One phenomenon which has continued to attract widespread concern among analysts is the menace of almajirai, which is assuming a frightening status in the northern part of the country.
There is no contesting the fact that almajirai, as the pupils of Quranic schools are commonly referred to, have become synonymous with begging as there is hardly any street of a city in the northern part of Nigeria where these young boys are not found clutching plates in their hands and begging for food.
Indeed, the phenomenon had engaged the attention of policy makers at different strata of the society with many emphasising the need for addressing the challenges of begging for which these children have been forced into.
Opinions as to whose fault it is that these young innocent children are being made to live a life of perpetual begging, mindful of the fact that Islam abhors begging, are varied as they are diverse.
While some believe the parents of these children should be held responsible for abdicating their parental responsibilities, others believe government at all levels and by implication, those at the leadership levels, should be held responsible for failing to accord topmost priority to social welfare; hence leaving these children to their fate.
Regardless of any point of view, one fact which cannot be disputed is that these children beg not of their own volition but out of the necessity caused by poverty.
Process of Integration
Interestingly, the need to accord topmost priority to the life of the almajirai has of recent, been brought to the frontburner, necessitating the Federal Government’s almajirai integration programme, where arrangements were made for the ongoing integration of western education with the Quranic education.
In appreciation of the need to support this all-important initiative, the Katsina state government, in July 2012, launched an intervention scheme where government steps in to provide clothes and feeding for the almajirai from some select Allo schools.
Named Allo Model School, the initiative also aimed at providing skill acquisition training to the pupils so as to make them self-reliant upon successful completion of the allo school.
With a population of over five million people, Katsina state reportedly has over 46,000 almajirai drawn from no fewer than 8,000 Arabic schools (Makaratun Allo) scattered all over the state.
It was learnt that the pilot scheme of the Katsina state allo model school project is currently taking place in 100 almajirai schools across the state, where two Allo schools were selected from 33 local government areas in the state with four of such schools selected in Katsina municipality.
While unveiling the project at Makarantar Mallam Bello in Daura, Governor Ibrahim Shema appealed to all well-meaning citizens to support the almajirai and ensure an end to street begging by the pupils.
Shema also disclosed that government was intervening by providing monthly allowances of N10,000 each to the Arabic teachers in the select school, provide three square meals for the pupils, as well as provide skill acquisition training for the pupils.
The governor, who disclosed that the pilot scheme would be run for six months, said the sum of N76,000 would be spent monthly for the feeding of the almajirai and payment of allowances to Arabic teacher in each of the selected Allo schools.
However, the senior special assistant to Governor Shema on almajirai affairs, Mallam Lawal Mani Gambarawa, said the state government would be expending N36 million every month for the programme.
“Each Mallam receives N10,000 as monthly allowance while government provides for the three square meals of the pupils, their uniform and allowances to trainers who had been engaged to train them in different trades.
“One fact which cannot be contested is that these children beg because of poverty so we are determined to address the challenge of begging by providing their basic needs of food and clothing to make it conducive for them to learn,” Gambarawa added.
While urging support for the almajirai, he insisted that unless government at all levels and well-to-do individuals intervened by assisting the children, begging will not be eliminated “because these almajirai beg as a result of poverty.”
Commenting on sustainability of the programme, Gambarawa said arrangements had been concluded to launch an appeal fund where various organisations and philanthropic individuals would be approached to support the initiative.
He said “government alone cannot address these challenges so all hands must be on deck as the contribution of everybody shall be required.”
Sources revealed that both street and house-to-house begging among ‘almajirai’ in areas where the programme has taken firm root has reduced drastically just as there is a reduced presence of the pupils, especially the under-age ones, who roam the streets, begging for alms at motor parks and petrol filling stations.
It was also observed that most of the 'almajirai' abandoned begging because they were being provided with food, clothes and acquired skills by government. These almajirai, who hitherto went on house-to-house begging for food, now stayed at their schools, concentrating on their studies since most of their needs were being met through the intervention.
Malam Musa Mazoji is the head of one of the schools. He confirmed that on a monthly basis, government provides food items, cooking ingredients and allowances for teachers and cooks at the selected schools in the town, adding that the feeding scheme had been assisting them in running the schools.
He said “over 400 pupils are benefiting from the scheme as they are being fed and clothed by the state government; hence no almajiri is going out from the school to beg for food.”
It appears the investment on almajiri is yielding favourable response as the state government, as at the last count, said it has so far prevented 17,000 pupils of Quranic schools from engaging in street begging under its skill acquisition programme.
Gambarawa told reporters that “appreciable level of success has been achieved and we have been able to take some kids off the street”.
He said tools, including sewing machines, barbing equipment, generators, cap making materials and laundry facilities were provided for each school with three trainers each to train the pupils.
“In addition, the state government provided food items, such as maize, rice, guinea-corn, millet, beans, sugar, cooking oil and soap as well as some cash for the purchase of soup ingredients monthly to the schools.
“The teachers of such schools are also being given N10,000 monthly allowance, while two women who assisted in cooking food for the almajiris are being paid N3,000 monthly,” he said.
He, however, appealed to parents, wealthy individuals and NGOs to assist in supporting the Quranic schools so as to complement government’s effort in addressing the menace of street begging.
Acknowledging that the task of making life more meaningful for these children and that government alone cannot shoulder all their responsibilities, a Katsina -based Non Governmental Organisation (NGO) – Service to Humanity Foundation – founded by the first lady, Hajiya Fatima Shema, has distributed clothes to over 4,000 Almajirai.
The NGO also distributed food items and undisclosed sum of monies for the upkeep of the almajirai. The Senior Special Assistant to Governor’s wife, Halima Idowu, who distributed the clothes to almajirai selected from different Quranic schools in the state, said the gesture was aimed at providing succour to the children.
While applauding the Katsina first lady and her NGO for its concern in improving the welfare of almajirai, Idowu said the distribution of the clothes, food items and money was to enable the Quranic pupils’ live decent lives.