Far North And The Menace Of Almajirci, By Usama Dandare
Whoever is familiar with the northern region of Nigeria especially the core northern states will agree with me that the region is indeed home to several destitute children who flooded the streets begging for food and money under the platform of “Almajiri”, reaching a vexatious stage where even visitors are been constantly harassed on the streets by underage children and adults who repeatedly beg for money from every car owner and every neatly dressed person they came across. Seeing these poor children of various ages and background strolling through the streets bare footed, dirty, tattered, and uncared for will leave every well meaning individual in deep shock and amusement. Due to the incapability of their parents to cater for their socio-economic well-being, they resorted to sending them out in the name of one religious education or the next, forcing the children to fend for themselves through begging, labour, and any other possible and even impossible mean to survive hence engendering their lives to the act of begging and all sorts of crimes. A reason which prompted many spectators to ask: why would anyone give birth to a child he cannot fend for?
The word Almajiri was derived from the Arabic word “Almuhajirun”, meaning an emigrant. It usually refers to a person who migrates from the luxury of his home to other places or to a popular teacher in the quest for Islamic knowledge. It is hinged on the Islamic concept of migration which is widely practiced especially when acquisition of knowledge at home is either inconvenient or insufficient. During the pre-colonial era, the Almajiri education system, originally called the Tsangaya was established under the Kanem-Borno Empire, one of the oldest ruling empires in the world extending from the frontiers of northern Nigeria across the Chadian region up to the borders of Libya. It was established as an organized and comprehensive system of education for learning Islamic principles, values, jurisprudence and theology. It was a replica of Islamic learning centres in many Muslim countries such as the madrasah in Pakistan, Malaysia, Egypt and Indonesia, etc. But unfortunately, the almajiri system today is more or less a replica of it former self, as the purposes for which it was earlier established have long been destroyed. The Almajiri system of education has shifted from being a breeding channel for clerics, to a veritable avenue for the mass productions of thugs, thieves, miscreants and several criminals whose only importance is to constitute nuisance to the society.
Of recent, there are renewed interests and commitments from northern governors to bring an end to the act of child begging. Various seminars, conferences and symposiums on the subject matter were held with a view to overhaul the entire almajirci system into a tool of nation building. As someone familiar with the almajirci system, my major concern about this latest develpment is the inability of those in authorities to take the right measures to prevent future occurrence before placing any ban on begging, which in my view, was inadequately taken care of. I only want to highlight my observations on some key areas that has not been given adequate considerations by northern governors in their latest efforts to restructure the almajirci system and do away with begging for the benefit of all and sundry:
As vexatious and disgusting as the issue of child begging in the north may seems, the need to comprehensively and sincerely study the real problem should, as well, not be taken for a ride. The hypocritical and lackadaisical approach in tackling this menace will not only escalate the problem but will go a long way to destroy the future of the northern region entirely. One reason why northern governors failed to solve the problem of begging despite spending billions to that direction was informed by their insincere and dubious urge to deceive the general public, the reason why these northern leaders are trying to halt the practice of street begging was motivated not by their desires for change but by the plethora of insults and incessant ridicule the region and it’s leaders are being subjected to by folks from other regions who uses the almajiri phenomenon to ridicule the region.
Similarly, the escalation of begging in the North in whatever guise is undoubtedly fueled by a chronic and monumental poverty which perhaps originated as a result of a tense competition for limited economic oppurtunities, considering the fact that the region has the highest percentage of poverty in the country especially in the rural communities. Sadly, this unfortunate predicament forces both children and adults irrespective of age and gender to invade our major commercial cities in search for greener pasture, which in the process majority of them turned beggars in order to fend for themselves due to lack of employment opportunities. Therefore, banning begging without taking proactive measures to alleviate poverty is as useless as the last three-letters in ‘Queue’.
In the same vain, another critical issue that should be given adequate emphasis in the fight against street begging is the continuous abuse of polygamy in the northern region, where women are consistently divorced and re-divored at will just like they were often married and remarried due to ignorance and sheer misinterpretation of Islamic injunction. Hence warranting a situation where parents gave birth to children they cannot take care of, instead, parents sent their wards out – for being out of control or a burden – under the pretext of one so-called almajirci education or the other.This make the children ill equipped towards facing the economic and moral challenges of the future. As such, fighting the menace of begging will only succeed if the affected states adopted a proactive measure to checkmate this repeated abuse of polygamy, and on the other hand, proscribe retributions for any parents who gave birth to children and then sent them out to cater for themselves.
