Many experts have in the past written about the ills of our society, especially the Almajiri Problem – some with honest and conceivable solutions, while some with nothing but a string of words – to the extent that it may seem like a cliché to go on the topic again. At the risk of offering a redundant opinion, let me venture in and say something from my own perspective.
The Almajiri System of education in itself is not the problem; it is just like any other system subject to abuse when there are no checks and balance; the absence of which has therefore led to the abuse of Almajiranci by individuals and society at large.
At the moment, we have to accept the bitter truth, the stark reality – that the Almajiri system has been literally bastardized. The system may have served its purpose(s) in the past, but it is incompatible with our present realities and future aspirations. Getting this right is part of the needed wisdom in the appreciation of what I seek to infer here.
In apportioning blame, there are two fundamental parties contributing to the present crisis: irresponsible parents (in this case fathers), and an incompetent and nonchalant government. Understanding that these are the culprits, and they themselves also understanding and accepting they are most blameworthy, stand as the beginning of the end of the Almajiri menace.
Now that the parties involved have been identified, how do we go about it? How can we find an effective and lasting solution? How can we ‘tame’ the estimated ten million plus children wildly roaming the streets and make them positively effective for themselves and for society? These questions are the most pertinent to consider if indeed we are ready to do away with the menace.
I am proposing a different approach, far from the usual angry outbursts and unintelligent criticisms of the system where condemnation is the only solution. That way only feeds on our emotional (ir)rationality and leads us into a pit physically deep but intellectually shallow that we may have to re-sit and deal with other associated problems.
We have to understand that the Almajiri System has come a long way. A millennium-old tradition cannot be dismissed with the wave of the hand or an emotional outburst akin to the ones we come across these days. We have to be more pragmatic and realistic. But how do we do that exactly? Doing so entails understanding the psychology and motivations of the parties involved. We have to think at their level and relate with their worldview and perception.
We often presume our view of life to be the universal – the ultimate quest everyone is after. No! That’s a very wrong assumption. We have different lenses through which we look at the world. To an average father that sends his child to Almajiranci, he is of the belief he is observing a religious duty (whatever that means). The task then is to convince him that observing a religious duty is not mutually exclusive from a temporal quest.
Unfortunately, most of the people involved in addressing the Almajiri System (both government and private) come with a mindset that looks only into the material benefits of abolishing the system, at the expense of the spiritual.
Identifying the stakeholders of the Almajiri System is the first point of call for finding a lasting and enduring solution. Who are the stakeholders in addressing the Almajiri System? These are: parents, mainstream Ulama, traditional rulers and the teachers. And here, allow me to wonder aloud, in what capacity would a non-Muslim anyone, non-Northern anyone, foreign anyone, expert or concerned anyone, serve in addressing a system that’s predominantly identified with Hausa, Fulani and Kanuri?
By organising conferences and presenting scholarly papers, right? Well, I personally believe conferences are just formalities that do not have ripple effects on the realities on the ground, and they end up only satisfying the elite ego. Besides, how many conferences have we been organizing for the past decades without any substantial change?
I think what we need is the coalition of like-minds who can take a new campaign to the grassroots. What we need is a bottom-up approach, not a mere conference where we will end up ‘blowing grammar’ that adds nothing to the realities of the people at the rural level. We need to empower youths with ideas and zeal to go down to the grassroots and help stop the supply! Government’s carrots and sticks can do the work.
Each community has a grassroots-level leadership structure with which we need to make consultation to gain from their views on the necessary actions to take for community empowerment. The local religious clerics should be on board. We will first and foremost highlight to them all the problems observed and thereafter seek their valuable input. The grassroots people are the people that matter, for they are the suppliers, but they are usually overlooked for people who reside in cities who have lost touch with the grassroots.
I am not of the opinion of the total abolition of the system in question. I only call for integration. We are talking about ten million children roaming the streets; no serious government should allow such unused human capital wandering aimlessly. The government must look at them as citizens, not as some despicable lot. Integration will give a chance for negotiation. What do they want? What is the government willing to offer? Stipulated terms and conditions can be applied, etcetera.
Integration will bring all the stakeholders in one place. The mainstream Ulama can coalesce with zealous youths to embark on awareness campaigns – arguing from an Islamic point of reference that the reckless act of sending one’s children away with the intention of having them educated is, to say the least, needless, considering the many situations at hand nowadays.
Only then can we move a step ahead in helping these children and the society at large.