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Nigeria-The North and the “Almajiri-Armageddon”:Ending Feudalism through Education

“Almajiri” is a word borrowed from Arabic for someone who leaves his home in search of knowledge in the Islamic religion. In Northern Nigeria today,the only “education” that seems to be on offer to the children in this position,to the “untutored” eye,is indoctrination into a life of poverty and violence.Without any formal system to take care of them,these kids end up on the streets as beggars.As a result,the word “Almajiri” has come to stand for street-children.As street-children,without any form of parental care,they easily fall under the sway of any one who is willing to “provide” for them.This is how the Almajiris came to be instruments of sectarian violence,biddable pawns in the hands of mischief makers.The impression has taken hold that this army of mendicant urchins,was being tolerated,if not remote-controlled,by Northern elites,as a useful addition to it’s arsenal,in it’s adversarial rivalry with the South.

In numerous,episodic and seemingly unprovoked,attacks in the North,these Almajiris have been freely unleashed against Southerners,and their interests.Whether freelancing or under the direct orders of extremist groups such as the “Boko Haram“,these agents of violence know only to kill,burn,maim or destroy,talents that have been turned frequently against Southerners.Until now.Following the announcement of Goodluck Jonathan as winner of the 2011 presidential elections,certain parts of the North erupted in violence,during which many Southerners lost lives,limbs and properties.So far,so predictable.But for the first time,certain elements of the Northern elite-class also became targets,as the homes of prominent Northerners,including highly-placed traditional rulers,were torched by the mob.It is this twist in the tale,that is concentrating minds,now.

For the first time,questions are now being raised about the “Almajiri” problem,within the Northern elite-circles.Disappointingly,however,the focus seems to be on security measures.I recall that,following the out-break of electoral violence,the internal affairs minister,Mr Iheanacho,was suspended.We are fixated on security; every body is talking about improving security,about bringing perpetrators to justice as a way of sending a clear signal to would-be rioters,of government’s determination to interdict mob-violence.And,improving security is good,very good.But police measures alone will not solve the problem.To be effective,police-measures must go hand-in-hand with social-dynamics,that set of socio-economic tools, with which a society can be nudged in a given direction.In particular,education should be emphasized.And i mean “functional” education,which some “impolitically” or “ignorantly” call “Western” education.

Whatever it is called,it must play it’s role as a predictor of future success,to enable the root-and-branch overhaul of the Northern socio-economy,and to secure the approval of the Northern masses.The reason the average Northerner regards education with such contempt,is because he sees it as a foreign past-time of little value.He does not see it as a predictor of future success.And no wonder.For,most  successful Northerners,including professors,engineers and doctors,are children of privilege.Most of them are sons and nephews of  Sultans,Emirs and other traditional rulers.As a result,their success is seen by the average Northerner,as deriving from privilege,rather than education.It is not unthinkable,that the average Northerner sees education as an accomplice of privilege,designed to perpetuate the gap between the nobility and the peasantry.And indeed,that gap is so huge,so feudal.

Make no mistake about it,any society that boasts of such social and economic polarization is feudal,as feudalism thrives on the rigid hierarchization that enshrines privilege,by enriching the patrician at the expense of the peasant.Through out feudal Europe,penury was the natural condition of the peasant.One of the reasons for this,was because economic-skills could only be transmitted from parent or guardian to child or ward.In other words,one could only take after one’s father or guardian.This was the case for both patrician and peasant;while the noble learned the ways of nobility,the peasant learned the trade of his peasant-father.This ensured that children of farmers,gardeners,butlers and cooks could only end up as farmers,gardeners,butlers and cooks,from one generation to the next.They could not aspire to become doctors,engineers,lawyers or professors,because their parents could not transmit skills that they did not posses.This system kept both classes apart for centuries.Until the invention of schools.

As a means of transmitting ideas,knowledge and values from one generation to the next,the parent-to-child or guardian-to-ward “education” system was beset by two major drawbacks.First,given that parents or guardians could only give what they had,their children or wards were condemned to re-live their fates.Second,some children either had only irresponsible parents or guardians or none at all.Schools were invented to address these short-comings.The school system was designed to pool the knowledge-resources of the society together,for meritocratic allocation to students,such that the impact of circumstances of birth would be significantly reduced or eliminated.In other words,schools were founded to create a level-playing field for all children,by ensuring equality of opportunity,if not of out-come,for them all.As you can imagine,the idea of creating a level-playing field for all children,irrespective of class,was a death-blow aimed at the heart of feudalism.

