Tue. Jul 23rd, 2024

They Pursue Qur’anic Knowledge, But Are Left To Beg For Alms And Food

Almajiri kids receiving food from a man (Image: TVC)

By Bilkisu Ahmed

One fateful Thursday evening, after disposing of a bag of trash in the public facility, Adamu Abdullahi, 13, sat on a toilet suck-away to eat a bowl of jollof rice given to him by residents of the house he finished working for. He reflected on his life and thought to himself “I wish I could see my family once more.”

Stunted in height and dark in complexion, Abdullahi was wearing an oversized long green tunic with black trousers torn at the knee, hoping for a better future.

He was sent to Gombe city, the headquarters of Gombe state in the northeastern part of the country from Jigawa state by his mother in 2020, to acquire qur’anic education under the Almajiri system of education.

This system of education, usually found in northern Nigeria, is one that allows a learned Islamic teacher (mallam) to build a local shed for the memorization of the Quran, as well as learning the morals of the religion.

The pupils are usually between the ages of five and 17; they live within the school vicinity. In most of these schools, the pupils take hours reciting the Islamic holy book for hours in a choral form, with a teacher holding a cane, guiding them through the process.

Abdullahi came to Gombe empty-handed without provision for his daily meal. He was enrolled alongside over 100 other children under a teacher, who on the other hand was not equipped to provide food for the pupils learning under his care.

“I came all the way from Jigawa State to seek Quranic education when I was eleven years old.” Abdullahi said, “Because of my love for acquiring Islamic education and since then I haven’t visited home.”

The house where the pupils live, and study is an uncompleted building which was abandoned by the owner. The teacher erected wood in strategic positions to serve as pillars and lay zinc sheets over them to cover the top.

Unlike other kids and individuals in the society who receive parental care and are catered for at home, Abdullahi and other children sent to qur’anic schools do not enjoy the same – they are also not provided skills that could help them generate funds or earn a living – this has been the practice, at least, in northern Nigeria.

Except for learning to read in the Arabic language, most of them lack the Western education needed to help them read, write in any other language, or hold formal conversations and bargain for better deals. This has led many of them, including Abdullahi, to reject the place of Western education in their lives.

On the contrary, unlike Abdullahi, another Almajiri pupil, Suleiman Iliya, 11, said he would love to acquire both Western and Qur’anic education if given the chance. He also came to Gombe to acquire Quranic knowledge from a nearby village in the state.

Iliya said his dream of Western education was quashed by his father who preferred his child to acquire only the Qur’anic education.

“I will appreciate it if I get an opportunity to acquire Western education alongside the Qur’anic school,” he said. “I believe both will make me a better and more successful person in life because I have seen people who did both and are successful today,” he added.

In search of food

The absence of concrete arrangements for food in many qur’anic schools in northern Nigeria has led many of the teachers to develop means of survival, ranging from sending the children to beg for food on the streets, to working on farmlands to grow food crops.

The children on the other hand must be resilient and smart to survive. For them, sometimes the field is synonymous with ‘survival of the fittest.’

When these children are sent to the streets to beg for food, many of them go for days before returning to school. They too, must come up with a survival strategy.

Abdullahi, who wished that food would be provided to them at the school instead of going to the street to beg for some, struck a deal with a family who agreed to regularly provide him with food and some money each time he came to clear their trash bags – something he does three times a week.

Almajiri boy picking refuse items and emptying them into a trash bucket

The arrangement assisted Abdullahi to save some money to buy clothes and shoes. Prior to that, he was always unkempt, especially since he had no money to buy soap for bathing and washing clothes.

With the money he saved, he was also able to start selling perfumes and repairing shoes.  Despite acquiring these skills, he remained a pupil at the Qur’anic school, still begging for food and carrying out his petty business.

Size of the Problem

Abdullahi and his fellow pupils constitute part of the over 18.5 million out-of-school children in Nigeria.

“Most importantly you will need to know that the majority of these out-of-school children are actually from northern Nigeria,” says Rahama R. Mohammed Farah, Chief of Field Office, UNICEF Field Office Kano, at Media Dialogue on Girls’ Education in May 2022 in Kano. “While the education crisis in Nigeria is affecting children across the country, some children are more likely to be affected than others,” he added.

A study of 225 qur’anic teachers in four Nigerian states, Jigawa, Katsina, Sokoto and Zamfara revealed two stunning results;

– All the 225 (100%) teachers interviewed said they do allow their pupils to go begging so that they can get food to eat. Meaning no food is provided in the school.

– 90.8% of parents do not visit their children sent to such schools. Meaning the children lack the parental bond enjoyed by children who grow with their parents.

