Moment of truth - OPID News

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Wednesday, 6 October 2021

Moment of truth

Moment of truth

•Sultan’s clarification should lead to reform of almajirai system

Contrary to widespread notion, Sultan of Sokoto, Muhammad Sa’ad Abubakar III, has said the begging syndrome that characterises the ‘almajirai’ system as pervasively practised in northern Nigeria is unIslamic and should rather be replaced with proper Islamic as well as western education.

The Sultan, who is the head of the Moslem faith in Nigeria, affirmed that begging is not integral to the traditional ‘almajirai’ system that he himself and many others were products of. He recalled that nothing linked their quest for Arabic and Islamic knowledge with begging, saying: “Parents must be sensitised against allowing their children to resort to begging. We were not encouraged to beg in any guise but to strictly seek knowledge.” Speaking at the closing of a two-day workshop on modernising the Almajiri-Nizamiyya education system in Sokoto State, the monarch said the sultanate council and others must unite for the success of the initiative aimed at ending street begging in the state and northern Nigeria as a whole. According to him, all hands must be on deck to deepen awareness and sustain the call against the begging culture.

At that same event, Governor Aminu Tambuwal of Sokoto State at whose instance the workshop held said his administration was committed to educational excellence and transformation of the ‘almajirai’ system.

The ‘Almajirai’ is a system of Islamic education practised in northern Nigeria whereby kids are sent by their parents to live with and study Quranic education at a teacher’s place. Most of these kids miss out on formal education as they are often deployed to beg on the streets. Besides the environmental menace of legions of child beggars on the prowl, the syndrome has become even more problematic, having turned into a breeding ground for religious extremists and easily impressionable materials for recruitment by insurgents. A top official of the Adamawa State Government was reported late last year saying the system had evolved into a “negative phenomenon where the under-aged who were sent to read the Holy Book are recruited to do all sorts of criminal activities like insurgency, armed  robbery, banditry, kidnapping and sodomy, among other crimes.”

Many states of the North, including Kano, Nasarawa, Niger and Kaduna have formally outlawed street begging, yet the syndrome persists. In the thick of the COVID-19 pandemic last year, governments of all the northern states by mutual agreement repatriated the ‘almajirai’ within their respective domain to the states of origin, but that measure succeeded in merely moving the children around rather than upend the syndrome. Of Nigeria’s estimated 13.2million out-of-school children, the ‘almajirai’ constitute the majority.

The North’s political elite has severally moved against the syndrome, with many of the state governments enacting containment measures, but they’ve been frustrated by headwinds of antagonistic sentiments by religious leaders. While announcing a ban on the syndrome early last year in Kano State, Governor Abdullahi Ganduje outlined a policy that would give the ‘almajirai’ other types of education, saying while they would continue to pursue knowledge in the Holy Qur’an, they would also learn English and Arithmetic. He as well said parents/guardians of any ‘almajiri’ caught begging would be prosecuted for violating the law. But the Kano Council of Ulama shortly after expressed misgivings over the government’s move, saying it had not carried along Quranic clerics who are key stakeholders. “For the ban to work there has to be cooperation between the government and Quranic clerics,” said the chairman of the council, Sheikh Ibrahim Khaleel, who himself advocates against street begging.

The Sultan’s intervention marked a critical convergence between the religious elite and northern political elite on the crusade. His comment should stimulate Islamic clerics to join the efforts being plied by different state governments and, perhaps, also dissuade parents and religious faithful whose abdication of parental responsibility had largely fuelled the syndrome. But there is also need for the power elite to tackle the root causes, including mass economic deprivation, through delivery of good governance. Editorial, THE NATION

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