Recently, the Governor of Nasarawa State, Umaru Tank Al-Makura described as sad and embarrassing the Almajiri syndrome that has allowed young boys to roam the streets begging for food and alms daily. Al-Makura’s lamentation was informed by the sight of such young boys who are being denied education and left to wander like sheep without shepherd. Definitely, we share the pains and frustrations of Governor Al-Makura over the unsavoury Almajiri syndrome that over time has become an enduring way of life in some parts of northern Nigeria.
In traffic everyday around towns in northern Nigeria, you see boys with plastic bowls begging. They are dressed in no more than rags and many times do not even have shoes on their feet. According to commentators, these children are pupils of Islamic boarding schools, known as Almajiri in search of religious knowledge. Unfortunately, these children are sent out to beg every day by their teachers and most times, the food they eat depends on what they bring in.
This system has been blamed for the rise of child beggars in northern Nigeria. Incidentally, many parents do nothing to help either, even as they send their children to these schools and do not bother to check up on them. More alarming is the fact that some of them are aware of the situation and ignore the danger this poses to the children. It is worth restating that the Almajiri syndrome can be said to be another form of child abuse, as it subjects these children to untold hardship of traversing cityscape, begging for food and alms. Reports and statistics show that there are about 10 million children roaming the streets of Northern Nigeria.
Something urgent must be done by the authorities to end this embarrassing syndrome. That is why the admonition by Al-Makura for parents to send their wards to government approved schools and not engage them in such retrogressive practice should be heeded. There is no denying the fact that the Boko Haram insurgency is being sustained by Almajiris who have not only shunned western education but have through such indoctrination become willing recruits.
Those who blame poverty and economic inequality as root causes of Boko Haram should know that the Almajiri system has perpetually kept parts of northern Nigeria from attaining educational progress in contrast to southern Nigeria. The system, as is presently practiced, has outlived its usefulness. These children are the leaders of tomorrow and without educating them; the future of the country and the region may be bleak, developmentally. Therefore, the system must be stopped, remodeled and integrated into Nigeria’s educational system. Knowledge is the pedestal on which a nation’s social cohesion and economic development depends.
No nation achieves greatness if its children, who are its greatest assets and successor generation, have no access to quality education. The fact that the majority of these children do not attend conventional schools makes the situation quite worrisome.
It therefore behooves governments in the northern states to come together, through such bodies like the Northern Governors Forum and the Arewa Consultative Forum, to tackle this menace.
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