LAST year, I was in Kano to attend a public awareness symposium on the need for violence-free general elections in Nigeria and I decided to stop-by at Bayero University Teaching Hospital to check on my cousin, who is a medical doctor in a tertiary health institution, before traveling back to Ilorin. He looked visibly angry and worried. I couldn’t help but ask what the problem was. He had just finished attending to a little boy of barely eleven years who was brought to the hospital by a ‘good Samaritan’ as a result of severe pain in the anal region. The minor who had difficulty sitting upright due to the pain was discovered on medical examination to have been raped through the anus. Obviously, some elements had taken advantage of a homeless Almajiri little boy.
It has almost become a normal feature, a cultural norm – children roaming the streets in certain parts of (mainly northern) Nigeria. Almajiri as the children are commonly referred to derives from the Arabic word Al-Mahaajirun, which literally means a learned scholar who propagates the peaceful message of Islam.
Regrettably, the Almajiri culture has since outlived its purpose and has become a breeding ground for child begging and in the extreme cases, potential materials for recruitment into terrorist groups. The pupils who were meant to be trained to become Islamic scholars have now had to struggle to cater for themselves, begging rather than learning under the watch and supervision of some semi-literate Quranic teachers or Mallams who themselves lacked the requisite financial and moral support. Hence, the system runs more as a means of survival rather than a way of life.
Deprived of a normal and descent upbringing, Almajiri children who are usually little boys between the ages of four and 15 may have been direct products of polygamous or broken homes or simply economic challenges in the family. They lack adequate family cover. The child or children is/are sent out to the streets under the guise of Almajiri, as soon as the family’s resources are overstretched.
The Almajiri grows up in the streets without the love, care and guidance of parents; his struggle for survival exposes him to abuse (homosexuality and pedophilia), used as a slave, brainwashed and recruited for anti-social activities and used for destructive and violent activities. This is the picture of the pitiful plight of an Almajiri child in Nigeria.
The Almajiri culture epitomises child abuse, social exclusion and chronic poverty in all ramifications. Because the system is believed to be rooted in Islamic religion and Fulani cultural practices, many attempts to reverse the trend or put an end to such abuse of humanity has always hit a brick wall.
The fact that Islamic teaching strongly forbids begging, except in very special circumstances which include a man’s loss of properties or wealth in a disaster, or when a man has loaned much of his money for the common good, such as bringing peace between two warring parties, already proves that Almajiri system as it is being practised today is totally unIslamic. A child neglected by his parents is vulnerable to diseases and social crimes. In order to survive, he often has to beg from ‘dusk to dawn’ after which he returns to the makaranta (school in Hausa).
Almajiri system has created a cover for criminally minded individuals to abuse the Nigerian child, trafficking in innocent minors and exposing them to anti-social behaviours, and to be used as sex slaves. The elite care less either about their plight. To conclude that the Almajiri system has deviated from its original purpose and is currently giving Nigeria a bad image in the international community is to admit the obvious.
Even though the immediate past administration of former President Goodluck Jonathan designed a programme under which a few Almajiri Model Boarding schools were established courtesy of a Federal Government intervention, which was aimed at integrating conventional western education into Islamic education only turned out to be merely ‘removing a spoonful of water from a filled tank’ as it wasn’t enough to properly address the problem of the destitute children. Less than five percent of the children were captured by the Federal Government’s programme, which was meant to remove the Almajiri off the streets.
There is an urgent need for government to banish the Almajiri culture once and for all and save these innocent little ones from perpetual abuse. Unless it is banned or adequately reformed to meet the modern day demands, challenge and realities the problems of underdevelopment, educational backwardness and mass poverty in (northern) Nigeria would continue to go from bad to worse. People continue to bear children they do not have the resources to cater for, just because they know they could easily push such children out on Almajiri.
The level of child abuse is worrisome; the deliberate breach of the fundamental human rights of our young ones calls for urgent concern and the neglect and lack of commitment to the plight of these minors is unfortunate. As it is presently, Almajiri is the face of poverty and it is anti-Islam. This is time for President Muhammadu Buhari to urgently put measures in place which would see to the banishment or positive reform of the Almajiri system in order to save this country from a possible massive humanitarian crisis.
Obaro writes from Ilorin, Kwara State (firstname.lastname@example.org)
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