The North and Almajiri Phenomenon
Of recent, there is a renewed interest on the age-old almajiri systems of Islamic scholarship in Northern Nigeria as evidenced by the seminars, conferences and symposia on the topics in which many scholars and analyst proposed many different and far-reaching measures that might possibly help to address the issue.
The almajiri system, according to many observers have long outlived the purpose it was earlier set to accomplish and therefore need complete overhauling in order to conform with the exigencies of modern times. For instead of being a breeding ground for the learned ulamas who are the torch bearers of our sacred religion as obtain in other Islamic climes; it has unfortunately become a veritable avenue for the mass productions of miscreants, thugs and vagabonds.
As a beneficiary and product of the system however, my concern is not with the local solutions to the menace which in my view, was adequately taken care of by the erudite and accomplished public commentator-Mallam Adamu Adamu in one of his many thought provoking write-ups on the controversial almajiri bill. I only want to highlight my observations on a salient area that has not been given adequate emphasis in the efforts to restructure the system for the benefit of the general public.
To start with, all the solutions proffered so far seem to localise the issue to the confines of Northern Nigeria alone as if the phenomenon is peculiarly limited to it. The international dimension of the problem has never been given any serious thoughts and recognition despite the fact that most of the beggars and almajiris have quite contrary to the popular but yet mistaken belief, emanated from neighbouring countries, notably Niger republic, Mali and far flung countries like Senegal.
Such general misconceptions which has gained currency even among those who are suppose to know better, is the reason why Kano-the Madina of Nigeria is wrongly and mischievously being associated with beggars and almajiris, because the system there and the generous philanthropic nature of the people which is second to none in the entire country make its proliferations very much conducive. That is also the reason why beggars and almajiris from the entire northern states plus the FCT and neighbouring countries, alarmingly continued to troupe into it on a daily basis. It has even become the norm rather than the exceptions for states across the country to notoriously repatriate beggars to Kano. However, that does not in any way make them Kanawas, as according to Late Mallam Aminu Kano: ‘Nigeria is one but everyone knows his father’s house’! In other words, the elites of every state in the North as far as the ugly phenomenon are concern shares in the blame in equal measures.
The same negative perceptions and ignorance goes to explain the reason why many people referred to a group of ubiquitous beggars who are fond of roaming the expansive streets of Abuja with their trade mark hoes hanging around their necks as Katsina indigenes, which is patently false. As a matter of fact, they are mostly from Niger republic.
If we take a brief tour of history, we can easily recall that, prior to the unfortunate misadventure of the exploitative British colonialist, the bilad-al-sudan (the Sokoto caliphate) was said to have encompassed the present northern Nigeria, Niger republic, northern Cameroon, northern Ghana, part of Burkina Faso up to the present independent republic of Mali. In all these areas, the institution of Almajirchi has been in practice with of-course some local variations here and there. Therefore, chances are that the same problems that have been bedevilling Nigeria must also be affecting them in one way or the other and to a certain degree.
Indeed, with the porosity of our badly policed international borders, many of such people must have continued to find their way into Nigeria under the pretext of Islamic scholarship. And this can be attested to in most of our major commercial cities that play host to many people of different shades and characters with their corrupting influences like: the Berbers, Arabs, Tuareg (buzaye), and what have you. With such scenario in place, it will be quite difficult to completely tackle the problem without co-opting other neighbouring countries through international cooperation into taking appropriate drastic measures from their own end.
And in taking these measures however, the service of NAPTIP, WOTCLEF, public spirited individuals and other NGOs concerned with human trafficking in the various countries should be involved in the final identifications and repatriations of these people back to their respective countries. Otherwise, all the on-going efforts in this direction, like the creation of tsangayas, incorporation of Alaranmomi into the formal civil service by some northern state governments with a view to formalising the system to be in tandem with modern trends will continued to be in vain. The effort will hit the rock in perpetuity so long as the entire 19 northern state governments plus the FCT failed to adopt the same corrective measures in their respective states.
The same applies to the fight against the menace of desert encroachments as correctly observed by a senator from Yobe North, who stated that: ‘no matter the number of trees to be planted and the amount of efforts and resources to be put in place by Nigeria, if neighbouring Niger and Chad republics are not doing any thing concrete from their own end to stem the ugly tide, nothing tangible will be achieved in the long run’. This is a very apt observation for our policy makers to take into considerations.
I also concur very strongly with the assertions that the twin problems of almajiri phenomenon and desertification, requires concerted efforts through co-operations locally among all the nineteen northern states and the FCT on the one hand, and internationally by all stakeholders in the various countries on the other, for it to achieve the desired effects. The emigrations officers should also be alive to their responsibilities in guarding our porous borders. They must also be made to understand in concrete term that their services to the nation go beyond mere issuing of e-passports!
We must also emphasise the need for all hand to be on-deck in order to confront the debilitating wastage of human resources. And the time to act fast is now. There is no point wasting time on excessive technicalities and bureaucracies, since the problems did not give any room for such expensive luxury. On this account therefore, the ministry of inter-govemental affairs in conjunctions with the ministry of youth developments and that of environment should jointly liaises with their counterparts from other countries in order to facilitate the developments and deployments of an international action plan on the final solutions to the twin scourges.
Finally, at the risk of reiterations, the international co-operation between various stakeholders becomes imperative, if we really hope to safeguard the future well beings of our environments and young-ones who are innocently being subjected to many preventable and needless environmental hazards. A stitch in time saves nine!!