In time,the wall between peasant and patrician crumbled,as children of peasants could now aspire to become economically successful,by training to become doctors,engineers,lawyers,teachers and scientists.All they had to do was go school to acquire the necessary education; whatever career took their fancy,they could now “buy” at school.Properly defined,therefore,a school is a market-place for the buying and selling of knowledge,with the teachers doing the selling while the students do the buying.But,to ensure equality of opportunity for all children,the currency of purchase must be denominated in diligence and intelligence,not Naira and Kobo.That is to say,that moral and intellectual mettle,rather than wealth,should be the decisive factor in determining educational and career out-comes.Otherwise,the purpose of education as a leveler,would be defeated,as the wealthy would continue to prosper while the poor continue to be denied.

If the Northern nobility must avoid the fate of the Russian aristocracy,in this case an “Almajiri-armageddon”,especially now that adherents of “Boko Haram” have,allegedly,added bomb-making skills to their arsenal,it must plump for a more meritocratic society.Such a society can only emerge when the masses have been lifted up through education; education that empowers the poor and brings hope to the oppressed; education that turns the “Almajiri” masses into a population of stake-holding doctors,engineers,economists and teachers,rather than malcontent-terrorists and -human-bombers.An education system that is capable of doing this,no matter that it is called “Western”,would win the approval and support of the Northern masses.Let us not forget that “Western” education owes much to early Arab-scholarship.It is not “Christian” education.Muslims in such places as Malaysia and Indonesia have proved that Islam and “Western” education can co-exist,as have Yoruba Muslims of South-Western Nigeria.Resistance to “Western” education is not about religion;it is about the manipulation of an ignorant population by feudalists.Has always been.The “Almajiri” problem is a ticking time-bomb.Tick,tock.

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7 responses to “Nigeria-The North and the “Almajiri-Armageddon”:Ending Feudalism through Education

  1. codliveroil July 5, 2011 at 4:59 pm

    Yes, you are right education and enlightenment would go along way to cure the scourge of ignorance, poverty, greed that pervades the Sharia states. Why does no one question what happened to all the billions of dollars that was allocated to the Sharia states? Their ministers, religious clerics and traditional rulers squandered/ or spirited the money to the Gulf or Europe for safe keeping.

    But do you think the Fulani nobility, want to experience diminished authority and the restricted professional class want to contend with more competition? These are the two groups that are responsible for maintaining the “status quo”, whereby very few succeed and the majority are dirt poor. To keep them in such bondage they use religion and culture to straight jacket the masses. Anyone who challenges that is executed.

    As you said education is the way forward, that is why countries that are looking to the future are investing heavily in education. Only a fool would say education is bad. That is why the scramble is on for education around the world. May be with the exception of parts of northern Nigeria, everywhere else in the world, the one thing the poor want is for their kids to have a good education. Why is this, because one’s chances of succeeding are improved with education. Why those in the Sharia states are trying to defy gravity and fly in the face of common-sense is a mystery. Even their Saudi role models, will distance themselves from them as they are too disease ridden, (witness the insistence on them needing polio vaccine and certificates to say they are hiv negative before they can go to Saudi Arabia) and ignorant to be of any use to them.

    This is a key question that needs to be tackled. Knowing Nigeria, they will ignore it and the age old problem of the north-south divide will continue to widen and more people will continue to die needlessly and the country will move at a snail’s pace, whilst others are up and running towards development.

    They have a “Muslim” north in Ghana, Benin, Togo, Cameroon etc with the same aristocratic Fulani hierarchy existing that don’t cause half the problems that Nigeria’s Fulani aristocracy create. This is a another question, that Nigeria is yet to deal with. As we all know this can’t be imposed from the south, it must come from within the ranks of the Hausa and Fulani masses.

    Parents must take responsibility for their children. They should actively take a stance and insist their children will not join the ranks of the Al-majiri, only when they take such a stance will the ranks of the Al-majiri gradually diminish and wither away. There really is no other way around it. Children don’t need to be turfed out onto the streets to get religious education. If that was the case Muslim homes around the world be bereft of children, if that was such a good idea. The fact that it isn’t means somehow in northern Nigeria, they’ve got that part of Islamic interpretation completely wrong.

