By AGBO-PAUL AUGUSTINE, Abuja
When the Almajiri Schools system of education was launched in Gagi Almajiri Model Boarding School in Sokoto North local government area, Sokoto State, in 2012 by former president Goodluck Jonathan, people especially in northern Nigeria welcomed the idea because they believed that it was a way out of the perennial presence of out-of school children that has come to taint the face of most cities in the region.
Northern Nigeria has seen about nine million children wandering the streets of cities and villages in search for food, soliciting for money and are in awful state of living.
The key objective of the Almajiri Schools Project was to provide access and equity to basic education for all Almajiri children of school age.
It was also to discourage and gradually eliminate itinerant begging by Almajiris in the country and support the emergence of an enabling environment that could facilitate effective integration of Islamic discipline into basic education programme.
The strategic framework of the programme was to set up Integrated Almajiri schools to transform into Model Almajiri schools.
Framers of the system envisaged a programme that will support community owned Tsangaya, also known as Islamiyyah and Tahfeez primary schools as well as the introduction of Basic Education into Makarantun Allo, Tsangaya Schools and Ile-kewu.
Records obtained by LEADERSHIP from the Universal Basic Education Commission, (UBEC) shows that in 2014 alone contracts worth over N1.8 billion were awarded to various firms for the construction of about 34 Almajiri schools across the federation.
Although the document does not indicate addresses of the various projects, another document showing the list of completed schools and ongoing ones indicate that the federal government awarded the contracts for the construction of 117 Almajiri schools with about 97 completed and 20 ongoing or abandoned by contractors.
While four years have passed since the introduction of the Almajiri model school system, the situation on ground in the Federal Capital Territory, FCT, and about seven states recently visited by LEADERSHIP paints a rather confusing state and throws up many questions on the huge amount so far spent on the system based on reality on ground.
FCT: Schools Under lock for three years
The over N56 Million TETFund – supported Almajiri School located at Old Kutunku in Gwagwalada area council has remained shut to Almajiris for three years.
A visit to the school by LEADERSHIP showed a completed structure which is now decaying and has even become a den for dangerous reptiles that have made the edifice home.
The continuous abandonment of the completed school has forced the security guard stationed in the premises to convert the compound into a farm.
A peep through the windows of the school showed that the Old Kutunku Almajiri School has been fully furnished with the basic teaching equipment but they are now all clad in thick dust.
The security guard LEADERSHIP met at the school gate explained that he had no choice than to convert the school compound into his farm after being threatened by huge snakes and other reptiles.
He also lamented that he has not been paid salary for over nine months. It was observed the multimillion project requires attention as the ceilings have started falling off.
The condition of the school prompted LEADERSHIP to contact the contractor who handled the project if the work has been completed and handed over to the authorities.
In its reaction, M/S A.B. Martins Engineering Limited told LEADERSHIP that the job was completed three years ago and that over N12 Million is still being owed the company.
At another Almajiri School located within the compound of Al-Imu International School, an Islamic based community school in Kubwa, Bwari area council, the newspaper observed that the boarding school has seen over 98 per cent work and equipped.
The head teacher, Al-Imu International School, Ahmed Sule, said the school was built within three months in 2015 but lamented the continued delay in opening the school.
Kebbi: Pupils left hungry, never had English Language and Mathematic lessons
Findings by LEADERSHIP revealed that only a few of the pupils in government owned Almajiri Schools had ever received any lessons in English Language and Mathematics even as many are left studying with empty stomachs.
Although the schools have been equipped with furniture and in one of the schools computers can be seen covered in dust, the teachers to man them are either not sufficient or not available, especially for science subjects.
Kebbi, as one of the core benefiting states, has six federal government funded Almajiri schools. Desk officer, Kebbi State Universal Basic Education Board (SUBEB) Malam Shehu Yabo Zauro, confirmed to LEADERSHIP that the state has six Almajiri schools.
Each of these schools has four teachers excluding that of Tarasa in Birnin Kebbi, the capital, which is still under construction. The schools are in Birnin Kebbi with three, while Koko, Argungu, Dakingari and Suru LGAs have one each.
On enrolment, Zauro gave the total number of students in the schools as 329 pupils learning basic subjects, including Arabic, Tahafiz Quran (memorization), Quran and Islamic Studies.
He applauded the system to be working well in Kebbi State but admitted some challenges are still being grappled with.
But some stakeholders were quick to disagree with claims by Zauro that for over three years after its launch, Tsangaya school system is working well.
One of the major lapses of the programme, some stakeholders observed, is the issue of enrolment.
They argued that the enrolled figure of just over 300 pupils in the six schools was too meagre compared to the hundreds of thousands of Almajiris roaming the streets in the state. With this dismal number of Almajiris in school, it is believed that the programme has not made any meaningful impact.
Lack of proper coordination and supervision in terms of implementation by the agencies concerned were also identified as factors working against the programme’s success.
A parent of a pupil in one of the schools, Ahmad Mohanmad Bunza, faulted the programme in many ways.
“One fundamental mistake people make is to assume that the Almajiri system of education is not a system that can stand on itself without being integrated into the Western education system,” he observed.
Continuing, Bunza said that the problem is that “it has not been really coordinated to a point that it became open to abuse for three obvious reasons:”
“One is the issue of poverty from the scratch, the issue of perception and that of conception. Initially, this local mallams travelled from one place to another and that is why they are referred to as Almuhajirun or migratory people,” Bunza stated.
He further argued that Islamic education does not group students in one location for learning; adding that the inability of government to perfect the system has led to lateral and structural abuses.
He lamented the way former president Jonathan introduced the system, which literally, according to him, opened the gate for people whose concerns were gains gotten from contracts rather than providing quality education.
