Arising from the COVID-19 pandemic infection of some Almajirai, some states in the North declared their intention to repatriate such victims and the entire members who were not indigenes of their states. The almajiri is a system whereby parents leave their children with Islamic scholars for Islamic proselytization and education. The system allows the controllers of this system to permit these children to wander about town begging for alms for their sustenance.
The system has produced significant Islamic clerics like Mallam Mohammed Yusuf that started Boko Haram who grew out of this system. Some of the states did not carry out the threat but some did by moving hundreds from one state to the other. Some of the states in the spirit of one Nigeria even transported hundreds of them to southern states especially the South-East. There was hue and cry from southern states who suspected foul play and evil intentions. It was as a result of this problem of almajiri system in the North that is as old as the Sokoto Caliphate that the Governor Nasir el-Rufai of Kaduna State declared that the best solution to the almajiri problem is to abolish it. However, some governors and key stakeholders such as Governor of Zamfara State, Bello Matawalle, came forcefully in favour of retaining the system even if the possibility of its integration with western education system might be considered. In fact the governor of Zamfara State in a bid to salvage the almajiri system that is under threat by these modernists represented by Governor el-Rufai declared his state’s readiness to receive those almajirai being displaced, hunted down by state officials and deported from one state to the other. He appealed to those Northern states expelling the almajirai from their states and even some of the southern states rejecting the displaced and expelled members of the almajirai to send them to his state for rehabilitation and absorption.
At least for the time being, the hullabaloo about the almajirai arising from COVID-19 has died down as a result of this Zamfara State’s gubernatorial intervention.
But contrary to and apparent opposition to the intervention of Governor of Zamfara State in salvaging the almajiri system in Northern Nigeria, el-Rufai who prides himself as highly educated and modernist has declared that almajiri system has outlived its usefulness, if ever, it was useful. To Governor el-Rufai, almajiri does not serve the needs of modern system, and it is for this reason that he suggests its abolition. For some Nigerians, the almajiri system is deliberate breach of international law conventions on the rights of the child which rules and obligations Nigeria is a prominent signatory. To those reasoning on this plane of thought, almajiri is a callous dehumanization of man and a deliberate shirking of responsibility to the Nigerian child. But the train of thought as we have seen by the reactions of Governor of Zamfara State representing many others who support this almajiri culture and tradition, that is assuming that almajiri is a anchored on Islamic culture and tradition is that almajiri makes great contribution to the socio-cultural and political system of Nigeria.
Thus, the abolition of this system comes with consequences which those now championing its abolition might have benefitted from but now seem to overlook. In the first place, the almajiri represents the dedicated spread and inculcation of Islamic education. The members of Almajiri taken or submitted right from the cradle by their parents to the Islamic scholars and clerics for their education and Islamic acculturation constitute a ready pool of Islamic proselytes who carry out Islamic evangelization in their own way especially their lives of personal example of disavowal of materialism and embracing of Islamic piety and dedication to Islamic religious values and their protection, if need be, by jihad. True, that this dedicated body of humanity is primarily purposed for religious objects but they also serve other social and political objectives in time of need. So, during time of politics when leaders, some of who had undergone this socialization process before transiting into politics can have resort to this ready-made pool of easily mobilized political factotum.
The uses to which almajirai can be put are legion. During campaigns, they serve as ready-made rabble at the political rallies almost for nothing because N50, N100 or such higher monetary denominations are good pay for a good day-job. Without their presence how can the politicians source such dedicated pool of humanity for the mammoth crowd which the great Zik called a “sea of heads.” After the rallies and during the elections proper, who can the politicians deploy as cheap, unfailing and patient voters who remain in the blazing sun or shattering rains in order to vote the agreed candidates, if not the almajirai? And if need be to deploy violence to intimidate the opponents or scare the monitoring teams (local and foreign) such as Governor el-Rufai threat to the international observers and other foreign meddlers in the 2019 general election of taking them out of Nigeria in “body-bags.” Who are to be depended upon to execute such threats of cutting off or smash the heads, hack limbs, disembowel others, torch up buildings and commit other acts of outrage if not the dedicated pool of almajirai?
Do ordinary people commit these heinous crimes of acts of electoral violence if not those people raised from childhood on wrong doctrines of jihad and violence against unbelievers? And unbelievers are political opponents. So, before abolishing the almajirai let the modernists count the cost politically and religiously.
Let it be recalled that President Jonathan naively bought the idea that the almajirai constitute a ready-source for recruitment by the Boko Haram and he set about establishing hundreds of almajiri schools in the North to take these people off the street but officious-by-standers told him that the oligarchy of the North does not want such development but rather political power and that such a policy would even offend their sense of right political conduct and development. And the policy failed. The almajiri system like its Turks’ Ottoman Empire cousin, the Mamluk which was a dedicated military slavery system whose members were recruited from childhood and once taken in, the conscripts lost biological paternity as their paternity and loyalty lie with Ottoman Islamic State and deployed to advance the ends of the empire which were chiefly religious imperialism and imperial expansion. Likewise, the North’s almajiri system may not in the present time be equated to the Ottoman Mamluk but by the uses to which it has been deployed even if informally but in equal measure and sense achieved, and continue to achieve the same or similar ends of providing shock-and-storm troopers for both religious and political empire builders in Nigeria.
Abolishing it has great consequences for the maintenance of the status quo or its abolition. Abolishing it will rob the ancient politicians of the ends and uses enumerated above, but the Nigerian state and society will gain enormously when these children are retrieved from the primitive politicians and re-educated and integrated in the society as responsible and gainful economic agents. The eyesore of swarm of able-bodied but ragged and destitute children swarming the public for alms will stop and their humanity redeemed for Nigeria and the world. Let’s forego the baleful past by abolishing it and embrace a glorious future for the good of all through education.