  2. henryik2009 July 5, 2011 at 6:03 pm

    Cordliveroil,the basic problem is that the ordinary Northern Mallam does not believe education is for him.They have been indoctrinated by their rulers to think that education is for the Christians,who have been cast in the role of immoral hell-bound unbelievers.So they do not believe education is for the “believer”.

    Second,they don’t see education as something that can change the status of a person.As i pointed out in my article,they fail to see education as a predictor of future success,because there are no examples of poor moslems who made it by going to school.Given that most of their leading lights,their successful people are relations of Emirs,Sultans and other traditional rulers,it is easy to see why they attribute their success to lineage,instead of education.

    This is the problem with feudalism.People are conditioned to see their position of servitude as normal.Most of their professors,doctors and generals are descended from establishment types.I just learned the other day,that central bank governor,Sanusi is the grandson of a former Emir of Kano.That tells you.The message to the ordinary illiterate Northerner is this: it is not education that matters,it is your lineage.

    The Northern elites need to make the effort to demonstrate to the ordinary Northerners that education is a game-changer,by promoting Northerners of humble origins,rather than the Sanusis of the North.Only then might education capture the imagination of ordinary Northerners.The other option is to do nothing,and wait for the armageddon.

    And it will come,for history shows that feudalism ends either through revolution or evolution.Evolution through the gradualism of education,as exemplified by the British model or revolutionary violence; think French,even worse Russian models.I believe Nigeria will move towards a looser federation,with many Southerners leaving the North; if that happens then with fewer Southern interests to bomb,guess who “Boko Haram” will turn it’s attention to?

  3. codliveroil July 7, 2011 at 4:14 pm

    Thank you for reply. If this problem is not tackled by dedicated people who are serious, the “Sudan solution” ie division may well be adopted. This I believe would not be wise course of action in the case of Nigeria. Nigeria is a relatively small country that is already over-crowded. Southern Sudan by itself is the size of Nigeria with a population scarcely larger than Lagos state. So they have a lot of untapped potential and an abundance of agricultural land.
    Should Nigeria divide on the premise that the South will now “hurtle” towards development, this is a fallacy. It is not unusual to see people in the south transporting water on their heads in buckets in an area that has abundant rainfall. People dying of water-bourne diseases, and cholera (this occurs in Rivers state to name but one state, for example in the Kuka community). Corruption and nepotism are pervasive, lack of accountability and failure to address the basic needs, as opposed to erecting white elephants is something our leaders, no matter where they are from seem to have. The neglect of agriculture, point to very apparent short-comings that stand out in the south. So people shouldn’t think that southern Nigeria will be the next BRIC (Brazil, Russia, India and China) or even Hong Kong, we are a long way behind that.

    But the intransigent viewpoint you have depicted that represents a large swathe of the masses in the Sharia states, does not point to a bright or promising future. Rather one of a troubled existence characterised by continual bickering and extremist violent actions.

  4. Amina Musa Kaita July 10, 2011 at 11:15 am

    the only solution to this problem is impossing western education, and to do that,we the educated ones must put our acts together to creat an awereness campain towards eradication of almajiris in the country, and it must bigin by fighting curuptions among our selfs.

  5. henryik2009 July 10, 2011 at 1:39 pm

    Hi Amina.
    Thanks for your comment.Fighting corruption would be very helpful,but also the Northern establishment must make an effort to promote educated Northerners of humble origin.By giving these people a high profile,they would become role-models,demonstrating to the people that education can really change a person’s status.This is how education can be made to capture the imagination of the “Almajiri”.

  6. henryik2009 July 10, 2011 at 1:48 pm

    Hi Codliveroil,
    You are right that the “Sudan solution” is not for Nigeria,not only because of size,but also because neither North nor South is broadly homogeneous.Which is why i favour true/loose federalism based on resource control.

  7. codliveroil July 11, 2011 at 10:07 pm

    HenryIK
    Yes, there is no north or south. That is why I specifically mentioned the “Sharia states” as opposed to the northern states. Many people are not aware that not all northern states are Sharia states.

    The division of the south is well known and documented. So basically the only sustainable way forward is as you said, a redefinition of federalism and revenue allocation, ie less monetary help from the centre, and more accountability at all levels of government.

    Sounds as if Amina and yourself are on the right path, as a means to tackle the dissatisfaction felt by the masses of the Sharia states, and the removal of the menacing al-majiri.

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