UJI ABDULLAHI ILIYASU reports that the North has an urgent task of finding a solution to its mounting crises. Abolishing the almajiri education system and declaring emergency in the education sector in northern states, is the only way the north will enjoy sleep.
In Nigeria, every big thing comes small and every serious thing comes as a joke. Nigerians woke up to Niger Delta militancy and then kidnapping and bombing during the administration of late President Umaru Musa Yar’adua. The Independence Day bombing during the former President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan administration’s first tenure was the beginning of bomb blasts in the country.
Before then militancy and bombings were heard in far away Iraq, Afghanistan and Somalia, and kidnapping for ransom was a creative exercises found in James Hadley Chase’s thrillers. But today, Nigeria has overtaken Afghanistan, Iraq and Somalia in bomb throwing. Abduction for ransom which was James Hadley Chase’s fiction has been given reality forms.
Out of school children
Among the over 13 million odd children in Nigeria who are out of school, the North leads in the figure, about 69 per cent, according to UNICEF. The North has been leading in the number of illiterate population in the country. Go to any northern city and you will see young boys of school age begging for arms. This class of youth are ready to do anything to get the day’s meal. Therefore, are at the mercy of the few affluent neighbours and politicians who use them as instrument for violence, especially during political campaigns.
The funny thing is that those who prefer to keep children out of school incorporate almajiri education and street begging into Islamic creed without challenges from any quarter, even from the clergy. If almajiri system of education is Islamic, where are the children of the Sultan of Sokoto or Emir of Kano or Emir of Zaria in northern streets? Or are the parents of the almajiri children in the streets of northern Nigeria holier than Sheikh Gumi or Sheikh Dahiru Bauchi, whose children and wards are not begging in the streets to earn Allah’s favour?
An official of the United Nations Children Fund (UNICEF) in 2018, said 69 per cent of Nigeria’s out-of-school children are located in the north.
Also according to the official, Bauchi state has the highest number with 1.1 million children followed by Katsina with 781,500.
UNICEF’s deputy representative in Nigeria, Pernille Ironside, made the announcement at a northern Nigeria traditional leaders conference on out-of-school children held in Kaduna.
“When we speak of out-of-sohool children, who are they? It is too easy to keep them nameless and faceless. The latest MlCS data tells us that 69 per cent of out-of-school children in Nigeria are in northern states…
“These children are in your communities, on your streets, in the households, in your council area,” Ms Pernille said.
“Other sources, Ms Pernille added, “say the number of out-of-school children is higher. But the focus is not the precise number, the focus should be on boys and girls in your communities who lose out on education, lose out on livelihoods, and lose out on hope and the future they can have for themselves, their families, their communities and their country. Nigeria loses out on a literate and skilled workforce it needs to grow economically.
“Nigeria needs to take leap to bring more children into education and into learning. Partnerships and collective actions are essential.
“This is the reason why we are here today at the Northern Nigeria Traditional Leaders Conference on Out-of-School Children. Together we can take the quantum leap to give more children the opportunity to go to and stay in school.”
Ms Pernille said that in the north-east and north-west states of Nigeria, more than half of primary school-age girls are not in school.
“There are several reasons why these children are not in school. Gender is an important factor in the pattern of educational marginalisation.
“In the conference, we will not only discuss these barriers, we will focus on actions that need to be taken to reduce them. Many parents in northern Nigeria prefer Islamic education over formal education but they are not mutually exclusive.
“Children need both. They also have a right to learn to read and write, [do] mathematics and develop the knowledge and skills that will enable them to be contributing citizens of Nigeria. One approach to address both needs is the integration of basic education subjects into Islamic centres, Quranic Islamiyya and Tsangaya to reach more children with basic educaion skills. Approximately 26 per cent of Muslim children in northern Nigeria only attend Islamiic education,” she said.
Banditry in the north
What the north is experiencing today has been building up over the years. The political and spiritual leaders have pushed poverty to the less privileged as an obligation of the poor, through up-down interpretation of the Holy Qur’an and the Hadith.
