would be forced to procreate responsibly.
The second option is for us to sit back and watch the horror movie.