Almajiri schools: Why pupils may return to the streets despite govt multimillion naira project
ISHOLA MICHAEL writes that the Almajiri School in Buzaye, Bauchi State, is falling apart and something must be done urgently if the pupils would not have to go back to the streets where they were taken from, thus defeating the purpose of setting up the school.
THE almajiri issue in the northern part of the country has become an incurable problem. Despite government’s interventions at the state and federal levels, it has defied solutions and has not been able to take care of the needs of these itinerant quranic students who live mostly on the streets.
Though many Islamic scholars have come out to preach against the practice, declaring that it is neither Islamic nor is it backed by the Qur’an which is in support of search for knowledge, it is common to see a group of boys mostly between the ages of four and 10 and even older ones roaming the streets in different parts of the North begging for food. Many of them go from house to house while others can be seen at various locations in major towns holding bowls with which they collect leftovers.
They have no choice over whatever is given to them. Their existence depends on the handouts they get from good-spirited persons though they sometimes fall into the hands of people with evil intentions.
On many occasions, the almajiris have been used as ready tools for various vices including attacks on perceived opponents and non-natives during religious or ethnic-based unrests.
It was in the efforts to curb the almajiri menace that the past Federal Government evolved the concept of Tsangaya Schools where the almajiris were taken to so that they could have a conducive atmosphere for learning not only the Qur’an, but also western education. The schools were established across the country, particularly in the Northern part with one school in each senatorial district of every state.
In Bauchi State, the Tsangaya schools were established at Buzaye along Jos road for the Bauchi South Senatorial District; Azare for the Bauchi North Senatorial District and Ningi for the Central Senatorial District. However, Arewa Live investigations revealed that some of the structures in the Tsangaya schools had become dilapidated due to neglect after their inauguration by the then vice-president, Muhammad Namadi Sambo.
When Arewa Live visited the Tsangaya Model Primary School, Buzaye, it was discovered that since the opening about five years ago, the situation has remained the same. Nothing new has been added to the structures, just as some of the structures have started deteriorating due to negligence.
The school presently has over 400 almajiris who were brought from all the local government areas that make up the Bauchi South Senatorial District. In the school, the method of imparting knowledge is teaching of both Qur’anic recitation and all the subjects offered in primary school including Basic Science in order to make them knowledgeable in the two forms of education.
The school has 10 teaching staff members, four non-teaching staff members while 11 are casual staff members. Unfortunately, the staff are said to be owed allowances for the past two years, a development that has made activities at the school to be at the lowest ebb.
Some of the members of staff refused to talk to Arewa Live when efforts were made to speak with them on the issue, probably due to fear of punitive measures. They, however, declared that the situation in the school was pathetic as the children were made to go through hard times.
The school has only one functional borehole. The children are made to sleep on bare floor due to lack of enough mattresses though there are double bunk beds available. They also said that the roofs of some of the dormitories and classrooms have been blown off with no efforts to repair them, thereby exposing the children to vagaries of the weather.
Some of the pupils who spoke to Arewa Live appealed to the government to come to their aid in order to make learning environment conducive for them, saying that they don’t want to go back to the streets to beg because, according to them, there are dangers inherent in street begging as some of them had fallen victims of ritual killers and extremists who capitalise on some situations to perpetrate all forms of evils using the children.
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Jafar and Annas are Primary Six pupils at the school. They appealed to government to come to the aid of the school by repairing all the dilapidated structures, provide another source of water for them and also provide electricity so that they will be able to put the computer centre of the school to use.
The duo revealed that their feeding arrangements also need to be looked into as they do not have good food to eat on some days.
Also the practice of taking them back to their villages for the holiday period had stopped. They said some of these issues had made some of them to return to the streets.
All efforts to get the management of the State Universal Basic Education Board (SUBEB) and the Local Government Education Authority (LGEA) to speak to the situation proved abortive as all the officials spoken to declined comments, saying that they do not have the authority to speak on any matter.
While at the Ministry of Education, Arewa Live was told that it was only the commissioner that could speak on any policy issue.
Efforts were made to get the Commissioner of Education, Dr Aliyu Tilde, or any top official of the ministry to speak on the issue but they failed to yield fruits. Arewa Live was told they were working on how to improve the quality of education in the state after several visitation to their office. The commissioner neither picked the calls put across to him nor replied the text messages sent to him.
However, an official of the ministry who pleaded anonymity told Arewa Live that the ministry is aware of the situation at the Tsangaya schools across the state and that plans were underway to ensure that the aims and objectives of establishing the schools were not defeated, adding that memos on the situation had already been forwarded to the appropriate offices for action.
Arewa Live was also at the State Universal Basic Education Board (SUBEB) to speak with the chairman, Dr Dahiru Bauchi. He was said to be away to Abuja on an official assignment.
If the Almajiri School in Bauchi is representative of the other almajiri schools across the country, then the project might be said to be heading for the rocks unless something urgent was done to salvage it.