Once highly-valued, almajiri, an Islamic-based schooling system is now being denounced and portrayed by some as a breeding ground for societal misfits and perpetuation of poverty, and illiteracy in Northern Nigeria. Some citizens and politicians, often in the mainstream, suggest that almajiri schools are ideological conduits for insurgencies that facilitate the recruitment of insurgents and create a constituency for ethno-religiously motivated riots and violence. Our conversation interrogated and challenged these and other commonly held assumptions and stereotypes about the almajiri schooling system.
Our panel included Hon. Aisha Jibril Dukku and Hon. Dr. Balarabe Shehu Kakale who are members of Nigeria’s House of Representatives and Professor Hadiza Kere AbdulRahman of Bishop Grosseteste University and Professor Hannah Hoechner of the University of East Anglia.
From the start of the program, our panelists explored and demystified the popular characterization of almajiri and almajiranci as a societal scourge. They advanced compelling empirical evidence indicating that the almajiri schooling system offers classical Islamic education that nurtures their students to become functional members of the society. The mainstream narrative that the almajirai grow up to become easy recruits for insurgents and mercenaries for ethno-religiously motivated violence was also dismissed. Instead, the panelists unanimously contended that the almajirai mostly grow up to become job creators through their ventures in farming, tailoring, and trading.
Another highpoint of the conversation is that not all the pupils in almajiri schools in Northern Nigeria are involved in begging. Examples were provided from Bauchi, Niger, and Sokoto States of almajiri schools whose students do not engage in begging or roam about the streets searching for sustenance. Nonetheless, all the discussants agreed that the majority of the almajirai takes to the streets to look for food and sustenance, an act which the educated elites in Nigeria call begging and unacceptable. The broader policy conclusion is that more attention is needed to ensuring food security for young people and combat inequality.
The panelists concurred that the schooling system needs to be retooled and repositioned, but differed with the decision of Northern Nigerian governors to ban almajiri and almajiranci. In place of banning, the panelists appealed to the governors of the northern states in Nigeria to mobilize resources guaranteed under the State Universal Basic Education Board (SUBEB) fund to tend to some of the needs of the kids in almajiri schools. The following provision was cited from the UBE Acts, which allows the use of the fund to support the welfare, instructional, and schooling needs of the people in almajiri schools. “‘Universal Basic Education’ means early childhood care and education, the nine years of formal schooling, adult literacy and non-formal education, skills acquisition programmes, and the education of special groups such as nomads and migrants, girl-child and women, almajiri, street children and disabled groups” (Section 15). Dukku and Kakale particularly wondered why the funds were neither being accessed to support the almajiri schools. One of the major concerns with accessing funds is the more formal recognition schools. But, since there is a lack of trust between the malams within the almajiranci system and the government due to their hostility, it is difficult to envision a scenario where formal recognition comes about. It will be necessary to have significant trust building measures in place.
The panelists also objected to the decision to integrate the almajirai into the mainstream public education system in Northern Nigeria. It was noted that the public education system is highly dysfunctional and already overstrained beyond its capacity. For the panelists, a pragmatic alternative is to collegially discuss with almajiri schools, the almajirai, their parents and the communities within which the schools are embedded, on how awqaf and centralized zakat collection can be legislated to generate money to fund the schools. Broad-based community support is an important part of the way forward. Finally, the panelists contended that addressing the problem of poverty as well as systemic corruption in Northern Nigeria will go a long way to help overcome some of the constraining factors affecting almajiri schools.
Watch the complete conversation: