The futility of the Nigerian government's initiative on Tsangaya Schools By Isa Ali Pantami

I had been a Tsangaya student for almost a decade, in the Tsangaya of Arammah Isiyaka, then that of Arammah Saleh (May Allah have mercy on them). I am always happy and delighted to be associated with Tsangaya because of its positive impact on me. I am also a proprietor of a modified Tsangaya school in Bauchi adjacent my house which accommodates over 400 pupils and students named as “Kulliyatuh Masjidil Qur’an” in which my children are active pupils. 15 students graduated and received their certificates of Qur’anic memorisation this year, and many are about to graduate hopefully. All Praise is to Allah, the Lord of the worlds.

Furthermore, with this background, I am qualified to be a stakeholder in the ongoing debate over “Tsangaya integration” in which some people consider a good step by government towards rescuing our sinking Nigeria, while others consider it an attempt to sink the Tsangaya schools ultimately in the ocean of disaster which has already started drowning our darling Nigeria.

On April 13, 2012, the BBC Hausa service organised an exciting program on “Tsangaya Integration” under the famous “Raayi Riga” episode, in which I was requested to participate.  Participants comprised some Tsangaya scholars, activists, Colonel Dangiwa Umar and the Special Adviser to the President on Political Matters, Barrister Gulak, who actively and dogmatically represented the interest of government. The federal government of Nigeria initiated an effort towards the integration of Tsangaya schools by introducing worldly courses such as Mathematics, English etc all over the country with a pilot programme launched in Sokoto on April 10, 2012. During the ceremony, the President, Dr Goodluck Jonathan said he had now fulfilled his campaign promise.

A brief explanation on this system of education is necessary at this point. The Tsangaya (or Makarantan allo) is a Traditional Qur’anic School mostly found in Northern Nigeria, Sudan, Mauritania and many other countries with different dimensions of approach and expertise. It is mostly under a renowned scholar named as Arammah (or Gwani or Goni or Gangaran). Pupils or students are called Almajiri,  derived from Arabic word of “Al-Muhaajir” which means the immigrant, with different titles according to their expertise, such as Qolo, Tibibiri, Almajiri and Gardi. Students mostly partake in only Qur’anic memorisation and individual recitation. There are usually two approaches to Qur’anic memorisation adopted by students, which include Zuuqu (eloquence in recitation) and hadda (offhand memorisation by heart). Usually students write their lessons on their individual Allo (Handy board), and given some selected days of washing it after expertise of its content, and writing the subsequent lesson.

There are some challenges attached to this approach, which are mainly socio- economic challenges. They include Bara (begging) as their livelihood, lack of worldly knowledge and/or advanced vocational training. However, with all the challenges, this approach remains the most fabulous and outstanding methodology of producing Huffaazul-Qur’an (Qur’anic Memorisers) in quality of memorisation. However, this writer is among the critics of governments’ competency and sincerity in this initiative. And this is based on experience and knowledge. Because, our beloved Prophet (Pbuh) says: “Verily, Allah elevates some people with this Qur’an and humiliates (disgraces) others” (Muslim RH reported it). This prophetic message that has been adopted as the framework of this reminder teaches us that, only such people will be elevated who act upon the teachings of the Qur’an and abstain from what is forbidden by Allah.  And those who neglected the teachings of Qur’an or make it just a source of perpetrating corrupt practices or respect it only for political ambition will be disgraced and humiliated. Exaltation and humiliation mentioned in this message is bound to happen in both this life and the Hereafter. In the light of the above prophetic framework, I intend to discuss my observations briefly as follows.

First, lack of honesty in government programs is a major challenge vis-à-vis the new initiative. Whoever knows governance in Nigeria will agree with my assertion that all tiers of government are experts in hypocrisy, lack of honesty in their programs, because they only partake in programs in order to achieve their political ambition and accumulate wealth to the detriment of the masses. This government that has begun this initiative has not fully fulfilled the promise of N18, 000 minimum wage, salary increment for Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) and medical workers. At the state level, so many governors initiate religious programs in order to siphon money from public treasury. They know that Nigerians respect religious institutions and activities. As a result, they easily begin a religious pilot program on paper and in the end, abandon the program completely and continue sucking public treasury under the designed religious initiative. There are so many examples of government corrupt practices through religious institutions in various Shari’ah commission(s), Hisbah commission(s), Ramadan feeding, pilgrimage, visit to Jerusalem, building Maasajid (mosques) and churches. When Mr President commissioned the school in Sokoto, which cannot accommodate even one per cent of Almajirai in Nigeria, he said he had now fulfilled his campaign promise.

