Almajiri Bill: The Masochism Of Integration - Nigeria

28 December 2009

By Attahiru Muazu Gusau

In his analysis of Theory of Love Erich Fromm describes the passive form of symbiotic union as masochism. According to him, a masochistic person escapes from the feeling of isolation and separateness by making himself a part and parcel of another person who directs him, guides him, protects him; who is his life and his oxygen, as it were. The power of the one to whom one submits is inflated, may he be a person or a god; he is everything I am nothing except in as much as I am part of him. As a part I am part of greatness, of power, of certainty. The masochistic person does not have to make decisions, does not have to take any risk; he is not alone- but he is not independent; he has no integrity; he is not yet fully born.’’

Masochism very much describes the relationship that exists between the colonialists and the colonized; between Africa and Europe. In this equation, Europe dominates by sapping Africa of not only its resources but of its identity and integrity. Africa sees its fulfilment only as an insignificant appendage to Europe. In the contemporary march for relevance and global equality and prosperity Africa is contented as the load carrier of Europe. The African elite are incapable of finding solutions to institutional and domestic problems outside the default order and arrangement of colonialism. And thus Africa is condemned to an eternal circumambulation of Europe. Euro centrism has become our raison-d’être and we are glad to ea t from the crumbs that falls from the master’s table.

The Almajiri Bill called Child Destitution Bill, sponsored by Senator Umar A. Tafida and some 54 northern senators, is just another melancholy line in the sombre poetry of Africa’s enslavement. The masochistic undertone of the bill makes complete mockery of our independence and the ability of the senators to face and solve simple domestic problems like the Almajirci phenomenon has become seriously questionable. Should the bill pass its second reading in the near future, having already passed the first in July 2009, it would be a colossal transgression of the integrity of the African person; it would have dealt the final blow to all indigenous institutions and values a feat that even the colonialists themselves failed to achieve.

To begin with, it is a complete aberration to table the question of Almajirci system on the floor of the senate, because the system is a regional and cultural phenomenon not national issue. I have never known of any Ibo, Yoruba or any child from the southern part of the country who goes to Quranic School after which he was faced with the hard necessity of roaming the streets begging for food and alms to survive. This phenomenon is northern and culturally Hausa-fulanic. The embarrassment and concern should rightfully be northern. If the northern elites and the governments don’t want their children to beg on the streets, I bet you they know how to stop it and it will not require a national commission or the wisdom of the senators. These are governments that have already, implemented the Shari’ a’, floated several ministries for religious affairs and established strong Hisbah commissions and a lot more institution that could be geared conveniently towards addressing the problem of almajirci

The second aberration is equating Almajirci system with child destitution as contained in senator Argungu’s lead argument and in the proposed bill itself. This is a deception in that Almajirci is a local and restricted phenomenon while child destitution is a general and even global issue. So while the bill is very clear about integrating the Almajiri system with the formal western based schools to eliminate destitution of the Almajiri child, it was completely silent on the other destitute children who are equally vulnerable and embrace a broader section of the society. In other words the national significance of child destitution was undermined and reduced to the local issue of Almajiri schools. The question then remains; is it Almajiri Bill or Child Destitution Bill? In any case, integrating Almajiri Schools with formal schools does not constitute elimination of child destitution even in the Hausa speaking north much less Nigeria as a whole.

Shelving aside the various inconsistencies in the bill that make the whole idea of a national commission all the more absurd, we must query the ideological and motivational basis of this proposal, particularly because of the vitriolic spat out by the sponsoring senator against the Almajirci system. His salvo of invectives and vituperations against the system indicate that the underlying motivation of the senator may be anything but noble or sympathy for the flight of the poor Almajiri child. One could on the other hand detect a deep seated disgust for a surviving indigenous institution that has not fallen under the sway of colonial and neo colonial estates, which the senator represents. The image of a hungry Almajiri child simply evokes the guilty conscience of the senator, which manifests itself in explosive anger. The Almajiri child simply provokes the senator’s sense of insecurity, which is disguised in the bourgeois sentiments of compassion. May I refer the senator to Toltoy’s Resurrection – an atonement based on true life story- to be tried in his immediate constituency before taking the case to the senate.

