The Almajiri System of Education in  Nigeria Today
 Professor Idris A. AbdulQadir

Forwarded By Hassan M. D. Chiranchi



The Almajiri system of Education in Nigeria Today:  Prof. Idris A. Abdulqadir, during the 21st convocation lecture of Bayero University in 2003, was quoted as saying "The Almajiri system of education as practiced today in the northern Nigeria is a completely bastardized system compared to the form and conditions under which the system was operating and its output during the pre-colonial period.  The system has been forced, especially with the coming of the British, to its present pitiful state.  During the pre-colonial era, begging was never involved and certainly the pupils were not reduced to doing menial jobs before they could eat"
.  History has shown that, this system started in the 11th century as a result of the involvement of Borno rulers in Qur'anic literacy.  Over seven hundred years later, the Sokoto Caliphate was founded principally through an Islamic revolution based on the teachings of the Holy Qur'an.  These two empires run similar Qur'anic learning system which over time came to be known as the Almajiri system.

Under the Almajiri system, during the pre-colonial days, the pupils lived with their parents for moral upbringing.  All the schools were located within the immediate environment from where the pupils came from.  The Dan-Fodio revolution brought with it some modifications; the establishment of an inspectorate of Qur'anic literacy.  The inspectors reported directly to the Emir of the province, concerning all matters relating to the school.  It was argued that, this period, was the height of Qur'anic education in the northern Nigeria. 

The schools were maintained by the state, communities, the parents, 'Zakkah', 'Waqf' and supplemented by the teachers and students through farming.  "Bara" as it is known today, is completely unheard of.  Teachers and their pupils, in return provide the community with Islamic Education, reading and writing the Qur'an, in addition, to the development of Ajami i.e. writing and reading of Hausa language using Arabic Alphabets.  Based on this system, which is founded upon the teachings of Qur'an and Hadith, the then Northern Nigeria was largely educated with a complete way of life, governance, customs, traditional craft, trade and even the mode of dressing. 

Enter, the Destruction of the Almajiri System; the coming of the British:
  The British invaded the region and killed most of the Emirs and disposed some.  The Emirs lost control of their territories and accepted their new roles, as mere traditional rulers.  They also lost fundamental control of the Almajiri system.  The British deliberately abolished state funding in respect to the system arguing that, they were religious schools.  With loss of support from the government, its immediate community and the helpless Emirs, the Almajiri system collapsed like a pile of cards.  Karatun Boko, western education was introduced and funded instead.  The pupils now turned, Almajirai together with their Mallams, having no financial support resorted to begging and other menial jobs for survival.  This is certainly the genesis of the predicament of the Almajiri system today.

The current practice:
The National Council for the Welfare of Destitute (NCWD) puts the current population of the Almajirai at about 7 million. One can imagine 7 million potential judges, accountants, engineers etc. being wasted away.  The system as it is presently being practiced has outlived its usefulness.  The system lack good teachers and a fairly healthy environment.  The standards are very low because of the emergence of half-baked semi-illiterate Qur'anic Mallams who use the system as a means of living rather than a way of life itself.  The pupils struggle to cater for themselves and to support the Mallams; which takes most of the time rather than engage in learning.  The society and the parents have abdicated their obligations of properly caring for and educating their children.  These bowl-carrying children have now become so ubiquitous in almost all nooks and corners of the Northern states such that we would almost be made to believe that, that is where, Almighty Allah (SWT) wants them to be.

Allah has given us these children in trust, and given us guides on how to bring them up and will surely ask us on the Day of Judgment of what we have done in the discharge of that aspect of what He entrusted upon Us.  As it was rightly observed by Prof. Idris A. Abdulqadir, there seems to be a conspiracy of silence between the parents, authorities and the society at large.  For the parents, the system provides an outlet, and a drainage for the excess children at home, for the authorities, it is a relief that they do not have to budget for about 7 million Almajiri children's education and welfare.  As for the elites, they care less as long as their own children are not involved.
As the system is currently being practiced today, lots of the children never make it.  Some are lost through violence in the streets, some through child stealing, while others are lost through diseases and hunger.  Those who make it usually complete the reading of the Holy Qur'an and eventually became traders, drivers and so on.  Those who could not make it are condemned to menial jobs, since they have no skills at hand.  They resort to wheelbarrow pushing, touting and so on.  They remain as untrained armies available to anybody poised to ferment trouble.  They have their own axes to grind against their parents, authorities and the society at large.
However, it appears as if the Northern states of Nigeria have a monopoly of 'Bara'.  Young and old, able and disabled have taken to streets, on a permanent basis, legitimizing begging on socio-economic and religious basis.
This phenomenon represents a scar on the face of the Northern Nigeria.  Nothing could be more degrading and further from the truth.  Islam enjoins man to work, to use his brain and hands in order to eke out a living for himself.  It is when all this fail, that, one could resort to begging.  For any person, who is hail and hearty, it is Forbidden 'Haram' to beg.
In Islam, Girl child education is just as important as boys' education because Prophet Muhammad (SAW) was reported to have said "Education is compulsory for both male and female believers". History is replete with stories of women intellectuals who have impacted tremendously on the development and spread of Islamic education.  Unfortunately today, the girl equivalent of Almajiri child, presents its own social problems; though they do not leave home, they are however free to roam the streets, hawking, fetching water and engage in other house-hold jobs.  Most of them are enrolled into one form of school or the other.  But attendance is occasional or at times practically zero.  Hawking becomes their main occupation.  The South-Eastern states also have their own share of problems of girl child education.  A recent survey shows that, more than 50% of them end up hawking on the streets.
As for the North, yes, it is true we could blame the British almost (100%) for deliberately destroying our indigenous education system but we could not blame them for our collective negligence in allowing the system to continue unabated in its present form.

       The system must be stopped, remodeled and integrated into our educational system.
       The northern states must put their heads together, through the Northern Governors Forum, to tackle this phenomenon.
       The solution may not be a one shot solution, but a gradual one.
       The private sector should be encouraged to set up Islamiyya primary and secondary schools to complement the efforts of the various tiers of governments.
       For those states that adopted the Shariah legal system, the Zakkah provision, can be used to tackle the problem.  The Zakkah if properly implemented as is the case in Sudan; it can provide a permanent solution as it is better than any social welfare system any where in the world.