Opinions

Walking the talk on Almajiri conundrum

President Muhammadu Buhari’s recent directive to the North to do away with the long-established Almaijiri system and more significantly, to get millions of out-of-school children back to the classroom is highly commendable. That is, even as his die-hard critics are asking why he is just waking up to the harsh reality of the social menace, which these denizens of the streets constitute to the country. To his traducers, however, he should have done the needful back in 2015. But for yours truly, as it is often said, “it is better late than never”.


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All the same, pitched against the swirling waves of the Boko Haram insurgency, blood-thirsty killer herdsmen and armed banditry that have ravaged the northern geo-political axis, education, a quality one at that, should come in as the sine qua non to mitigate the spate of lawlessness. That the gambits of kidnapping for ransom and armed robbery have swept from the Atlantic coast over the Middle Belt states up to Abuja-Kaduna road and beyond are all enough to inform the President’s wise decision. But then, what is the Almajiri social matrix all about and what is the best way forward?

According to the online medium, thewillnigeria.com of July 10, 2015, the traditional Almajiri system, which began in the 11th century after Kanem-Bornu Islamic tradition, was primarily “conceived in humility through austerity and borne out of intellectual necessity”. Notable, however, is the caution it gave that the North will never “get it right politically and developmentally until it stops seeing the Almajiri system as a tradition and “starts seeing it as the menace that it has become”.

The online news medium stated that the Almajiri system had become an affront to the religion, culture and civilisation in this part of the world. It added that no community would prosper by “condemning its future generations to begging and all sorts of societal indignities”. It feels good to learn that the National Security Adviser to the President, Mohammed Monguno, is on the same page.

Of great importance is the fact that the Federal Government has identified the connecting chord between mass ignorance, joblessness and the escalating storm of all manner of crimes and criminality currently bedeviling the country.

Even then, the evolving scenario triggers a lot of burning questions, literally begging for answers from the Federal and concerned state governments. Who are those who have benefitted from the Almajiri system and have they been sufficiently enlightened on the compelling need for a paradigm shift? Will they key into the vision of the empowering nature of western education? How serious are the Federal and state governments on the funding of education in Nigeria?

Funding is critical to delivery of a sound education, in terms of provision of solid infrastructure, stable electric power supply, good access roads, learning materials, well-equipped libraries and laboratories? Other important factors include staff welfare package and frequent training, especially in this era of technologically-driven, global knowledge economy. The reality on ground is, however, a far cry from what is promised and even expected.

Under President Buhari, the funding of education has been paltry. For instance, in 2015, N392.2bn, representing 7.74 per cent, went to the sector. In 2016, it was N369.6bn or 6.10 per cent. In 2017, it was N550bn or 7.38 per cent and in 2018, it was N605.8bn or 7.03 per cent. In fact, from 2009 till date, the highest percentage in budgetary allocation to education was N493bn, representing 9.94 per cent. That was under former President Goodluck Jonathan in 2014. The worst was in 2010 when N249.09 bn, representing 4.83 per cent, was voted for the sector.

It is instructive, therefore, to note that only the Premier of the then Western Region, Chief Obafemi Awolowo (of blessed memory) ever aligned with the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation recommendation of 26 per cent  budgetary allocation to education delivery. Out of the revenue generated from the export of raw cocoa (which could have been far higher if it was processed) his government still instituted the popular and impactful Free Education policy. Till date, no other government, either at the state or federal level, has done the needful.

Although the Second National Development Plan (1970-74) raised the allocation to 13.5 per cent, it fell to 7.5 per cent in the Third National Development Plan (1975-1980). Again, it jumped to 17.3 per cent in the Fourth National Development Plan (1981-85). However, it has not gone higher than 13.5 per cent since 1990 except of course, in 1997 when education was given 17.5 per cent.

Even President Buhari, during a visit to France in November 2018, gave the Nigerian community in that country the assurance that education would be better funded. “We are currently reviewing investments in the entire infrastructure of the country like road, rail and power, including investing more in education,” he had said. But while he proposed N61.73 bn to education, the Senate then under Dr. Bukola Saraki had to increase it to N102.907 bn. That must have been in the national interest.

According to the National President of the Academic Staff Union of Universities, Prof. Biodun Ogunyemi, the ruling class in Nigeria does not prioritise education. “Go to Ghana. In the last 10 years, they have never budgeted less than 20 per cent for education. There is South Africa, Egypt, among others,” he said.

Back to the Almairi conundrum. Kudos must go to former President Jonathan for establishing 165  Almajiri schools up North. “Over 80 per cent of the 10.5 million children for which the majority are known as Almajiri came from the northern part of Nigeria, where I recorded the least votes in the elections I contested.  But knowing the value of education, I could see that the ugly situation was limiting the opportunities of these children and negatively affecting the development of my country” Ogunyemi added.

He stated this while addressing an audience at the Peace Summit at the Junior Chamber International, JCI, in Malaysia in 2018. Unfortunately, two years after he left office most of those schools were found to be in decrepit state, due to utter neglect. Must we politicise an issue as crucial as education? That remains the million-naira question.

As reflected in my book, ‘How to be a successful student’ the noble role that sound and quality education delivery plays in transforming a nation from one of mass illiteracy and ignorance to that of an industrial hub can never be underestimated. We all have become witnesses to the rapid rise in the economic activities of countries, such as India, the acclaimed Asian Tigers and particularly, China, which now rubs shoulders with the United States, as one of the most productive in the world. The secret lies in how well, the leaders have actualised their vision for the citizens in human capacity development.

For Nigeria to achieve meaningful socio-economic transformation and to be counted among the top 20 industrialised countries, increased resources and various governments’ attention must be deployed to arresting the drastic slide in the standard of education in the country.

Sad to note, however, that up till now several state governments have refused to pay their counterpart Fund for the Universal Basic Education. It is a crying shame that some of those governors fly in private jets over dilapidated schools where pupils study under trees.

The time to frontally tackle the Almajiri issue is now, with the solid support from Emirs, rich individuals and corporate organizations. For, as the Chinese proverb goes, “If you are planning for a year, sow rice, if for a decade plant trees, but if you are planning for a lifetime, educate the people”

Culled From Punch Newspaper

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