The assumptions of the senator on what Almajiri system is are grossly erroneous and misleading. What Almajiri system is to the senator is a gory picture of some wicked Mallams who separate children from their parents and send them out begging simply for their own economic interests. The senator doesn’t see anything positive coming out of the system as he maintained that the pupils largely end up as ‘”social miscreants, taking to thefts, pimping, thuggery and other unwholesome practices as their trade. The senator has been deliberately mischievous here because he knows that at a certain level the Almajiri drops begging all together and takes on to some menial jobs for his sustenance. He is usually that humble manicurist that would spend half an hour cutting your dirty nails only to be given twenty naira on completing the task. He receives, does not complain and give thanks to the Almighty. He is that water vendor that quenches the thirst of your neighbourhood because the government simply fails in its primary responsibility. He is that shoe shiner and cobbler who clean and mend your family shoes. You only pay a pittance, but he does not complain because he has imbibed the virtue of humility as an Almajiri. He is the labourer that toils to build your mansions in Argungu. He is around all your domestic needs satisfying them one after the other. He manages and survives on a very meagre income but he gives thanks to the Almighty and pushes ahead with life. Yet he is condemned as a social miscreant an outcast, a thief and a thug? On the contrary those who turn to be social miscreants are the secondary and tertiary school drop outs that lack the discipline to withstand poverty and the humility to take on menial jobs. But the senator will of course choose not to look that way. Little wonder then that the only solution the gentleman could think of is complete obliteration of the Almajiri system by integrating it with the western based school system. The language with which the senator chose to couch his arguments is quite offensive to the innocent mallams. Phrases like: dangers of the Almajiri system, rehabilitation of victims of the system, misconception and misapplication of scriptural intent, selfish economic gains etc. These remarks fall short of an objective assessment of the situation, they are exuded from a vintage point of presumed self righteousness that we all know is balderdash.

The Almajiri system is an informal form of teaching and learning of the Islamic religion that is centred around the teacher who may be domicile or itinerant scholar and to whom parents entrust their wards for training with or without up keep allowance and pittance. The fact that pupils of Almajiri School go out begging to survive is not a necessary and intrinsic element of the system as a lot of exceptions abound. However, the complete negligence of the institutions by elites and successive governments that see themselves as the heirs, custodians as well as defenders of values of colonialism and colonialist institutions and legacies and who in the interest of their estate so much impoverish the Almajiri system by not only depriving it of state resources but by ensuring that the only ticket for meal and reward able employment with the state is a certificate of alienation or westernization [ western education] obtainable through state established and funded schools, forced the Almajiri, whose parents probably abhors their children being westernised and alienated, to roam the street begging for crumbs to survive. I am not trying to moralise begging though, I am only pointing out the institutional and systemic conflict surrounding the Almajiri question, which needs to be addressed. The Almajiri system should not be seen as an anti thesis of the contemporary western based school system, because the there isn’t the need or the necessity for that. The Colonialists may have their reasons not to allow the Almajiri system and the Ajami orthography to thrive when they were around; but for goodness sake we are an independent people! Or, are we? This servile attitude is so disgusting because it demeans and makes mockery of our freedom and self esteem. Between a salary earning graduate, an oil dollar pursuing Senator and the begging Almajiri, I consider the Almajiri a more dignified and honourable person. Why? Because the graduate who becomes a senator is at best a masochist whose euro-centric worldview has become, in Kantian language, an a priori necessary element from which all his knowledge and decisions are informed and made. Unless we can sit on the same table and tell the so called master that we will no longer eat the crumbs that fall from his table the Almajiri is far more dignified than us.

