Kano city has nearly 1,400 Qur’anic schools called Tsangaya, where about 150,000 boys aged between 5 and 14 years known as almajirai are taught. These are often children from rural areas who have left home to receive Islamic education.
Over the years, lack of control over the almajiri system, which attracted the children to various streets in search of food, forcing them to engage in begging, became a nightmare to various state governments in northern Nigeria, including Kano; hence they started looking for ways to address the situation. Consequently, the Kano State Government came up with several initiatives to return the boys to their home states, but the initiatives seem to be failing as they have remained in the streets.
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Almaijiri is a term borrowed from the Arabic word, al-muhajir (plural, al-muhajirun), meaning migrants. It often refers to a group of migrants or children who left the comfort of their homes and families in search of Islamic education in the Qur’anic school called “Tsangaya” through the process often referred to as almajirci.
Almajirci is believed to be a process or spiritual journey for knowledge acquisition by almajirai under the guidance of a teacher or spiritual foster father called mallam or alaramma.
This Qur’anic educational system has been in existence in northern Nigeria for over 500 years, thus, believed to be the backbone of socialisation, as well as the only accepted known medium of learning and understanding the teachings and social importance of the Islamic religion.
Schools under this educational system are categorised either as integrated or non-integrated.
The Tsangaya is a non-formal educational system that does not integrate the conventional education curriculum in its learning process.
The means of livelihood of the almajiri children in most cases is largely from alms they receive through begging or running errands, such as laundry and cleaning in some households, and in return, they are given food to eat. In some cases, they engage in other activities, such as shoe repairs.
In terms of shelter, the learning centres are quite small in size while the accommodations are grossly inadequate for such a large population. Thus, in most cases they squat in the learning centres or porches of residences in the neighbourhood.
While the Tsangaya system of learning can now be described as a faulty process, the Kano State Government had in the past introduced various initiatives to bring together these schools and the pupils into an integrated system of formal learning.
Coupled with the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, this group of individuals who live amidst all other citizens, became vulnerable, a situation that prompted the Kano State Government to send away no fewer than 2,000 almajirai after isolating them in three quarantine centres in the state.
The state government said it would enroll the over 1,000 repatriated children into formal schools in line with its free and compulsory education policy.
“Every child in Kano State, including almajirai, must go to school,” Governor Abdullahi Ganduje said during a media briefing by the state task force on COVID-19 at the Government House, adding that his administration was determined to chart a better future for them.
Ganduje warned that the state government would not allow almajiri schools to operate in any part of the state unless they met some criteria and guidelines.
In an effort to discourage the old practice, the state government constituted a technical committee to remodel the almajiri system of education in the state, aimed at stopping the children from roaming the streets and begging.
“The new initiative will checkmate the menace of street begging among the almajirai. More measures will be put in place to bring forth the dignity and resourcefulness of pupils for the overall development of the state,” Abba Anwar, the chief press secretary to the governor had said.
The Managing Director of the Kano State Agency for the Evacuation and Repartition of Almajirai, Muhammad Albakhari Mika’il, said the agency was doing its best to curtail the menace of street begging.
“I can tell you that recently, we evacuated about 50 almajirai from a Tsangaya in Gwammaja Quarters as the school doesn’t have a single toilet and residents of the area raised a complaint about too much of open defecation by the pupils. So we went there and saw for ourselves and took a bold step by closing down the school pending when the toilets would be built for the pupils. We have repatriated them to their state of origin, precisely Katsina,” he said.
He added that the agency was partnering with traditional leaders in the state to talk to parents, especially those in rural areas, so that they can be fully aware of their responsibilities.
Labaran Abdulqadir Muhammad, the assistant officer in charge of the Anti-Bara Unit of the Kano State Hisbah Board, told Daily Trust on Sunday that they recently repatriated more than 200 beggars to their respective states.
“The annoying thing is that these children are not staying in their schools, they have places they sleep at night. In places like France Road, Beirut Road, Ring Road etc, you will see children of 12 and 13 years sleeping. Some of them are being taken care of, but they would insist on begging, which makes them lazy.
“You will see some of them holding girls of ages 2 and 3 in the name of begging. We normally arrest them; and their leader (Sarkin Makafi) often comes to ask for their bail. I do tell their commander to warn the children and stop them from begging,” he said.
Muhammad said the most dangerous part of the situation is that some of the children, including girls, had been involved in commercial sexual activities.
“Again, what I want them to understand is that it is painful to see them with 2 to 3 girls. While one is with him, the rest would go looking for men. Wallahi, this is what they are doing. Some of these girls were tested and many were HIV positive.
“For small ones of school age, we bring them to the office and look for their teachers. Some don’t even recognise where their school is, but they know their villages, so we try to return them to their parents through their village heads so that they won’t come back,” he said.
