The Northern Governors Forum took a collective decision at a meeting we had about two weeks ago that we will end the almajiri system completely, we will abolish it. And part of the steps we took was to return them to their states of origin. We also decided that each state government will take delivery of these almajiri and return them to their parents and ensure that they go to school ~ Nasir El-Rufai
Dateline March 2nd 2015: Former First Lady Dame Patience Jonathan who had then usurped the activities of her husband’s presidential campaign mounted the stage at a rally in Calabar and in her boisterous manner exhorted the crowd to stone anybody that tells them about “change”. And in an apparent reference to the almajiri system in the north, she went on to say that “our people no dey born shildren wey dem no dey fit count. Our men no dey born shildren throway for street. We no dey like the people for that side”.
Members of the opposition All Progressive Congress went berserk. Mallam Nasir El-Rufai who takes no prisoners and then a gubernatorial candidate took to his Facebook page to excoriate Mrs Jonathan as an “uncivilised, unintelligent, uncouth and prebendal element”. He told the northerners that President Jonathan and his wife hates them with a passion and urged them not to support his re-election bid.
The northerners obeyed and Jonathan was voted out. Former Kano state governor Kwankwanso subsequently gloated that the first family had been a victim of Dame Jonathan’s words which he claimed galvanised “people in the north to ensure that Almajiri votes were used to kick them out of the villa.”
Today El-Rufai is championing the abolition of almajiri system. What a time to be alive you would say. With his rumoured ambition to return to Abuja some have suggested his recent proclamation could have some political undertone. It makes it even more intriguing given that his close friend — Sanusi Lamido Sanusi, the former Emir of Kano — who incidentally is also a crusader for the same cause was only recently deposed.
We surely have some interesting times to look forward to.
I remember almajiris vividly from my undergraduate days at the University of Maiduguri. There was this particular set that usually ambushed me whenever I collect my allowance from Kasuashanu (cattle market) where our truck drivers drop it with my late father’s business partner. They know I will come every last Friday of the month, so they wait after Jumat to hail me “Anana”, an acronym for Anana Transport Company. I will dole out some change to more elated chants of “Na gode and Allah ya albarkache”.
Back then I never felt threatened by a bunch of dusty kids in tattered clothes. I only felt pity when I juxtapose their reality with the fact that I had school mates who rode in exotic vehicles. Some even moved in a convoy of cars whose value could train the almajiris for life.
Yet the almajiri system has remained a dividing topic among the northern leaders. An enduring pre-colonial concept which started around the 11th century in Kanem-Borno, it was later replicated in the Sokoto Caliphate following the victorious Jihad of Sheikh Uthman Dan Fodio. Originally designed to present fresh and educationally inclined children the opportunity to tap from experienced Islamic scholars and imbibe the tenets essential for decent Muslim adulthood, it reportedly produced Alhassan Dantata, the one time richest man in West Africa and the grandfather of Africa’s richest man Aliko Dangote among many other successful northerners.
But it got bastardised over the years by the lowly callous men who breed children in multiples but take little responsibility. And was corrupted by generations of northern elites who send their wards to ivy league institutions abroad while the homeless almajiris often exploited to attain power through underage voting are left to roam the streets supposedly in search of knowledge.
Men like Ali Modu Sheriff reportedly used the late Mohammed Yusuf (a known recruiter of almajiris) to his advantage and Sani Yerima confessed that the horde of unemployed masses baying for the Sharia served as a potent weapon against the dominant political force in his state. Both are ex-governors and former senators.
The beautiful pictures of almajiris being taught under the tree in a serene and conducive savannah climate have all but disappeared from memory. Nowadays a typical almajiri school consists of a small room packed with no less than 50 pupils and a stern Mallam who needs the slightest prompt to unleash his horsewhip. And some of the children who travel thousands of miles never get to see their biological parents again. They are brainwashed, abused, trafficked, kidnapped, sodomized and in some cases murdered for evil rituals. The cruelty is stark!
Many of these hapless kids exposed to the baseness and megrim of our wicked world at a tender age eventually become the scum of society and willing recruits drafted into banditry and terrorism to satiate the ruthless lust for power among the ruling class. They have grown into the cancerous monster that plagues the north today and which symmetrically threatens our protracted quest for nationhood.
And despite its strangle hold on power over the years the statistics from region leaves one in tears. In 2014, a UNICEF report put the estimate of almajiris in Nigeria at 9.5 million. This mob of bowl-carrying children represents about 72% of the country’s 13.2 million out-of-school children.
Another study conducted by the World Bank between 2011 and 2016 noted that “poverty in the northern regions of the country has been increasing especially in the north-west zone” where almost half of all poor lived with the north accounting for 87% of poverty in the country.
We are now in 2020 and there is a possibility of that these figures have doubled given the economic downturn witnessed in the past few years. That may explain why it didn’t come as a shock to many when more than 300 boys and men including citizens of Mali and Burkinafaso were rescued from an Islamic school in Kaduna last September. They had been chained and beaten for years with multiple scars on their backs. That incident is not isolated, the north is riddled with similar institutions across her sprawling land mass.
Such is the magnitude of the ticking time bomb perennially fostered by a wasting feudal system and upon which the nation currently sits.
As the clock ticks we have to ask; Can the swamp drain itself? Will the northern elite strip herself of the long overused ace? Already we have seen reports of northern youths being smuggled into the Southern region in violation of the restriction on interstate travel as COVID-19 escalates across some northern states. This is totally unacceptable and suggestions that it is a clandestine plot to foist an unwanted population on the south may not be far fetched as these youths normally cannot afford the travel costs let alone in this strange period when such costs have doubled.
It is time for the north to live up to its responsibilities. A region ravaged by all sorts of affliction can no longer afford the costly slumber. Men like Senator Gaya may choose to regale us with his postulations of transformation but the academic sphere is replete with the studies of a system which long outlived its usefulness. Moreover, as stated by none other than Tanko Yakassai, the deliberate abandonment of the 15 billion naira almajiri schools established by former President Jonathan which worsened the region’s problems not only nullifies Gaya’s arguments but also indicts this administration.
That is why every well-meaning Nigerian should support El-Rufai on this one. Love or loathe the diminutive Kaduna state governor you still have to admit that he is a brilliant and efficient public servant who doesn’t suffer fools gladly. His words often carry a lot of weight and many have come to believe that they represent the views of the northern progressives. So when he says that northern governors have resolved to end the almajiri system we can be hopeful that it is not the usual tedious lip service.
I do not expect El-Rufai to apologise to the former first lady for her politically incorrect but germane words. But I do hope that for our sake Nigerians especially the northern proletariat will demand action. The south has held her horse far too long even when the jury had been out all the while. There is no better evidence than the orgy of violence which grips the north today. It is time to sentence the almajiri system and its potential cataclysmic consequences to the dustbin of history.