Tsangaya System With Its Attendant Inefficiencies


Bello Abdulkadir




RECENT revelations, by the agency tasked with the responsibility of stemming the tide of child trafficking, shows that the problem is defying solution, despite government effort to handle it.


Rearing children is a major responsibility, which God places on the shoulders of parents, which includes the socio-cultural training that goes with provision of sound education, moral upbringing and a host of other primary obligations. The provisions of basic needs of children are also subsumed under the primary responsibilities, but a cursory look at the fulfillment of these obligations by Nigerian parents reveals an increasingly deepening deviation away from the aforesaid duties.


A typical example of such can be seen in northern Nigeria where alarmingly, a very larger number of children of school age are not enrolled to acquire formal education. This explains the continued sustenance and deepening of the educational gap between the Southern parts of the country, which is century ahead of its northern counterpart.


However, most of these children that are not enrolled in formal educational system, normally acquire Quranic education, in another educational setting. A good number of children from the northern part of Nigeria, are deprived of acquiring western education, and this left them with the only option of going to Islamic schools, to learn Quran, within and outside their community.


This form of Islamic education is known as “TSANGAYA” a Hausa word that literally means learning centre. It has been in practice since days preceding the emergence of colonialism in Nigeria, and has its roots in the Timbuktu scholastic tradition. According to scholars there are basically two (2) kinds of Tsangaya, the resident and the mobile one.


While the resident one involves child living with his parents, and going to the Tsangaya, like the normal Day School in Western type of education, the mobile one demands the total handing over a child or ward to the Islamic cleric mostly to live in the Tsangaya outside the parents community or residential town.


The mobile form of “Tsangaya” as it is conducted in Nigeria today is almost disorganized and lacks the basic framework to sustain the system for effective learning of moral and spiritual lessons, and eventual productivity that would made its graduates contribute in the development of the society. A typical mobile Tsangaya is a situation where young boys at tender age live in the Islamic scholar’s house, which serves as  boarding school, until he memorizes the whole of Holy Quran, which lasts for years. It is relevant to note that the feeding, clothing, and general upkeep rests on no other person, than the shoulders of the Islamic teacher, whose domestic responsibility would not even allow him to do such. This made the pupils to turn beggars, as the parents hardly pay any form of tuition or allowance to the cleric who is in most cases poor. Street begging and scavenging within the community is the only available option the pupils rely on to survive. These children also look forward to visit from their parents, who most of the time hardly do that, and this laterally create a great division between the parents and children, because they rarely call back to see how they are faring.


A recent development across the country has revealed that under the pretext of sending children to Quranic schools, the pupils stand the risk of being diverted for other avaricious purposes by their custodians, or any person that entices them  with material gifts. Not long ago Kaduna state police command intercepted a truck with over a hundred kids packed in a space that can only contain fifteen people. According to police they are being transported from Kano state to Suleja for Quranic Education. These children were later handed over back to their parents in Kano by Natinal Agency For Prohibition of Trafficking in Persons (NAPTIP). The fact is that once these young people are separated from their families, they become highly vulnerable to ill will of the society.


International labour organization conducted survey in Nigeria in 2003 and it shows that 6 million children are at the risk of being trafficked for purposes of domestic work, prostitution among other things.


Sometime in October 2007 Nigerian police arrested a vehicle containing fifty-seven children from Cross Rivers to Lagos for child labour. This only shows that Quranic education is not the only front for child trafficking and abuse in the country.


Some basic factors that account for the decadence of the “TSANGAYA” system with its attendant inefficiencies and poor maintenance includes lack of proper understanding of what the Islamic education is all about. Prominent Islamic scholars have preached that the most efficient knowledge in the religion is a comprehensive mastery of the basic sources of shariah, which includes QUARAN, HADITH, books of major scholars and others, while most of the Tsangaya schools only concentrate on the memorization of the Holy Quran without understanding the basic interpretation (TAFSIR), hadith etc.


In most cases parents that send their children outside their community for TSANGAYA learning are either not educated comprehensively in Islamic knowledge, or lacked understanding of what the religion teaches. They are not also exposed to Western form of learning. This is why they patronize the system without asking critical questions bordering on their responsibilities as parents.