Second, lack of continuity and general inconsistency in positive programs: All good programs started by government always come to a standstill. We can hardly point out a single genuine initiative of the federal government or most of our state governments that has spent 24 months with continuity and consistency. As such, state governments boarding schools in northern Nigeria are not better than Tsangaya schools, their structures are dilapidated, no qualified teachers, no food and their dining halls have been converted to rooms or exam halls. Parents always buy foodstuff for their children before going to boarding school that had been officially designed to cater for their food. No potable drinking water. No beds in their rooms – they mostly sleep on bare floors. Unity schools owned and managed by the federal government are no more in action, because government always complain about lack of resources to manage them. These unity schools are at most two per state – one for males and one for females. The federal government couldn’t manage the only federal science college in Northern Nigeria located in Sokoto State.

Standard of living in most of federal universities is no better than some Tsangaya schools. Twelve students are officially allocated to a room built to accommodate two students. Students are always off campus, visiting their friends, and relatives in town to look for food in the name of weekend, sickness or lack of electricity on campus. Up until the end of last three decades, students on Nigeria’s university campuses used to buy tickets cheaply from their individual government scholarship and go to cafeteria for high quality food and drinks. Some used their remaining annual scholarship to buy brand new cars and build at least two-bed room flat in their towns or villages. But today, students mostly collect less than N20, 000 as their annual scholarship which will hardly take care of them for one month. Northern governors have already abandoned government institutions from primary, secondary and tertiary institutions and taken their children to private schools or most expensive universities abroad.

Third, contextual model problem: Contextual constraints are due to incompatibility of models designed for developed countries to the developing countries, in terms of differences and discrepancies in context and understanding of the phenomena as well as references to different concepts of rationality and different values. This problem has been identified in the school(s) commissioned recently by the federal government. These Almajirai, mostly don’t even know English alphabets, don’t know how to switch on a radio or operate a simple mobile handset device.  But government congested their model school with desktop computers, ICT gadgets and Internet facilities. For what? From where did they get this model? What are the Almajirai going to do with these computers? What are their primary and basic needs for now?

Fourth, corruption: It is a canker worm that has eaten deep into the fabric of Nigeria. It has been the primary reason behind the difficulties in Nigeria’s development. The amount earmarked for the project is disturbing, because you can hardly be convinced of their motive behind such amount. Similarly,  5,000 police officers in addition to thousands of plainclothes security personnel were deployed to guard Mr President during the commissioning. The amount officially earmarked for security purpose during the official commissioning is by far higher than the amount spent in building the commissioned school in Sokoto.

Fifth, lack of Qur’anic knowledge and expertise: Both Muslim and non-Muslim Governors mostly don’t know the Glorious Qur’an and Bible technically and their spiritual beauty. They only claim to be Muslims or Christians by names not action(s). Their actions of corruption, injustice, sentiment and ignorance are directly opposite to the teachings of the Qur’an and Bible. They consider religious books as a threat to their evil governance and fraud. Most of them have no relation with the Glorious Qur’an or Holy Bible beyond requesting supplications and prayers from clergymen. Their children never go to any religious school talk less of Tsangaya. Action speaks louder than voice, they only send their children to the schools they value and respect. How can you agree to hand over this all-important institution of knowledge to people who don’t care or respect them beyond their political ambition(s)?

Undoubtedly, handing over these Tsangaya schools to the government completely will not be less than repetition of the titanic tragedy that will ultimately and undoubtedly sink them in the ocean of pandemonium that has already swallowed our educational system. Tsangaya schools must remain under the control of Arammomi and local community committees, and any individual or governmental assistance shall go to the school through them. Really, they deserve to be fully assisted by government with infrastructure and many more as Nigerians, but their schools must be under their control in order to have efficient, sincere and honest care for the system.

Mr. Pantami (, an Islamic cleric, is lecturer at the Abubakar Tafawa Balewa University, Bauchi, and Ph.D Candidate (Computing & IT) in the United Kingdom



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