Muslims of Northern Nigeria are a wonderful people. For long we have been singing Islam and using it whenever it is to our advantage. Our Islamic scholars use their positions to get close to people in power. It pays handsomely. They are made members of Islamic related committees, be they committees on Hajj, Shariah, Zakkah, hisbah, Da’wah, etc.
Opportunities became even greater with the coming of this fourth republic when every Northern governor began to launch and relaunch one kind of Shariah-related programme or another to help improve his popularity. Scholars who were hitherto fighting in the name of aqeedah differences came together as Shariah champions to work for the ‘progress of Islam’.
Our emirs who are the officially-recognized leaders of the Muslim Ummah have been getting their allocation from the budgets of local governments in their domain and serve as umbrella for retired civil and military officials who pay to get crowned with one traditional title or another. They go with every government and their relations and cronies are favoured in government contracts and appointments.
Our politicians use Islam as an opportunity to get to power. If you doubt this ask Yakubu Dogara, for example, to contest the governorship of Bauchi state or any Christian to try contesting such an office in any of the predominantly Muslim Northern states. Buhari is only popular because he is a Muslim. Should he renounce Islam before February 16, we don’t pray for that, he will lose the presidential election. At a point in time, every politician who wanted to win an election in the North had to lie that he will enforce Shariah law if elected.
The rest of us are either working or doing one legitimate business or another. Yet, despite what Allah Has done to us and our use of His religion to get what we want, I don’t know of any formidable initiative to solve the problem of almajirci in the North. Even our leaders only condemn it as the rest of us do.
All of a sudden, the Christians came up with an idea. That since we don’t seem to care about these our underaged children roaming the streets with plastics begging for food, the Church will create a centre for them, in which they will feed, clothe and shelter them. In addition, they will teach them vocation alongside the Qur’an with whose teaching they will not interfere. To kick-start this project is no other than Bishop Mathew Hassan-Kukah. Mathew Kukah is a Northern Christian intellectual who has lived in the North and interacted with all manners of Northern Muslims from the most ordinary commoner to the Sultan who is his close friend. In fact, if you say Mathew Hassan-Kukah was posted to Sokoto diocese of the Catholic Church because of his relationship with the Sultan you would be right.
As a Northerner, an intelligent one for that matter, Mathew Kukah understands the sensibilities of Muslims and would thus do his best to hide any proselytization agenda at the initial stage.
Now, with the announcement of the Christian intent, everybody remembered that the almajirai are Muslims and that they will end up becoming Christians if such centres are established. Great, we now remember that we should not allow these innocent children to be converted to Christianity. What should we do?
What one would expect of a responsible people faced with this type of challenge is to thank the Church for reminding them of their responsibility and come up with a more comprehensive programme than that of Mathew Kukah. Unfortunately, the kind of sentiments being expressed and the fact that more than a year after Kukah mooted this idea nothing has come up from our religious leaders and our “Shariah compliant” politicians portray us as a people not serious.
“The almajiri system has outlived its usefulness and should be banned,” says one commentator. “Jabir, Sudais, Husary and other world renowned Quranic reciters did not attend tsangaya, so we should do away with it,” says another. Others say after banning the system, government should be advised to improve schools in the rural areas so that the would-be almajirai will now have sound education. Plus many such funny ideas. Perhaps the most responsible comment I read on the Kukah initiative is the one by Prof. Ishaq Akintola in which he requested Northern Muslims to empower Islamic NGOs to cater for the almajiri.
For those calling for the total banning of the almajiri system, let’s weigh the options.
Leaving the tsangaya system will maintain the almajirai on the streets. As it is now, very few of them will end up being scholars but many of them would end up being petty traders, business tycoons, bus conductors and drivers, motorpark touts, Hausa musicians, etc. Others will be in Kukah centres (he promised to train 10 million almajirai to acquire skills) and there will be many of them. Some of the products of the Mathew centres will be sponsored to study abroad and come back to integrate with their communities. They will be Christians and since they will have money with them they will attract villagers who are their blood to Christianity. With this, Sokoto state may have a Christian governor in future.
Banning the tsangaya system will return the almajirai to their parents in the villages. The most lucrative business in the rural areas now is banditry and kidnapping. They can kill anyone to get money. Those who think politicians will establish good schools to cater for these children are probably not aware of the conditions of the existing government schools.
Like the Hausa man will put it, “gaba kura baya sayaki”. Neither option is an option. The only thing left for us is to come up with another alternative. The best option as far as yours sincerely is concerned is for the Muslim Ummah to come up with a comprehensive programme to cater for the almajiri child.
Meanwhile, many thanks to Bishop Hassan-Kukah.
Professor Jibia writes from Bayero University, Kano via [email protected]