Almajiri System over the last few years has come under intense pressure, greeted with mixed reactions by stakeholders, especially in northern Nigeria. Many people have written many pieces on the negative consequences of the system ascribing it to be one of the underlying causes of poverty, hunger, insecurity among other social vices in northern Nigeria. For this reason, it has been a topic of debate with some people calling for repositioning the system, some agitate its total abolishment while others argue that it should remain as it is today.
There is no doubt that, the present day Almajiri system is, to a greater extent, different from what was obtainable in the pre-colonial era, hence the need for a review. Before British colonisation, the system aside the authorities’ high recognition and promotion, had enjoyed the support of other major stakeholders, such as the community, the parents and the pupils themselves. So also, the whole financial burden of the system was being taken by the authorities with public fund. These indicate that the almajiri system in those day was somewhat formal and therefore, more organised.
However, the magnitude of the attack the system has now come under has given it a distorted image, and has developed a stereotype in some people, so much that on the mention of the word “Almajiri”, the first connotation that comes to mind is negativity — illiteracy, poverty, hungers, dishonesty, insecurity and all sorts of social vices.
The word “Almajiri” is a derivative of an Arabic word, “Al muhajirun”, which could be traced right from the migration of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) from Makka to Madina. Those who migrated with the prophet to Madina were called ‘Al-Muhajirrun’, meaning migrants. In Nigeria, the word “Almajiri” refers to those, usually teenagers, who are sent by their parents from respective villages and settlements to urban centers in the quest for Qur’an knowledge.
2014 UNICEF report estimated the number of Almajiri conservatively to be 9.5 million in Nigeria, predominantly living in the northern part. If all of them were nuisance, as widely believe by some people, the situation of our region would be worse than we could imagine.
There is no doubt that there are bad eggs among them and this applies to every category of people. As much as there are bad eggs, there are equally good ones among the almajiris who have passed through the system and become successful in different facets of life.
Adamu Garba, a former Nigeria’s presidential aspirant, in an interview with the Punch Newspaper says, the Almajiri system in northern Nigeria produced some of the richest men in the country including Africa’s pride, Aliko Dangote; as well as the founder of BUA Group, Abdul Samad Rabiu; amongst others. Garba said himself was once an Almajiri before he acquired Western education.
“Meanwhile, the same Almajiranci setting was a very strong grooming ground for so many big people from the north including most of the most notable families from the north, all of them came from Almajiri because Almajiranci itself has nothing to do with raw study of Islam; it has everything to do with studying businesses, marketing, relationship, and lifestyle.
“If you look at Dangote, our richest man today, his family are Almajirai. In fact, currently, the Dantata family is one of those supporting the largest Almajiri group in Nigeria. The group has up to 10,000 Almajiris and the Dantata family still supports them.
“Isiaka Rabiu, his father was a notable Almajiri. His family was a traditional Almajiri. In fact, his father was a Sheikh of Almajiranci. Until he died, he supported Almajiranci and up till now, they (the family) are still supporting Almajiranci. So, they (the Almajiri settings) have been able to build children that have become global icons. It means there is value in the Almajiranci”, he said.
When asked whether the Almajiri system promotes terrorism, Garba said Boko Haram has no connection with the Almajiri system because of the dichotomy between Islamic denominations in northern Nigeria. “So, it is very unlikely that you have an Almajiri man becoming a Boko Haram,” he told The Punch.
Garba also mentioned that many business giants are products of Almajiri system.
“Again, if you go to Kano market, most of the rich people in the market are Almajiri, they came through Almajiri, they were able to get necessary training in the Almajiri institutions and they were able to get to where they are.”
Similarly, there are a number of renown Islamic scholars who were once Almajiris. A typical example is Sheik Muhammad Bin-Uthman.
Testimonies from people
Some people interviewed narrated how their encounter with some Almajiri lefts them with memorable impression.
Abdullahi Muhammad, a resident of Kobi, an Almajiri-dominated area in Bauchi narrated how his valuable lost items were once returned by an Almajiri.
“I once forgot my valuable properties around my house. I gave up finding them, but to my surprise an Almajiri found and returned them to a nearby mosque. It was announced after a couple of days. I claimed ownership and recovered my items intact. I was surprised how honest the boy was.”
Aisha Abubakar, a house wife in Kobi area in Bauchi, in an interview revealed that she had two little Almajis coming to help her with house work.
“Two little Almajis come on a daily basis to help me with some house work — they fetch me water, wash clothes, and sometimes I send them on errand. I give them food and sew them clothing when they are going home during holidays. For the past two years they have been coming, they are honest”, she said.