Bunza also alleged that billions of naira was siphoned from the treasury of government by public officials in the name of construction of schools and provision of materials for the Almajiri schools.
“You see billions of naira were spent in building schools while very little is spent in catering for the welfare of the Malams and pupils,” he alleged.
Bunza also went further to allege that an Almajiri school was built in Sokoto at the cost of N495 Million and computers purchased at the cost of N170 Million, observing that “by the time you make a total calculation, the school will cost over N1 Billion but up to the time I am talking to you, not up to N100 Million has been spent on the welfare of the mallams and pupils.
“So the system is more concerned with procurement than it is for the integral aspect of education it is supposed address,” he stressed.
He suggested that the federal government must listen to the ideas of the local Mallams; know the nature of the pupils and subjugate western education to Islamic education and not subjugation of Islamic education to western education as the case may be.
However, contrary to the figures bandied by Bunza, records from UBEC show that an average Almajiri school only cost about N63 Million to complete and equip.
An Islamic scholar, Malam Ismail Mohammed Chindo Gotomo who is one of the Imams of Haliru Abdu Jumuate Mosque in Birnin Kebbi in his assessment of the Almajiri system said that it has not addressed the problem of street urchins.
“I interacted with various classes of people who confessed to me they never saw it working,” he said.
He attributed the failure of the system in Kebbi to past administrations’ commitments to the project.
“As far as we are concerned, what is needed is committment from government and even the society because in Islam, seeking for knowledge is obligatory and begging is discouraged completely. So government should take care of Almajiri education like it takes care of western education so as to strike a balance,” he urged.
As at the time LEADERSHIP visited three of the schools in Birnin Kebbi only one of them located in GRA was operational with pupils reciting and memorizing the Quran. The Tsangaya Model Primary school at Adamu Aliero Estate, along Birnin Kebbi/ Argungu road constructed since 2010 by ETF, had not taken off and the one at Tarasa village appeared abandoned by the contractor as no construction activities were observed.
Also, on a visit to Argungu LGA, some 38 kilometres away, where one of the Tsangaya Model primary school is located, a watchman at the gate revealed that since it was constructed in 2010, the school has not seen academic activity.
The compound is over grown with grasses while goats and other animals are found all over the place.
The stark reality confirms the argument of some the stakeholders who earlier observed to LEADERSHIP that the system did not receive the desired attention from the beginning.
In schools visited In Birnin Kebbi and Argungu, lack water, electricity, teachers and even security appeared to be a groaning issue.
At the GRA, Birnin Kebbi school, pupils confirmed to LEADERSHIP that since it was opened over two years ago, they have not been taught subjects such as English Language, Mathematics or Social Studies because they do not have teachers, only Islamic teachers who teach them Quranic Knowledge.
They also confided in LEADERSHIP that no food is given them, a situation that has forced them into begging for survival.
Mohammadu Bandi, 22, a pupil lamented their condition and said that for over two years no meal had been served in the school.
“I was here for over two years, nobody feed us and we don’t have teachers for western education, only our Malams come from time to time to teach us just Islamic religion, our water system is not working, we don’t have light and we don’t have uniforms,” he said.
Another pupil, Suhununu Aliyu, 14, said: “We don’t have uniforms and the books are there in the store but they did not distribute the books to us “.
Sokoto the Caliphate : A haven of Almajiris
Over N126 Million was expended by the federal government to build two Models I Almajiri schools in Sokoto in 2014. This is addition to the Almajiri Model Boarding School in Gagi launched by former president Jonathan in 2012 and several other local Islamiya schools spread across the state.
A visit to the Gagi Almajiri Model Boarding School in Sokoto North LGA showed some degree of enthusiasm in the minds of the Almajiris.
But, walking round the metropolis and being confronted with the pathetic begging by many Almajiris who still roam the streets will discourage a visitor from applauding the Almajiri school project.
One of the Almajiris on the street who opened up to LEADERSHIP said most of them migrated from the rural areas, outside the state and even from neigbhouring Niger-Republic.
According to him, some of them are Almajiris not by design but because of their parents who often chased them far off to beg for survival in the name of going to obtain Arabic knowledge after divorcing their mothers and marrying another wife.
A cleric who prefers not be named was asked about the validity of this claim and he said the claim might not be far from the truth.
He, however, added that a legion of contributory factors heightened Almajiri roaming the streets in some states of the north.
According to the cleric, some Malams went as far as asking their students (Almajiris) to ensure that they bring part of whatever they got from the daily begging as a mark of submissiveness.
He also noted that rather than catering for the feeding of these Almajiris they are used by the Malams for both domestic and other chores, with less care for how they feed.
Added to the disturbing number of Almajiris who flood Sokoto State, the Cleric said, is the porosity of the Nigeria-Niger Republic boarder which always gives room for children to move freely between the two countries and end up becoming beggars all in the name of searching for Quranic knowledge.
At Gagi Almajiri School, a few of the pupils confirmed the position of the cleric as many alluded to the fact that their mothers were already married to somebody else not their father.
Despite the multiple issues surrounding the existence and impact of Almajiri Schools, especially the government owned ones, the secretary, Sokoto State SUBEB, Alhaji Ibrahim Haliru Dingyadi, maintained that sustaining and improving on the Almajiri integrated system of education matters because of its potential impact.
It was also noticed in Sokoto State that girls were also admitted into the Almajiri Schools. The 11 schools are said to have enrolled about 2,086 pupils, including 513 girls and 1,573 boys.
Officials said about N6 Million is spent monthly feeding Almajiris in the 11 schools in the state.
This is the first of a two part report published by Leadership Newspaper. The investigation was done with support from Ford Foundation and the International Centre for Investigative Reporting