The issue of religion and culture is a sensitive topic in Northern Nigeria – thanks to centuries of Islamic cultural evolution and the established Islamic system of the Sokoto Caliphate. This sensitivity does not mean, however, that salient issues that define our social existence cannot be discussed, however sensitive.
Therefore, I will show in this article that the current form of almajirci is neither Islamic nor about Qur’anic education and that those children on the streets are only victims of bad parenthood and unwanted child-bearing by their own biological parents.
I propose that the only solution to this, and indeed other child abuses that threaten our communal existence is to enforce a regional law reminiscent of the Kano family law propounded by HRH Muhammad Sanusi II.
Basically, almajirci is a form of education that has lasted for centuries in the Sahel. This system has its origin from the desire of parents to give their wards a befitting Islamic education which in those days was not as prevalent as we have it today. Centuries ago, people had to travel far and wide to get access to basic Qur’anic education, since it was alien to sub-Saharan Africa.
Today, however, children are littered on the streets of Northern Nigeria not with books or slates in search of knowledge, but with plastic containers begging for a meal. These are not children sent from far away in search of inaccessible knowledge. These are children living a distance from their parents, who abdicated their responsibilities of feeding their children to strangers on the streets, while they continue having pleasure and producing more and more children.
Granted that there were historically all the justifications for the migration of students out of their local environment to access learning and research. These may include lack of access to scholars and schools, the need for native education and the desire for perfection. In fact, even as modernity has brought information at our fingertips, people all over the world migrate in search of knowledge, of course under humane and conducive situations.
However, the centuries of Islamic propagation in Northern Nigeria has resolved the necessity for moving kids around in search of Qur’anic literacy. This, notwithstanding, a large number of people cling to this culture, and have made a habit of throwing their kids into new, unknown environments in the pretence of Islamic education. Instead of education, however, this habit is retained to only serve the personal prejudices, selfishness and utter lack of empathy exhibited by the parents of these children.
Today, there is no village across Northern Nigeria without an Islamic teacher capable of putting children through basic Qur’anic education. Thus, lack of access and quality are out of the equation. Secondly, parenting is a serious business in Islam, with severe consequences against defaulters. It is simply un-Islamic to bear children one cannot maintain.
To shamelessly throw children brought to the world without their consent to the streets barefooted, hungry, thirsty, dirty and homeless speaks volumes of not just inhumanity, but also faithlessness. The idea that people send these children to learn Islam is a necked, barefaced self-deception, and is contrary to all Islamic laws, regulations and injunctions.
What then motivates parents to inhumanly put their own biological offspring into these deplorable, toxic and unbearable conditions at such an early age? The common claim one hears is that these parents do not love their children. Well, this might be true given that no one treats something they love the way these people treat their own children. But, it is a known fact that humans love their biological offspring, including these irresponsible parents.
Another common, but unfathomable excuse is ignorance and poverty. How could anyone be said to be ignorant of the very basics of life, such as feeding, clothing, shelter, healthcare, etc. in raising his own child, when they need and in fact provide the same for themselves? Absurd!
It seems to me, therefore, that the motivation for this insensitivity borders around convenience and abdication of responsibility in order to achieve unlimited, unaffordable desires. Sending children to different places or cities entirely removes parents from their lives. It is so convenient to have a child in a place where no one knows the parents or their whereabouts.
It is also a means of abdication of responsibility. Parents do not have to feed, clothe or care for their children. All that is important is that they have a child elsewhere – somewhere unknown. This provides the room for more pleasure, the result of which is more reproduction. It is a case of throwing away a baggage to create room for another, probably a wife and more children. At the end of the day, who doesn’t want free, costless pleasure?
Inasmuch as this recklessness has been internalized and entrenched in the society, one obvious reason it has defied all solutions is that a section – or in fact the general posture – of the northern elite is yet to decisively reject it. It seems that the religious elite are yet to unequivocally denounce this menace while the upper socio-political spectrum is scared of piercing the wound of their base.
The only solution to these kinds of social disorder is ensuring consequences for actions and inactions. The northern family institution has been left unregulated and arbitrarily abused. For instance, while most marriages and family institutions in the southern and Christian communities are protected and guided by the courts, the northern family institution is left at the mercy of husbands who treat it as personal affairs at their own will.
To reverse this trend, there is the need for a cross-regional family law that will protect the institution from aberrations and abuses and stop wanting parties from maltreating their spouses and children. Without this, there is hardly a way to stop human beings from taking pleasures in actions that do not bear consequences.
Dr. Ahmadu Shehu wrote from Kaduna via email@example.com