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COVID-19 And The Ban On Almajiri System

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By Fola Obaro

The decision by Governors in the

​​North to ban the age long

​​Almajiri system of Education is most welcome and long overdue. This decision, however, was borne out of fear that the poor children who are trapped in a cycle of neglect could well be social incubators of the pandemic Corona Virus.

The Almajiri System of Education, was established in line with the teachings of a great Islamic Scholar named Imam Shafi’l, who believed that excellence is not found in just one place nor is it in the sole custody of any one people on earth, so one had to travel far and wide to acquire knowledge, earn a livelihood, get relief from sorrow, learn good manners, make lifelong friendships and God willing, get fame.  

The great Kanem-Borno Empire institutionalised the system in the pre-colonial era by ensuring that it was organised to teach Islamic Principles, Jurisprudence, Theology and values. They created Centres that were akin to what now obtains in Islamic Centres in countries like Malaysia, Indonesia etc. The State funded the Centresfrom State Treasury and Zakka funds under the watchful eyes of the Emirs. In return the students helped with chores to reciprocate the kind gesture of their hosts and benefactors. Some students actually went on to learn other vocations and skills and so contributed their own quota to the financial growth and development of the host communities. It was so sophisticated that it produced Judges, Clerks and other Islamic administrative technocrats who ultimately formed the bedrock of the administrative system in Northern Nigeria.

The word Almajiri itself in the present day, does not do justice to these kids. Almajiri is derived from the word “Almuhajirun” which means an emigrant, a sojourner. How can a child, the age of some of these children, be termed educational “emigrants” in their own country, when the decision to become itinerant was taken by an adult on his or her behalf, not minding that parameters have changed?

Gradually the Almajiri system has been relegated and come to be regarded as obsolete due to Colonial influence and the emergence of Colonial Schools that offer western education with opportunities to work and be globally accepted as educated. Over time, the laudable heritage has become not only blight but the cause of some of Nigeria’s economic retrogression as the original system has collapsed, leaving no structure or paradigm. According to the National Council for the Welfare of the Destitute (NCWD), there are about 7million of these ill-fated children growing up with a misconception of what society is and what it has to offer. Their existence falls below ground zero of what is considered acceptable when talking about standard of living.

Lamentably, for so long, the only focus and preoccupation of many Nigerian Politicians is how to win an election. Beyond that, most Politicians become more or less intellectually limp when they achieve their objective and are in a position to formulate or actualize policies.

Several administrations in the North have watched generations of these children grow in a world of their own, as if they were a nation within a nation. Their existence is not in the radar of any Government at any level as planning never seems to include them or take them into consideration. They are the people that were left behind. For so long voices in their defense fell practically on deaf ears.

However Providence has a way of defending the defenseless. Along came COVID-19 and all of a sudden these street children’s issue is now on front burner. Previously, only lip service was paid to anything concerning them. Now they have become important. To everyone’s astonishment, State Governments are even able to identify where each child came from and “deport” them to their home States.

This is what fear can do. The fear of Corona Virus is now making the Governors do what they should have done long ago for these children.  It is hoped that on reaching their home States, they will be properly reintegrated and rehabilitated. It is not too much to ask that they get enrolled in schools so they can fit into what is now accepted as the literate world apace with the Quranic Education they went in search of. Enrolling them in Skills and Vocational Centres will also assist them to be able to fend for themselves and provide leverage for them to contribute in boosting the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of their States.

The Quranic Teachers who erstwhile had sheltered the children should be considered for absorption into the formal Educational System if they are tested and found qualified to teach Islamic Studies. Literacy is not expressed in English alone.

That way, we would have succeeded in properly compensating these hapless children by giving them a hope for a better tomorrow.

Fola Obaro, writes from Ife.

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