The study, conducted by Jelani Sidi, Rilwan Nakazalle Usman, and Sadiq Abubakar was published in the International Journal of Novel Research in Humanity and Social Sciences Vol. 9, Issue 1, pp: (1-12), Month: January – February 2022.

A modified alternative system to the Almajiri

Noting the challenges associated with the Almajiri system where parents send their children to faraway communities in search of religious education without a supportive structure, the Nigerian government came up with an improved system known as the Tsangaya system of education.

The Tsangaya system incorporates the Western system of education into the Qur’anic school curriculum with the aim of making the pupils employable in the future.

To demonstrate how it works, the administration of former President Goodluck Jonathan spent over N15 billion to build Tsangaya Schools across northern Nigeria.

“We went around the North, discussed with the clerics who teach these boys under trees and makeshift buildings. We also discussed with the emirs,” Jonathan said while speaking at the 2022 Bayelsa State Education Summit in Yenagoa.

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

“That was why my administration insisted that we must assist the northern states. The idea was to incorporate Western education into their Islamic learning so that they can have a balanced education.

Almajiri boys at their residence in Dutse, Jigawa state (Image: Bilkisu)

Many states where these schools were sited abandoned the project as soon as the administration of Jonathan left office, except for a few like Kano state, which expanded on the initiative and built 11 additional ones, naming them Tsangaya Model Primary Schools. It was a pilot project meant to take off in October 2019.

Some of the subjects introduced include Mathematics, English, Computer Studies and Integrated Science, among others.

Aside from making the schools boarding, the state government also introduced free feeding, uniforms, and instructional materials.

In an interview granted to the Nigerian Guardian newspapers in October 2019, the Executive Chairman of the Kano State Quranic and Islamiyya Schools Management Board, Goni Dangarga, said the effort was to cater for a good number of the Almajiri children in the state.

“We are aware of the large population of almajiri in Kano and the capacity of the intervention, but we believe the menace of street begging and the number out-of-school children will reduce,” he said.

Noting the collapse of the Tsangaya system, the Chairman, Association of Non-Governmental Organisations in Gombe state, Mr. Ibrahim Yusuf, advocated the return to implementation of the Tsangaya system of Islamic education by state governments.

“Whatever programmes the government is planning they should capture the Almajiri children because they also are citizens,” he said. “There is a need for the implementation of the Tsangaya system of Islamic education which accommodates both Islamic and Western education,” he added.

He lamented that some Qur’anic teachers were rejecting government policies including the Tsangaya system.

Yusuf noted that there are contemporary Qur’anic teachers who are currently the tsangaya managers, who have acquired Western education and are working hard to help upcoming ones to equally acquire the same education.

Yusuf encouraged parents to create time to listen to programs that would enlighten their daily lives.

“I would like to encourage parents to learn to listen to radio programs that will create more awareness for them. I will also call on the government to create vocational training for the children that could help them learn skills that will enable them to make money,” Yusuf added.

Headteacher laments lack of support

“I support the children to acquire Western education,” said Malam Idris Abdullahi, a man who spent over 15 years as an Islamic teacher in one of the qur’anic schools in Gombe.

Mal. Abdullahi said acquiring both formal and Islamic education is necessary as both will help the children fit into the present society.

He added that lack of financial and material support from government and philanthropists has been the major challenge faced by the qur’anic schools.

Running the school without “any financial support towards the growth and development of the school and children” is a big task, he said. “I will appreciate the government or any capable hand to support the school in terms of food and finances,” he added.

Human Right reacts

Speaking on parental care and the condition in which children find themselves while growing up, The Public Relations Officer Human Rights Commission Gombe state, Mr Ali Alola Alfinti, pleaded with parents to be considerate about their welfare when sending them off anywhere including learning centres, saying children are citizens too and are protected by law.

“The commission is mandated to enforce, promote, and protect the rights of all Nigerians and these Almajiris are not an exception because they are also human,” Alfinti said.

He called on the teachers who have become the guardians of the children to take good care of the children and avoid subjecting them to dehumanizing situations.

He lamented that most Almajiri children depend solemnly on what they get on the street since their parents do not support Western education.

He said the Human Rights Commission has assisted in many ways including sensitization and meeting the needs of the children.

Human Rights officials complained about some corporal punishment given to the children that are severe which results in some of the children getting injured.

Alfinti also suggested that there should be involvement of stakeholders to reach out to the parents of the children regarding the age limit of sending a child to ‘almajiranci’, adding that “multi circular approach such as the security, education, social welfare, media, health should be involved so as to create awareness programmes that will enlighten parents on the dangers of abandoning their children all in the name of religious education.

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