For Maryam Abdullahi, another house wife in Gwallaga area, Bauchi, said she retained an Almajiri who apart from helping her with house work, teach her little children Arabic alphabets.
“I have an Almajiri that comes on Thursdays and Fridays to give Qur’an lesson to my children. I’m happy now that my children are good in Arabic alphabets and Qur’an recitation, courtesy of the lesson they receive from this boy ( the Almajiri). I cannot thank him enough.”
When asked how honest and disciplined she finds the Almajiri, she said, ” I send him uncountable times with money to buy food stuff and other items, and I always find him unblemished.”
Murtala Aminu (Ɗankasuwa), a trader in an Almajiri dominated area when asked how he finds the Almajiris around him, he asserted that their stay in the area is a blessing.
“They recite the Qur’an every blessed day and night. This gives us tranquility and peace of mind. In addition, we cite them as example for our children to emulate their hard work in terms of searching for knowledge. Many of them memorised the Qur’an by heart. What could be more delightful?”.
We take good care of Almajiris under our watch — Almajiri teachers
Some Almajiri teachers when interviewed revealed to us how they strictly manage the Almajiris under their tutelage in order to be well brought up and face the realities of life early.
Mallam Muhammad Shafi’u Inuwa who is an Almajiri teacher in Sabon Gida Tsangaya school said, “under our school we have about a hundred Almajiris. We raise them up early in the morning to take classes between 5:00am and 10:00pm. In the afternoon we allow them out to do some works to earn a living. At night between 8:00pm and 10:00pm is also time for classes. We ensure that all the Almajiris are back to their apartments when it is time for sleeping.”
On his part, Mallam Khamisu Ali (Gwani), another Almajiri teacher said, “we try in this Tsangaya (Almajiri school) to imbue in them (the Almajiris) the spirit of hard work. We encourage them to be self-reliant, because to work and earn a living is better than to beg, that is why we allow them on school-free days (Thursdays and Fridays) to acquire skills.”
When asked whether the parents of the Almajiris come to check on their wards, Mallam Gwani said, “we are in contact with their parents. We face some challenges with regards to this, but plans are underway to make it necessary for every parent to come in person and check on their wards at certain intervals of time.”
Regarding the efficiency of the learning, Mallam Gwani stated that they have produced and are producing brilliant reciters, some of whom memorised the Qur’an by heart at teen age.
Some Almajiris do not beg neither chant for food
In their efforts to face the realities of life and actualise self-reliance, some Almajiris interviewed claimed to have never begged nor go to houses chanting for food
A teen Almajiri, Zaharadden Manu in this interview explained how he sustains his life by harnessing and utilising the skill he learned back home before he was taken to Almajiranci.
“Everyday after school hours, I go round nearby communities to do shoe shining and it earns me a living. On Thursdays and Fridays I fetch water to house wives in exchange for food or money”, he said.
Musa Aliyu is an ambitious Almajiri who reconciles Qur’an learning and hand work. When asked where he sees himself in the decade, he said, ” I see myself in the future as an educated person and a business owner with employees under me. I pursue this dream to the best of my ability.”
It was observed that on school-free days, markets and commercial centres get populated with Almajiris who do different works to earn some money to live on.
Give Almajiris atmosphere to harness their full potentials — Educationist
Comrade Abdullahi Yalwa, an Educationist who is a lecturer with the Department of Crimes Management and Control, Abubakar Tatari Ali Polytechnic, Bauchi, in an interview on the debate of weather the system should be abolished or repositioned, opined that, ” i think that abrogating the system may not be realistic or so easily achieved. What should be done is to review and revise in order to align with realities. There is correlation between nature and nurture, and the two must synchronise in order to give effective and responsible person. If one is bound to succeed, if given a better condition he would be double or triple or would be in the book of record for the exceptional display of talent.”
Comrade Yalwa further said, ” to maximise the benefits and reduce or eliminate the negative effects of the system, parents need to be responsible by sponsoring their children when going in search of the knowledge — give them enough resources to manage themselves, visit them periodically, give them what they need in terms of their basic need and also appreciate the person taking care of them in order not for him to use them as slaves.”
On what the government and relevant authorities should do to polish the system, Comrade Yalwa recommended, “the Almajiri teachers ought to be registered by the government and maximum number of students should be allotted to each, and they should have the basis necessities, especially accommodation facilities, where people have responsible and decent life.”
Maijama’a is a student at the Faculty of Communication, Bayero University, Kano and wrote via firstname.lastname@example.org