By Dr. Aliyu U. Tilde
The Future of the Almajiri (2)
The final paragraphs of our discussion last week dwelt on the contribution of the almajiri to our economy after he has graduated from almajirci. I promised to continue the discussion today by first comparing almajirci and our modern schools, as they actually are. I want the reader for the mean time to focus on the majority of the almajiri that are in the rural areas, not city almajiris that are suffering from problems of urbanization which have not spared even the children of elite. That rural almajiri undergoes almajirci largely as it has been for many generations before. Later in the article, I will start discussing the other side of the almajiri, chiefly represented by urban almajiris, the types facing the dual problems of both urbanization and poverty.
If the reader has followed us, we have proved that in its ideal form, almajirci still produce Nigerians who grow to be self-employed humble, and free from the garbage of arrogance, redundancy, unemployment which we the elite today suffer from. It has been playing this role for generations. Now, compare it with our modern public primary and secondary school system or even the Islamiyya schools. Our modern public schools today, except for the few private ones, produce over 80% children who cannot even read or write after six years of primary education.
An illustration is necessary. In January 2004 I arranged an interview of 31,000 primary VI pupils who were seeking admission into JSSI in my State, Bauchi. They were given simple Primary II sentences to read as the only test for the admission. 25,000 of them could not read a word – that was after spending six years of primary education! It means we have 'achieved' 71% illiteracy. That year again I walked into four SS3 classes in a boarding public secondary school. Their blackboards were full of notes in different subjects. I asked them to produce one student who can read the first sentence and explain it to me even in Hausa. None of the students could read even a sentence. That was after 12 years of 'modern education' and an expenditure running in billions. In some other 'boko haram states', the statistics are worse.
Let us be honest. What is the future of such modern public school children, whom we produce year in year out for decades now? Is it surprising that many states in Nigeria have millions of unemployable youths that are today threatening the elite with robbery, abduction, rape, drugs, etc? Where is the promise of a good future, of becoming "ABC?" for anyone who undergoes modern education? Remember that majority of these youths have been cut off from the rural professions of their parents with the promise of a better future. Now here they are, at the age of 18 or 19 without literacy and without any trade.
Let us now ask a simple question: which of the two systems should be scrapped – the almajiri system that produces a majority that contribute to the national economy or the modern school system whose majority are ignorant, unemployable and delinquent youths? Which of the two contributes to the economy better? Into which of the two would a diligent rural father naturally enroll his child? The answers are obvious. These are not academic questions but practical ones made by parents every day in rural North. Musa's father if we remember had enrolled one of his elder brothers at Tudun Wada primary school but instead of the brother growing up as a responsible person, he turned out to be delinquent. That made him to revert to almajirci, where he enrolled his oldest son who grew up to be a successful trader in Kano. We wish modern schools were not so bad. We wish we were not so wicked.
This brings us to a comparison of between the almajiri and the products of modern education who can read and write and could further their education beyond secondary school. (I am doing my best to avoid the term western education) What percentage of this group becomes successful public servants, company executives or politicians? And what is their, or say our, contribution to the economy? At our best, except for the few honest ones whom we despise, we fulfill our ambition for 'better life' by unleashing our greed on the society. We loot public treasury daily without caring whether the country is getting crippled in every facet of its life. This country would have collapsed long ago if not for the commission it earns from oil. That is why we would agree to stoop so low to negotiate with criminals in the Niger Delta, giving them fat salaries just to allow foreigners enough peace to drill out oil, sell it in the world market and pay us the commission. We then sit monthly to share the booty among our 1+ 36 + 774 governments. Soon after, we, the successfully educated, will pounce on the booty and deny the majority of Nigerians from enjoying any of its benefits. It is by the scramble for this booty, combined with our ineptitude, that we destroyed the very institution that would have been become the most viable alternative for the almajiri: the public schools.
Immediately the founding fathers of modern North departed we ransacked the system and brought it down to its knees. We have produced principals who steal books, equipment, food items, and even roofs of their classrooms. This is not exaggeration. I saw it. We should cover ourselves in shame. Which almajiri malam have we ever caught stealing anything? The worse part of it was that after some of the equipment were intercepted and handed over to the Ministry of Education, it disappeared in the hands of the ministry's officials and the principal was never dismissed from service. Our modern public schools system is barely 60 years, if you discount the few teachers colleges that were established in the late before the mid-1940s. We have proved to be incapable of holding it, despite the salaries, allowances, accommodation, cars, offices, etc. Shame. Shame on us.
Can any of us, therefore, be bold enough to compare our performance with that of the malams who maintained the almajiri system for 1000 years voluntarily without any substantial official patronage, amidst the difficulties of wars, famines, slavery, etc? Let him tell us who needs salvation: we the thieves, leaches and parasites or the almajiri whose only fault today is that he has become a victim of our corruption? Who is contributing to the economy better: the thief or the farmer, the trader and the nail cutter? I believe we need salvation, not the almajiri. We need large doses of their philosophy of education – humility, hard work, responsibility and accountability before God tomorrow – such that we can purge ourselves of the disease of greed, laziness and dishonesty that has become our hallmark. It is only when we learn to be responsible that we can start raising our heads above the innocent chap we might come across begging. His very presence today is a testimony of our collective failure, a result of our wickedness, greed and incompetence. Had we kept the trust of our founding fathers who suffered to introduce modern education to us through public schools in the North, there would not have been a single almajiri left today because people who taste western education hardly allow their children to become almajiri. Therefore, their continuous existence is an indictment to us.
