Emmanuel Bagudu, Abuja
Despite efforts by the previous administration to tame the excesses of the Almajiri system in Nigeria, the Almajiri child has not been saved yet from the exploitation of the society. In a typical northern Nigerian society, access to cheap and fast labour is gotten from the Almajirai (plural). This piece explores how the Almajiri system aides and abet child Labour especially in Northern Nigeria where it is fondly practice.
Almajiri is a system of Islamic education practised in northern Nigeria. Almajiri derives from an Arabic word, rendered “al-Muhajirun” in English transliteration, meaning a person who leaves his home in search of Islamic knowledge. This, however, is not the case in present-day as a good number of Almajiri children are seen daily on Major Streets across Nigeria begging for Alms, doing menial jobs and sleeping under bridges.
The Almajiri System was introduced in the north during the pre-colonial era by the Sokoto and Borno caliphates to spread the Quranic literacy, during those times the students stayed with their parents for moral upbringing. All schools then were in close proximity to the immediate environment of the students.
The schools were funded by the community, parents, Zakkah, Sadaqqah and sometimes through the farm output of the students. This system was later balkanized by the British colonialists who during the invasion of the northern Nigerian killed most the emirs and deposed the remnants while introducing Boko (western education), consequent of which resulted to the fall of Almajiri system.
The teachers and students had no financial support so they turned into begging and menial jobs. While the few northerners embraced boko the majority stuck to the status quo. This dichotomy created a semi-feudal system in which the ones who embraced Boko became the later day’s elites and lords while the majority who maintained the status quo became the serfs and continued to wallow in abject poverty, thus adopting begging as a way of life.
This begging way of life has now become a norm in northern Nigeria such that parents have now dedicated their children to beg also called “bara” in the Hausa language.
Idris a 7-year-old boy and 5 of his friends at the Maraba Pedestrian bridge in Neighboring Nasarawa State are beggars and they make no bones about it. This is because becoming an Almajiri is an age-long accepted tradition since before they where bone. With sweet renditions of Hausa songs, Idris and his friends enter house to house begging for alms or food which they usually get either for free or in some cases in exchange for menial jobs such as Sweeping, weeding or washing plates.
It is common to see restaurant owners going around looking for Almajiri children to help them in their chores. “Sir abeg you help me see any Almajiri boy nearby” Mrs Becky a restaurant owner in New Nyanya , Nasarawa State asked a neighbour in pidgin English; meaning “did you see an Almajiri boy close by?”. Mrs Becky wants help with chores which she will end up paying with the overnight left over of food. She is not the only woman involved in this. “….I am helping them if not where will they see food” Mrs Becky brags. This explains how vulnerable the Almajiri children are. At the moment the high birth rates in northern Nigeria is currently the cause of the increase in the number of Almajiri children in the country. They are so many in the north that commercial drivers and truck delivery vehicles employ their cheap services which will involve travelling with them. Some of the Almajiri children in the course of the journey usually abscond to neighbouring urban centres like the state capitals where the begging trade is more lucrative. At this point they become destitute. Close scrutiny of Pedestrian bridges in the Gwarimpa and Kubwa towns in Abuja says it all. Almost all the so-called Almajiri beggers on those bridges came from neighbouring Kaduna, Nasarawa or Niger states. They keep increasing in numbers. For example, A report by the National Council for the Welfare of the Destitute (NCWD) approximated the number of current Almajiri children to 7 million in Nigeria.
Nigeria’s immediate ex-president Goodluck Jonathan tried to take the children off the street by introducing the Almajiri education in 2010 but assembling the over 5 million Almajiri children back to school then was a huge task that wasn’t achieved.
This non-adherence to giving the Millions of Almajiri children formal education accounts also is the cause of the increasing poverty level in the north. For instance, according to statistics in Kano and Zamfara, three out of every four persons and over 91% of the population live in extreme poverty. In fact, studies indicate that poverty has doubled in more than 84% in northern communities since 1980.
It is worthy of note that the Almajiri System is “Child Labour” and must be attended to with sustainable steps that could end it for good.
Groups, Cleric, Federal Government of Nigeria Abhors Almajiri Child Labour.
The Almajiri child labour is obviously not sinking well with Islamic faithful worldwide. “Almajiri begging or child labour is illegal in Islam. Nigerians must know that Islam abhors begging and child labour, they should not call begging an Almajiri act,” Imam Abubakar Manzo in Nassarawa State said in utter bitterness while being interviewed by this reporter.
The Nigerian Government is now giving it a second thought “….And, therefore, it is very important to proscribe certain groups ultimately running around under the guise of maybe getting some kind of education that is not really formal and then begin to cause a lot of problems for society.” ….“The group I spoke about on illiteracy is the Almajiri….”….“Ultimately, the government will have to proscribe this Almajiri phenomenon because we cannot continue to have street urchins, children roaming around, only for them, in a couple of years, or decades, to become a problem to society.” National Security Adviser Babagana Monguno said in an event at the presidency months back. Although the Presidency came out to say it is not banning the Almajiri Education previously introduced by Ex-president Goodluck Jonathan, the Almajiri children remain a nuisance to the Nigerian Society
Two young men from the north named Muhammed Sabo Kiana from Nasarawa state and Umar Galadima from Borno State have established what they called in Hausa “Gidauniyar Kare Hakkin Almajirai” meaning; Foundation for the protection of Almajiri Rights. They said they have dedicated their time annually to fight for the protection of the Almajiri child’s right. They said they are currently mobilizing Youths to fight for children who are sent for begging errands under the guise of Almajiri. According to them, having born and brought up in the north under the tenets and tutelage of Islam, Almajiri child labour has no place in Islam. It’s an embarrassment the two young men and their contemporaries seem not ready to live with and so is to the elite world.