Key Northern States like Kano and Borno have continued to perpetuate rolling poverty and educational disadvantage by sustained birth rates of about 3.5 per cent and poor indices in school enrollment and graduation rates in early childhood and secondary education. Almajirci, contributes in no small measure to the education sinkhole the North has found itself in. At the root of development is education, there can be no development without it. It has been said that “there can be no peace without development”, that means there can be no peace without education. Education has long been neglected in the North and we all, as Nigerians are reaping the benefits of that neglect. We are no where near the benchmark of the Millennium Development Goals (MDG) and worse; we have Boko Haram on our hands. The North has continued to underperform educational odds and quite unimpressively, its politicians, traditional rulers, leaders of thought and the educated elite do not have the political will to confront the monstrous challenge of Almajirci.
The Ulama whose prestige, position and patronage hangs on the continuation of religious exploitation have no interest in discouraging Almajirci even when their own offsprings take advantage of Western education. The current system of Federal character and its siamese twin – the quota system are policies arising from the imbalance created by the Northern education deficit. A policy that has polarized and shaped the national landscape negatively. The twin evil has bred hatred, enmity and distrust between the North and the South. Due to the education gap, Northerners are poorly represented in the formal sectors of the economy where quota cannot be enforced and overrepresented in government where Federal Character is applied.
At the heart of Almajirci are two sets of beliefs – the predestination of man and eternal salvation. We know that in matters of religion; it is usually the triumph of faith over reason. That is why no Northern leader – spiritual or temporal wants to be perceived as being anti Islam hence their reluctance to tackle the Almajirai issue. Besides, the Almajirai provides easy fodder for political thuggery and religious extremism. They are a standing army ready to be deployed. It is noteworthy, that the begging culture ingrained in the Almajirai learning system is mostly responsible for spreading poverty in the North. Even though begging is expressly condemned in Islam, no one is speaking up against it. This is because everyone benefits from it. The rich give handouts (alms) hoping to gain God’s pleasure and the poor begs for pittance thinking they are meant to be poor. Most of the money given as alms or used to feed the poor are stolen from government coffers and given in “magnanimity” to those they stole from in the first instance. Unfortunately institutionalized begging in the North has stifled the confidence, creativity and mental productivity of its people. Many Northern poor have embraced poverty and destitution as their lot and holds the belief that they cannot do anything to change their fortune – predestination. Very sad!
Any reform of Almajirci must consider the cultural, moral and social aspirations of the population who subscribes to the system as their ideal for educating their children. Cultural problems are difficult to tackle and they die hard. Unfortunately, Almajirci is more complex because it is a cultural issue with a religious and spiritual dimension. The irony is; the traditional rulers and the elite that speaks for Islam never went through the Almajirai system. They had Western education and have benefitted immensely from it to the alienation of the poor. The poor who have been Almajirai themselves are the vast majority and are suspicious of “Boko” (Western education). This suspicion is a holdover from colonial days when the earliest schools were built by colonial authorities and force was used to coerce Muslims to enroll their children. “Boko” was a creature of force and is seen as furthering the subjugation of Islamic tenets to Western ideals and promoting corruption. The suspicion that children will be converted to Christianity and indoctrinated into adopting Western values still lingers today. To the poor, Boko translates to corruption, loss of values and declining morality. Sadly, it has become a fulfilled prophesy, Nigeria’s Western-educated elites have failed this country. Western education has nothing to do with the monumental failure of the Nigerian elite, but how can it be proven? The vast Northern poor do not see the inherent contradiction in their views of “Boko”, despite their layers of disdain, they visit doctors, use cell phones to communicate, ride cars to move around, and fly to Mecca for pilgrimage.
What can be done? Any solutions that will abolish or reform Almajirci must be able to define, measure and validate set accomplishments that will produce cultural, spiritual, social, moral, productive and economic capital to the Northern poor who are the majority. The solution will have to be hard won because at the heart of the problem is faith and salvation, which most adherents think is mutually exclusive with Western education. It will take some brass to tackle this issue in country filled with religion but less of the righteous, where religion is all politics, but it can be done. Any solution must be aware that the demand from people who want their children to study the Holy Qur’an is huge, there is supply in the large pool of Mallams and infrastructural requirement is very low; a shack, slates and mats. In my observation, parents are not the major obstacle to reformation or abolition. The major impediment to reform is the Ulama who are beneficiaries of cheap labor from Almajirai, prestige and regard from the elite who commission them for various kinds of prayers, and their pride as custodians of faith. The politicians and traditional rulers do not want to be in the bullseye, they are afraid to draw their ire. The Ulamas have the population and command to torpedo or truncate any politician’s ambition and the masses trust them more than they do the elite. Any real solution must target the Ulamas with a view to bringing them on board. For the North to progress, a confluence of opinion must be reached between the religious purists who believes in Almajirci as a tool for forming character, knowledge and values for eternal salvation and those of us who believe education should teach skills critical to modern development and economic survival. The debate should start with traditional rulers, parents, Islamic scholars, all tiers of government, civil society groups, children and Muslim leaders across the country. Poor parents need reorientation and education on their duties towards their children, on the effects of child abuse and neglect and how Western education can break the chain of intergenerational poverty and improve life’s chances. I call on responsible legislators regardless of their state of origin to sponsor a bill that will protect the rights of children to be educated with deference to our religions and customs. Such a bill should cover right to universal basic free education, shelter, food, clothing, moral and civic instruction.
“Education makes a people easy to lead, but difficult to drive; easy to govern but impossible to enslave.” The teenage and young adult foot soldiers of Boko Haram reminds us that neglect can lead to annihilation. We must join hands to save the North from itself, a Northern problem is Nigeria’s problem. If we don’t, the pain will soon be at our doorsteps. God help Nigeria!
Read part 1 of this article here.
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