Some Kano residents who spoke to our correspondents called on the state government to, as a matter of urgency, do the needful to address the almajiri problem as they have become a menace to the society.
A resident of the city, Abdulkadir Abubakar, said the state government was not serious about its ban of the almajiri system because, “there is no practical step to monitor its implementation, neither is there an arrangement to enforce it. Any filling station you enter in the metropolis you see these children chasing you for alms.”
Another resident, Aminu Alkassim also said, “The almajirai have turned to other things. They deprive us of our privacy. We can no longer leave our things in our compounds the way we want it and they will come and pick them. Above all, we cannot have peace in our houses as the almajiri children will come and start shouting at your gate in the name of begging.”
Another resident wondered if the children even go to their schools to study the Qur’an as they spend the whole day roaming the streets.
Some of the almajirai who spoke to correspondent said they were begging to survive as there was no alternative.
Sulaiman Ali, an almajiri at Goron Dutse, said he was brought newly to his school and his teacher introduced him to his colleagues and told them to go with him whenever they were going out to beg.
“From there, I started going out to beg for food three times a day. At last, I got a house where I was employed to run errands, so I stopped begging for food as I now have my three square meals. But I still beg for money,” he said.
Another almajiri, Sharu Idris, told Daily Trust Saturday that he was among those repatriated to his village, Dutsinma in Katsina State, but he returned to Kano some months ago.
“Our malam went to our village two weeks after we were repatriated and brought us back to Kano, “he said.
Abdurrashid Muhamamd, 10, from Mafara in Zamfara State, who is now an almajiri at Marmara in Kano metropolis said, “It was my brother who brought me back to Kano six weeks ago to Alaramma school in Marmara here. I don’t know why they brought me back to Kano because I was taken back to my parents.”
A proprietor of a Tsangaya school in Kano, Alaramma Bayero Ahmad, said the move by the state government to ban the system was callous, discriminatory and a conspiracy against Qur’anic knowledge.
“What we expect the government to do is to come into the system by building our Tsangaya schools, equip them with all necessary things, provide food for our almajirai as it does in the secular schools. But to ban the whole system this is not fair. It is discriminatory and a conspiracy against Qur’anic knowledge,” he said.
Another alaramma, Tukur Ladan, who is the chairman of the Association of Alarammas in the state, opined that for the government to address the issue of begging, it has to sit down with them and find a lasting solution.
“Although we are the major stakeholders on this issue, we were not contacted before some government’s decisions were taken. We only heard some policies in the media. We need to be consulted on the issue of almajiri because definitely, we have some suggestions,” he said.
The Project Director of KDC Foundation, a non-governmental organisation that works towards enhancing almajiri life, Khalifa Mustapha Dankadai, said that for the North to address the influx of almajirai in the states, there should be a regional and coordinated approach.
“If in Kano we have a functional reform and other states are not having it, or rather, are not serious about it, we are not coordinated and not working together as a region. So we are going to have an influx of almajirai into various states,” he said.
Dankadai added that state governments should address rural-urban almajirai migration by providing learning and economic opportunities in rural communities.
“It is also important to engage these children so that they would not have the need to migrate to urban communities in search of greener pastures. Most of the time, these almajirai move to cities because of economic deprivation, not necessarily to study in Tsangaya schools. Most rural communities have Tsangaya schools. If it was about education or Quran memorisation they could have stayed in their local communities. Why would they travel all the way from a rural community to an urban area or from a rural community to another state in search of a school they have close to them,” he asked.
Speaking on their role as a foundation, Dankadai said they created an integrated learning skills development and economic opportunities to out-of-school children and youth from rural communities.
This, he said, helped to de-radicalise rural youths and out-of-school children and also prevent them from joining gangs or violent extremists.
Sheikh Ibrahim Khalil, the chairman, Council of Ulama in Kano State, said government’s decision to ban almajiri was not feasible.
“Necessary steps towards curtailing the practice were not taken or put in place before the decision was taken.
“To us at the Council of Ulama, the government cannot do it and is not serious about it. They are just doing it to appease their ‘masters’ abroad or get their money, or it is a kind of noisemaking,” he said.
The cleric, who is also an advocate against street begging, outlined efforts in the past to curtail the menace. He also insisted that ‘stakeholders’ must be involved in taking decisions.
He said, “There are beggars who were sent by their parents from rural areas. Physically challenged persons also engage in begging. All these forms of street begging need to be identified and each one addressed accordingly. But they (government) have not done that.
“So, for the ban to work, there has to be cooperation between the government and Quranic clerics. You have to sit with them and understand why they engage in begging, get some statistics and know the total number of those engaging in it.
“If you identify all these, you would come to know those that are not almajirai.”
Sheikh Khaleel also stressed the need for all the states in the region to collaborate in efforts at ending street begging.
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