After ex-Prsident Jonathan’s intervention, how has the Almajiri education fared?

Despite President Goodluck Jonathan’s intervention, it appears the Almajiri education concept is still an issue; KEHINDE OSASONA writes.

Tackling the menace

The word Almajiri is derived from the Arabic “Almuhajirun,” meaning an emigrant. It usually refers to a person who migrates from the luxury of his home to other places or to a popular teacher in the quest for Islamic knowledge.

It is hinged on the Islamic concept of migration which is widely practised, especially when acquisition of knowledge at home is either inconvenient or insufficient.

According to a UNICEF study in 2014, Nigeria has 9.5 million Almajiri children, accounting for 72 per cent of the country’s out-of-school children.

Also, estimates in 2019 revealed that Nigeria has between 13.2 million and 15 million out-of-school children, the majority of whom are in Northern Nigeria. Another UNICEF survey on out-of-school children in 2013 showed that 10.5 million children, who started either primary or junior secondary schools, were no longer in school, adding that the situation has created an additional challenge to the non-formal education sub-sector.

As a way of curbing the menace of Almajiri in the North, therefore, successive administrations in the country had at different times conceptualised various initiatives capable of taking the Almajiri children off the streets to learn both Qur’anic and Western education.

During former President Goodluck Jonathan’s administration, he reportedly spent billions of the Naira to build ‘Tsangaya;’ a model school across northern states.

Findings by this reporter revealed that over a hundred of such schools were delivered by the Universal Basic Education Commission

(UBEC), who oversees the construction, then equipped and handed over the model schools to states.

While it lasted, Gombe state had five allocation of such schools, Katsina 10, Kano 12, and Niger state with 10 units. However, about nine years after Jonathan’s exit, the purpose of the idea conceived appeared to have been defeated.

Looking back at the idea behind the creation of the Almajiri system, concerned Nigerians, non-governmental organisations and other stakeholders had at one time or another lamented the fact that policies in the country hardly enjoy perpetual existence.

Jonathan’s efforts

While explaining the motive for embarking on the Almajiri schools programme in the North, former President Jonathan stated that he was in office to infuse western education curriculum into Islamic education to make the pupils employable and to check incessant crisis and insecurity.

Jonathan, who spoke at Bayelsa State Education Summit two years ago, added that his vision and philosophy of development was the development of a people must be based on education as “there cannot be a functional society without a functional education system,” noting that education “remains the key to change the country.”

He had said, “When I was the Vice President I was discussing with one of my Technical Assistant from Anambra State about the crisis in the North and said we must frame how we will tackle it. Some group of young boys appears not to have a future and we cannot allow the system to remain like that so that we don’t have a crisis tomorrow.

“We went around the North, discussed with the clerics who teach the boys under trees and makeshift buildings, we also discussed with the emirs and so on. We identified a group of boys and they are Muslims, and most Muslims when you understand the Koran are like you are more than a professor of law and through the Almajiri programme, they understand the Koran and you cannot underrate them.

“Some of them can even memorize the Koran as voluminous as the Koran is, and for someone to memorize the Koran and you say that person is not educated, you are not telling the truth.

“They (Almajiris) felt that they were educated but the society still rejected them that even their local government council cannot employ them even as messengers because they don’t have any element of Western education attached to the Kur’anic education.

“That is why the federal government said we must assist the states, that these young people must be encouraged to study Islamic education, but in addition to the Islamic education we are not going to remove anything from it, they should also take some parts of Western education so that when they finished at that level they can go on to study other things like Engineering, Medicine, etc, because you cannot convince an educated person to do certain things and without education, you cannot manage the security of this country. That was what motivated us to go into Almajiri education.”

This reporter also recalls that northern governors under auspices of the Northern Governors’ Forum mooted the idea of banning the practice of Almajiri in the North.

FG’s move

It was a sigh of relief for many of the stakeholders recently when the President Bola Tinubu administration revealed that no fewer than 2 million Almajiri children had been lifted from the streets and enrolled in schools, and Arabic literacy programmes to acquire basic education, and vocational training.

The Minister of Education, Prof. Tahir Mamman, who disclosed this at the maiden quarterly Citizens and Stakeholders Engagement on Nigerian Education Sector Ministerial deliverables, further noted that the reduction of out-of-school children in the country was one of the major foci of the current administration, assuring that before the end of the year, many more children out of school would be brought back to acquire learning and skills.

“2,000,000 out-of-school children, Almajiri were enrolled in basic education and an Arabic literacy programme with vocational training.

“These have increased access, enrollment and retention completion of basic, secondary and tertiary school levels,” he said.

Other interventions

Speaking exclusively to Blueprint Weekend on efforts by NGOs to complement successive government, especially in the area of child protection and social inclusion for the Almajiri children’s plight, a child rights advocate, Khadijat Shuaib, said there was the need for social inclusion.

Shuaib, who works for Almajiri Child Rights Initiative, said the NGOs with coordinators in 17 northern states, was set out to discourage begging for alms by these army of kids and in its stead had for the past eight years collaborated and was “now in conjunction with major stakeholders and the government craving a reform system in order to create sustainable solutions and get the children back to school.”

“Our objectives are to advocate for social inclusion for the Almajiri children. As we speak, we are trying to see how we can have a reform system and in the past eight years, our advocacy today has raised concerns both in Nigeria and globally.

“If you can remember, the former President before he left commissioned the bill for the National Commission for out of school children and the Almajiri children. It was part of our efforts and advocacy that led to it.

“We are also coming up with a lot of sustainable solutions and have made a lot of impact; vis-a-viz being a community gatekeeper, working with the religious leaders, traditional leaders and the family.

“You recall when the northern governors started sending the Almajiris to their various states, we initiated what is called ‘Class Initiative’ where these children don’t have to migrate from one state to another, but stay where they are to learn,

“In the past, in Kanfani Zango in Kaduna state in 2021, we did a project in Kaduna where children that had left their villages for about six years had to be re-integrated and reunited with their family.

“As part of our child protection strategy to prevent abuse and other incidents, we got funding from an international organisation and built one block of three class rooms for children in the community to prevent them from being hit by vehicles while seeking education across the road in another community.

“We handed over the school to the government in 2021 and now over one thousand kids are now learning both quranic and formal education such that a lot of people have started bringing back their children to school there.

“Also in Katsina, we met a group of Mallams, adopted one of the schools and stressed the need for them to allow the kids to imbibe both systems of education in life.

“Finally as civil society organisations, we can’t stop any Nigerian from say from point A to point B, however, we will continue to advocate, draw the government’s attention to issues like this without necessarily raising an alarm before they act.”