While the political class and custodians of the faith revel in plenty, the majority poor wallow in penury. Now it seems the poor have realised that poverty is not part of Islamic articles of faith as they were made to believe in the past. The stark realisation of the usurpation of their power by the few angers the deprived who now want to take their pound of flesh from their exploiters, which now manifests in the mounting violent crises the north is facing. Whatever nomenclature we give them, the fundamental cause is the same, deliberate impoverishment of the masses through denial of access to modern education and civilisation.
Social differences in northern homes
Look at the homes in the north and examine how the rich love their children. They go to the best school in Asia, America and western Europe. But the same parents who send their children to the best schools around the world, would invite preachers to publicly preach against western education and wealth as being from the Satan.
The north is blessed with the rich who can invest in the region and mop up the army of illiterate populace, who can build state-of-the-art schools for the street boys, but they would not; they prefer to maintain the two classes of the-have and the have-not.
In the domestic level, the best schools their children attend are built by Christians whose faith they pretend to abhore. In the market, essential services or goods are provided by their Christian compatriots. On Sundays, central markets in northern cities become shadows of themselves. Yet northern leaders go to sleep satisfied.
Affirmation of the poor
The time has come for a change. If poverty is religious, the downtrodden have decided to die in sin, like their affluent emirs and governors and lawmakers and business tycoons. The result of their affirmation is the violent crimes being unleashed in the north today.
Off the Ahmadu Bello way
Premier of Northern region and Sardauna of Sokoto, Sir Ahmadu Bello, was one of the most patriotic citizens the north has seen. He dedicated his life to the unity of the north. In the pursuit of this noble goal,
North became a family name rather than a reference to a region, and this was the case up to the day he was killed in the 1966 coup. Then
Nigeria was Yoruba, Igbo and Northerners. Now the present political and religious leaders have a different notion of north.
Sir Ahmadu Bello’s idea of north was quite different from what the present leaders have. To Sardauna, the north is not just a political identity. His idea of the north showed an extended family where all the different nuclear families formed a strong and virile front in sharing their problems and enjoying their blessings in a communality.
Then religion bigotry unknown, ethnic chauvinism and language differences were unknown.
Late elder statesman Sunday Awoniyi testified that Sardauna bought for him Christian Holy Bible and would take him to church service on Sundays. Nowadays, people who were raised to position of eminence through the benevolence of Sardauna are the ones causing division in the region. They seem to have forgotten their history.
Almajiri and Boko Haram connection
An interview granted VOA by a woman identified as Falmata, gives the most far-reaching insight into the early life of her son, Abubakar Shekau, the leader of the Boko Haram insurgents. Falmata said of her son:
“I don’t know whether he is dead or alive, only God knows, I have not seen him in the last 15 years.”
She said Shekau was an almajiri, who left the village of Shekau in search of Islamic knowledge in Maiduguri, capital of Borno state. Like most almajiri lads, Shekau ended up roaming the streets of urban centres begging for alms and food. It was in Maiduguri that Shekau came in contact with Mohammad Yusuf, the founder of the Boko Haram sect, and got indoctrinated.
Shekau’s life gives credence to an already entrenched belief that there exists a thin line between illiteracy, poverty and general social deprivation that defines the almajiri scourge in one hand and Boko Haram insurgency on the hand. Shekau’s story shows clearly that the almajiri scourge gave birth to the Boko Haram insurgency and then kidnapping and now banditry in the north.
The north must remember the proverb that it is the haggard-looking and hungry men that lead a riot but not the plump and the well-fed.
A reflection on the history of northern Nigeria from the preceding century reveals a deeply embedded animosity towards Western ideals, values and norms associated with British colonialism. The native population of north with a rich Muslim heritage and strong Islamist revivalism associated with the 19th century western Sudan did not make a clear distinction between what was religion and education.
After the British conquest of northern Muslim lands, there was suspicion that education by Christian missionaries was a British ploy to convert Muslims to Christianity. They wanted to protect their Muslim traditional ways of life.
The consequence of this perception was the unwillingness to embrace modern education and the eventual institutionalisation of almajiri Islamic educational system in the north.
Almajiri school pupils, potential recruits tor insurgency.