“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.