The Almajiri system, notwithstanding its serious defects and shortcomings and of course the embarrassment being felt about it because of the attendant problem of child begging, which is made worse by population explosion that is in a stiff competition for limited and dwindling economic resources, is nonetheless the only surviving indigenous institution that has resisted western cultural invasion and thus maintains its integrity. The system has a great potential on which development in mass literacy can be built. It should be a great merit that a huge population of people at the grass root send their wards for the pursuit of knowledge, whatever colour one may give it even with the unfortunate reality of begging. What is more unfortunate is that our successive governments before and after independence have fail to realise the great potential of the Tsangaya system for the achievement of a grass root oriented mass literacy and the attainment of a knowledge based society. Regrettably, today, all sorts of know ledges and human accomplishments are considered alien and foreign to our cultures because we have failed to domesticate knowledge due to our masochistic tendency. The repercussions are obvious and devastating. It is therefore catastrophic to float a national commission with the aim of obliterating the system and replanting it with the western based system that only distance and alienates the grass root population from knowledge acquisition.

The Almajiri system should be seen as a shining jewel of our freedom and integrity. The system persists to remind us that we still have chance of greatness and prosperity if only we can act truly independent. That the Almajiri begs should of course be a cause for concern and must be stopped. But we must not forget that it is just a reflection of the fact that the white man had been around, defeated our great grand fathers and reduced our institutions and integrity to shambles. That we must all succumb and follow the status quo instituted by our conquerors i.e. imbibe western education by abandoning our own home grown institutions should, to me, be seen as nothing short of a blatant failure of reason and imagination. It is also a gross disregard for the African person. That the system needs reformation, yes, but not integration, which is just another word for complete eradication of the system.

How do we reform the Tsangaya system [ Almajiri system] without resorting to the destructive measures proposed by the senators? It is essential that the northern state governments realise the uniqueness of the system as a home-grown institution that still enjoys the patronage of a sizeable portion of our rural populace. Besides, the Almajiri system has some peculiar attributes that can be exploited for achievement of mass literacy and mitigating underdevelopment. It is for instance a system that uses Hausa language as a medium of instruction. Even at the advanced level popularly known as Makarantun Ilimi the Hausa language is retained as the language of instruction. This makes the system a perfect platform for the implementation of the vision of the Asmara Declaration of 2000. This singular characteristic of the system, i.e. its ability to provide a launching base for the Asmara Declaration makes it a priceless and indispensable component of the local culture that all should be proud of. And what is the Asmara Declaration? The Asmara Declaration is the first and most important declaration of independence of the African nations. It is the point at which Africa tells the world that it will no longer eat of the crumbs that falls from the master’s table. It is the declaration that shatters all masochistic and servile tendencies and adorns Africa with the garb of freedom, self esteem. It is a declaration for African languages.

The Asmara declaration is the response of African intellectual, scholars and writers on the devastating impact of colonialist languages on Africa and role they played in under developing indigenous language to an incapacitated condition such that these languages became quite irrelevant in the national affairs of Africans. Indeed the dominance of colonialist languages as languages of instruction and diplomacy has been decried as the most significant contributory factor to the underdevelopment and consequent poverty and stagnation in African countries. This concern led African writers and intellectual to gather in Asmara Eritrea, in the year 2000, for an international conference dedicated to restoring the relevance of the African languages in the national and international affairs of Africans. The Almajiri system is the only system that holds the potential for the implementation of the resolution of these African intellectuals known as the Asmara Declaration. Yes, Sciences, technology, mathematics etc can be taught in a reformed Almajiri school,not in English or any foreign colonialist language, but in the Hausa language. The Almajiri system provides an only and irreplaceable opportunity to uplift the standard of an indigenous language to acquire the capacity to convey modern knowledge to the people. Until such dream of conveying knowledge in local languages can be achieved, knowledge will continue to be seen as western and foreign and the English language will continue to thrust us deeper into the pit of irrelevance, of poverty and stagnation. Some will continue to see boko [western based schooling] as haram and many more will continue to believe that it is an agent of Christianization. Language is the principal agent of subjugation because it is the most important feature of culture and identity. Foreign colonialist languages like English serves as an obstruction to education on a broad scale and at the grass root. The Almajiri system is the only opportunity for breaking the shackles of linguistic barrier in education because of its grass root and broad base characteristics. A little free thinking could put us on the track.

.By Attahiru Muazu Gusau

Ministry of Housing and Town Planning, Gusau, Zamfara State.



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