Subsequently, all the institutions established to fight street begging in the North seems to have focused on almajiri begging alone while reluctantly and lackadaisically allowing begging in other forms. Many believes banning almajiri will solve the decades long problem of begging in the northern Nigeria, unknown to them that begging isn’t limited to almajiris or child beggars alone but an act being perpetrated by all caliber of people – irrespective of age or gender – who continue to legitimize begging by misinterpreting islamic teachings in other to justify their self-imposed destitution. For this, the almajiri and non almajiri, young and old, male and female, able and disabled took begging to the streets on a permanent basis. Therefore, the authorities concern must refocus back their attention and carry along both almajiri and the non almajiri beggars if the desired goals are to be achieved.
The most critical and lethal phenomenon worsening the menace of street begging is undoubtedly the monstrous problem of corruption and lack of political will in the North and Nigeria as a whole. The political leadership in the northern region is deluded in self-deceit and serving the interest of some few oppurtunists to the detriment of the poor masses, which is perhaps why the region continue to fare very badly in all areas of developmental indices. The glaring rate of poverty, hunger, illiteracy, joblessness, and lack of basic social amenities in the north is a clear reflection of how the region has been badly governed over the years. Several efforts made in the past by some few northern leaders in improving the social standard and the status quo of the northern people proved abortive due to massive embezzlement of public funds, and lack of transparency and accountability which in turns worsened the living standard of the people, hence birthing all sorts of societal ills including begging. Therefore, until northern leaders shun corruption and response to the yearnings and aspirations of the populace, I see no success in this renewed fight against street begging.
Similarly, certain state reforms implemented toward that direction ended up fueling the problem even more further. A clear scenario is the “destitute allowance programme” initiated by Sokoto State government where beggars and the destitutes are given ?6,500 as monthly allowances, this initiative ended up creating more beggars as many took to the streets in an attempt to get themselves listed in the destitute programme’s payroll.
Besides corrupt and lack of political will, the society itself plays a significant role in nurturing the menace of begging within our territories. The widely sympathy enjoyed by beggars and the psychological legalisation of begging has no doubt encourage begging, we tend to show conscience toward beggars by constantly giving them in alms money and food which perhaps encourage other poor masses to follow suit in search of daily bread. Another aspect is this irresponsible attitude of sharing public funds to the people as habitual of almost all northern politicians today, in what they considered as a form of a “welfarist system” or “stomach infrastructure” as others called it. These politicians are fun of assembling poor masses at their various residence for a daily cash gift while others opted to be throwing wads of Naira to the people on the streets in a free for all manner. Therefore, the beneficiaries of this gesture becomes idle and reluctantly dependant on a particular politician for survival, which in return endangered them to the act of begging as soon as that politician step out of power. A case study of former governors of Sokoto and Zamfara States respectively says it all. As such, adequate measures must be taking to address this financial wastage if the roots of begging are to be cut out.
Finally, the formalisation and modernisation of tsangaya or almajiri system of education to be in tandem with modern realities will surely be a step in the right direction, but focusing on that alone wil not completely solve the problem until proactive and pragmatic approaches are taken toward that direction. Pragmatic approaches such as boosting agricultural activities and food production, empowering the destitute, providing basic and social amenities for the populace, poverty alleviation programs, creating employment opportunities, providing quality and affordable education and healthcare delivery for all, and of course, a law criminalising begging in whatever form should be imposed but after all necessary groundwork. The affected states (northern states) should not be left alone in this efforts as almost all the states nationwide have been infiltrated by different groups of beggars mostly from the north, therefore, giving emphasis to the northern region alone wil only make other regions vulnerable.
We must also emphasise the need for all hand to be on-deck in order to confront this menace. We must collectively kill the scourge of begging before our generation perish as beggars. The time to act is now or never.
Usama A. Dandare, a social commentator write from Sokoto. Reach him via email@example.com, www.facebook.com/usama.dandareor twitter @osadaby