Governor Nasir El-Rufai, has described almajiranci, an education system practised in Northern Nigeria, which involves children travelling long distances to seek Islamic knowledge, as a potential security risk and will be abolished in Kaduna State.
El-Rufai was one of four panelists invited to speak on “The Future of Almajiri Children in a Post-COVID World” on Wednesday during a webinar organised by the AlMajiri Child Rights Initiative (ACRI).
He said almajirai live in “impossible conditions” and not getting quality education or skills that would prepare them for the modern world.
“What is also clear is that we are producing a generation of young people who can only in the future be spiritualists and marabouts and potential recruits for the likes of Boko Haram.
“Without modern education, without skills, how they will survive will be a big question,” the governor said.
He added that the problem was not only educational and cultural but had security implications.
The governor revealed that all 19 governors in the Northern region agreed weeks ago to abolish the education system in favour of a hybrid system that would allow children to get modern learning in the morning and Islamic education in the afternoon.
“We think that that is the way to go. We think that these children must have both modern education and religious education,” he said.
He suggested that to encourage literacy, the medium of instruction in schools across the country should be changed from English to a local language.
“I want to be very honest and blunt about this. As far as we are concerned in the Kaduna State government, we see the almajiri problem now more as a cultural problem.
“It is only the Hausa/Fulani man that will be on an income of N10,000 a month, marry four wives, have 15 children that he knows he is incapable of looking after and the best way to outsource the responsibility for their upbringing is to hand them over to an almajiri teacher,” El-Rufai said.
“This is what our people are doing, and I can say this because I am Hausa/Fulani. You never find a Nupe man doing almajiri, you never find a Yoruba man doing almajiri. We have Yorubas in the North, we have Nupes in the North, we have other ethnic groups in the North.”
He said that the practice was also common among Kanuri people.
The governor said the Kaduna State government discovered that every almajiri in the state was required to give his teacher N200 every Wednesday.
“So during the week, the almajiri boy must beg, work, or steal and deliver that N200. If he doesn’t, he gets abused and seriously punished.
“Here are parents giving birth to a multiplicity of children, outsourcing responsibility to someone else without paying him and that person getting paid anyway by forcing the children into forced labour, begging, or abuse.
“This is what we have found since we started x-raying this problem,” he said.
The governor added: “Last week, the Kaduna State Executive Council approved a bill that will be sent to the House of Assembly, titled, Itinerant Education or Almajiri Prohibition Law.
“We are prohibiting that system. We want every child to be with his parents and get modern education in the morning and Qur’anic education in the afternoon.
“And for those Quranic schools, we will require them to fully comply with the rules of the Quality Assurance Authority.”
El-Rufai said the state had so far returned 35,000 almajirai to their states of origin to be reunited with their parents.
The children will be enrolled in school as soon as the COVID-19 lockdown is lifted with support from the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), he said.
“We started returning these almajiris to their state and by the time we came to the Northern State Governors’ Forum we outline our reasons and our strategies for doing what we are doing.
“I am happy to say that all the Northern governors, without exception, agreed that this is the way to go.
“We agreed to modernise a system that has never worked for any state, for any country.
“We have tried to study the almajiri system as practised in Nigeria to see where it has worked in any part of the world and the closest example we found was in Afghanistan, which led to the Taliban. So we decided that this was not going to work.
“Other states will adopt the Kaduna State template with modifications. There is a regional consensus around this.
“The COVID-19 pandemic provided a window of opportunity to have the almajiris in a fixed location, document them, test them, and repatriate them. We want them to grow under the care and love of their parents.”
He said, under the proposed law, any parent who refused to allow their children to go to school would be prosecuted and could face jail term.
Anyone operating an unlicensed almajiri school will also be fined per child enrolled and could be imprisoned, the governor warned.
“[But] we don’t want to jail or fine people,” he said. “We want people to see the value in education. We are going to be engaging in a lot of advocacy on parental responsibility, the values of education, and so on and so forth.”
Other panelists at the webinar were Peter Hawkins, UNICEF Country
Representative; Nurudeen Lemu, Board Chairman of ACRI; and Mohammed Sabo Keana, ACRI Team Lead.
Hawkins emphasised that the budgets for education and health at the state level needed to be improved on and children encouraged to go back to school after the lockdown.
He also recommended that the government invest more in rural education, skill acquisition and job creation.