Traditional reason has also being forwarded for enrolling children in TSANGAYA outside their enclave. Numerous of parents posit that they do send their offspring or ward away to such learning setting because it has been a long tradition in the Northern region particularly amongst the Hausa people. This is regardless of the results be it negative or positive. They tend to tell themselves something like “Since my grand parents have done it, let me also do it” without being critical about it merits and demerits.


Poverty and low standard of living contribute in no small way in perpetuating the abuse of the Tsangaya system and child rearing. One does not need to conduct any survey to arrive at a conclusion that majority of those who enlist their children into the mobile form of Tsangaya are living below the poverty line. This system of learning becomes an escapist route from the task of feeding, clothing, educating the child by his father, thereby forcing it on the community.


The under representation of Northerners in the formal economic sector in Nigeria may also be linked to the poor participation of the people in formal educational system. This will not be unrelated to the dismal engagement of very big number of children in the formal learning system in the country. Today there are a very few people of Northern region working in strategic positions in banks, other financial institutions and the capital market, to mention but a few.


It is true that not all destitute or beggars in the street are products of the Tsangaya system. However, a chunk of them are from such institutions especially within the Northern States, where previous administrations lacked the political will to fight the menace to standstill. The so called use of begging as system of self–sustenance normalizes the negative phenomenon in the psyche of the members of the society.  It is noteworthy to emphasize that begging in itself is a highly discouraged gesture in Islam.


The begging culture, which has been underpinned on the learning system, as obtained in the Tsangaya School plays a role in spreading poverty in the Northern region. It stifles self – confidence and creativity amongst people who may come to believe that destitution is birthright and one cannot do anything to change his fortune.  


There have been unanimity in several fora that indeed the Tsangaya form of learning in Nigeria is not functioning desirably and needs reforms. But the point of divergence is on how to go about the restructuring without compromising the chief purpose for which it was established in the first place - to memorize the Holy Quran.


It should start with all stakeholders who includes traditional rulers, parents, Islamic scholars, all tiers of government and its relevant agencies, Islamic scholars, children and prominent Muslims across the country coming together under one forum to find a way out.


The parents need reorientation and holistic Islamic knowledge on their duties towards their children. They should also be wary of the fact that not only do their children need QURANIC education, they also need a comprehensive knowledge in Islam and western form of learning to be able to participate actively in the socio-economic/political facets of the society. This can be a break from chain of poverty.


The Tsangaya schools need to be reorganized and formalized; with the Quranic and general Islamic education being the core aspect of the newly reformed system. The phobia for the possibility of compromising the Quranic education is the source of the resistance of the scholars in such reforms, hence the need to educate the populace on why the system should change. A transparent formula can be worked out to show that the Quranic education will be given a priority. Arabic should be  adopted as the major language of instruction.


Government at all levels should have a stake in arresting the appalling situation, just like how the Kano state government planned to increase the number of formal schools in the state to accommodate children that are not part of the system. It is also pertinent to note that an edict exists, in the state, that prevents parents from taking children outside the state to TSANGAYA School without approval of the government. This indeed, is a step in the right direction.


Apart from the foreign induced controversial child rights act, governments at all levels can initiate legislations that would inculcate consciousness of the Islamic and customary laws which relates to children, without creating any conflicts with those that approved by UN agency, UNICEF. The law will also protect the right of children, according to our religions and customs, and they should cover right to education, shelter, clothing and moral upbringing to be a responsible citizen.


Traditional rulers also have a significant role to play. As custodians of the Islamic traditions they must work with government towards giving the system new lease of life. They should view the decayed Tsangaya system as part and parcel of their respective emirates and proffer solutions on how to improve it, to achieve the desired result.


Former president of Federal Republic of Nigeria, President Ibrahim Babangida has not long a go called the government to integrate the western education and the Tsangaya form of learning, positing that emigrating from a Child’s community in search of knowledge should be stopped. People of Babangida’s standing in our society can do much more than making mere public statements. We need to see them put in  resources, efforts and influence in saving the system.