Those canvassing that almajiri system should be wiped out need to be cautious. Let them sit under a tree and think over these problems. I have met quite a number of them since I started the series. However, after discussion they often agree that the prospect of wiping the almajiri entirely is not tenable; rather it is an half thought solution that will be dangerous to the Northern rural economy and society in general. What will become of the North if we were to enroll these victims into modern schools that are completely incapable of achieving anything other than breeding a menace to the society?
Some of us are so passionate about the suffering of the almajiri that they like to propagate the ideal that cannot be achieved today. That is the domain of academicians. Years ago I used to ask the same foolish questions that some of us ask today. Why do those who oppose the scrapping of the almajiri system not enroll their children in almajiri schools? This is cheap rhetoric. The issue is what choice have we left for poor parents who cannot afford to enroll children in schools that would meaningfully educate their children and do not want the children to grow wasted? Do we force them to waste those children as we have wasted millions of those before them, who enrolled but ended up with practically nothing?
Opinion shapers and policy makers cannot afford the luxury of theory. We must handle issues as they are and proffer solutions that are practically possible without creating disequilibrium that will be at peril of the society. We do not write for the archives or library shelves. If we do not want more boko harams, we must first rise and combat our indulgence such that modern public schools become useful and their products become responsible adults meaningfully employed in the society, then the almajiri system will gradually face out itself. That does not seem to be happening now. Instead, we are becoming more merciless in our corruption. Little wonder, therefore, that governments and some NGOs have lost patience. They have abandoned the rhetoric. In the past few years they have dropped the dream of wiping out the almajiri. They are thinking of taking basic education to him in what is generally called integration, an aspect I will still delay until the next discussion. Though some of them are already experiencing difficulties, I still believe it is the most practical intervention any government or agency would attempt.
So far, I have tried to provide reasons why wiping out the almajiri is not tenable. However, in so doing I only considered the rural almajiri, who constitutes the majority. I have rendered a near perfect portrait of him by describing him as innocent, focused, learning chap who will grow to be a humble, responsible adult who is self-employed and part of that long chain of careers of the Qur'an. His system also I honored with efficiency, able to teach children how to read, responsible for literacy in the North for centuries, and the protection of millions of our youths against the life of thievery, cheating, arrogance, unemployment and ignorance, all of which have become the most visible products of our modern public schools. Their teachers I reported as saints, people who have voluntarily taken to educating our children without salary, office, and other luxuries and securities except for the charity that they receive from rulers, merchants and few others.
It is now time to confess that I know that the portrait cannot be without its stains if I really want to sell it profitably. The almajiri system is not without its problems. Its reliance on our charity in an age of increasing selfishness makes its future less guaranteed and is responsible for the hardship of its pupil today. In an age of violence, cult and money worship, it makes the almajiri potentially, and in urban areas actually, vulnerable to abuse, drugs, trafficking and various forms of exploitation. I am also aware that his condition of life is less than average: we daily witness him in torn, dirty looking cloth, hungry stomach, and unkept body. His image is a source of concern to many modern malams who strongly feel that he is giving Islam a bad picture; his status to others is not more than that of an eyesore or a pest.
Also, the almajiri malams are not completely clean because some of them use their pupils to source for livelihood largely through begging without paying attention to teaching the children much. Some of the malams and senior almajirai are partners of corrupt politicians and government officials to the extent of performing what is generally believed to be polytheistic rituals called tsibbu. Those of them with corrupt minds are already salivating in expectation of government funds.
The almajiri education system itself has locked its students out of modernity. They cannot read newspapers or partake in the running of government since they do not have formal English education. Even in Islam, the system hardly equips them with the ilm that they require for to carry out their basic religious obligation. This has also been a source of worry for malams who have graduated from formal Muslim seminaries at home or overseas.
Whatever are his natural problems, the almajiri in the city is confronted by the additional problem of urbanization: the gruesome poverty which Darwin called self-replicating; the lack of sufficient space that causes overcrowding of homes and schools and overstretch facilities; the competition for survival that makes everyone an exploiter of another; the lack of clean water and other facilities that are often taken for granted in rural Nigeria; the spatial divide between the haves and the have-nots that make leftovers inaccessible to the almajiri; etc. Like a labourer, the almajiri malam is attracted by the glitter of the city but as soon as he settles in it he finds out that his actual prospects of happiness are less than that of his rural origin. However, the realization comes often late. Their pupils often become victims of merciless form of life to which everybody is unto himself.
It is sad that the almajiris that undergo these hardships are the representatives of the rural ones in the parliament of the city where government is located and the influential resides, where decisions are taken regarding everything in the society. A person in Kano sees the almajiri in Kofar Mazugal or Gwammaja and thinks that every almajiri is like that, aimless, suffering, knotty, etc. The quiet rural majority are reached out in his mind only by the extrapolation of the city picture and an extension of its voices. That is why I started with the former, the original almajiri, who is the roots that is unflinching in its tenacity, sincere in its purpose, focused in its perception and productive in its venture.
Next week we shall see how the elite are trying in different ways and according to their different perceptions to 'rescue' the almajiri. We will try to examine the different approaches and see what could be the best, in our judgment, for the most manifest victim of our greed and incapacity.
30 October 2009ة