North in shadows of illiteracy, insurgency
The statistics are grim. The realities are even grimmer. The future of the present education crisis in northern Nigeria – if not resolved on time – can snowball into a mess of national proportion. Already ravaged by illiteracy and a growing sense of extremism – apart from the already devastating Boko Haram insurgency – the rising number of out-of-school children in the north is giving prominent figures like the Sultan of Sokoto, Alhaji Muhammad Sa’ad Abubakar III, and the Emir of Kano, Alhaji Muhammadu Sanusi II, some sleepless nights.
These men understand the value of education and the danger of lack of it in the north. Judging by the figures, there is fire on the mountain in the north of Nigeria. Sixty-nine percent of out-of-school children in Nigeria are in northern states. Bauchi has the highest number with 1.1 million and Katsina follows with 781,500.
It is little wonder then that Sanusi, at the Northern Nigeria traditional leaders conference on out-of-school children held recently in Kaduna State, told the governors in that region in unmistakable terms to deliver on education or quit government. That speaks to the growing frustration and, perhaps shame, welling up in the heart of the emir – a man who has had an illustrious career because of the education he had received as a child. He wants same, if not more, for other children of northern origin. He was not alone in that thought.
The Sultan was of the same view at that event. As the chairman of the conference, he had stated: “As we look forward in our quest to revitalise the education sector, we must build the requisite courage to tell ourselves the truth.
For several decades, our investment in education, human capital formation and development fell far below expectation and cannot move us to the optimal level we all desired as a region and as a nation.”
Yet, Sanusi believes that Nigeria can only fix the problems facing education by addressing issues of misplaced priorities and accountability exhibited by those responsible for delivering education, healthcare, nutrition and development.
The Deputy Representative of United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) Nigeria, Pernille Ironside, expressed a similar thought.
“For Nigeria to achieve its Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) target for education, this is essential. Only quantum leaps today will enable Nigeria to achieve its social and economic goals for the future,” she had noted at the conference.
Over seven million children in northern Nigeria are in the Almajiri System, according to figures from the National Council for the Welfare of Destitute (NCWD). That figure is three times the population of The Gambia. They are lopped off at thousands of Quranic schools that dot cities in many parts of northern Nigeria where they learn five days in a week, and attend classes four times in a day. They are also expected to earn a living by begging and sometimes provide for their teachers’ upkeep too.
On Fridays, they are let loose on the city where they beg for alms to feed, or run errands. The notorious ones get their preliminary introduction in fundamentalism from rabble-rousing street preachers who introduce them to the terror trade.
Placed in this context, the emir of Kano had last year called for the conversion of mosques to schools. The former Central Bank of Nigeria’s governor, in an address at the joint convocation of 2,000 teachers held at the Kano Government House, on February 7, 2017, had lamented that the north is lagging behind educationally.
Sanusi had challenged northern governors to build a giant remedial college to accommodate all northern candidates, who fail to secure admission into conventional universities and for the use of mosques as schools. To convince his audience that his ideas were not impractical, Sanusi cited the example of Morocco where this model of education was obtainable –arguing that the remedial institution would improve literacy rates in northern Nigeria, which is currently playing catch-up to other parts of the country.
References were made to Morocco where such arrangements have yielded results in the past and it is yielding results at present.
“Earlier on in Islamic history, mosques doubled as schools. The same people who led prayers would teach groups of students about Islamic sciences such as Quran, fiqh (jurisprudence), and hadith. As the Muslim world grew however, there needed to be formal institutions, known as madrasas, dedicated to the education of students,” said Firas Alkhateeb, historian and author of the Lost Islamic World.
This made it possible for hospitals of the medieval Islamic world around the 9th century to issue diplomas in medicine. The Guinness Book of World Records recognises the University of Al Karaouine in Fez, Morocco, as the oldest degree-granting university in the world with its founding in 859 CE.
Al-Azhar University, founded in Cairo, Egypt in the 975 CE, offered a variety of academic degrees, including postgraduate degrees, and is often considered the first full-fledged university.
Contrary to the conflict-prone northern Nigeria, the use of religious centres for places of learning in Morocco and other places have not led to conflicts or destruction. Some believe the problem is far deeper.
However, the debate about the much-touted educational backwardness of northern Nigeria is often starved of the benefit of a background.
According to the book, ‘Historical foundations of education in Nigeria’, written by Dr. Adedayo Abdulkareem and published in 1990, Islamic religion and education came to Nigeria through the ancient Kanem Borno Empire which covers the present Borno, Bauchi and several states in the North.
By the end of 12th century AD, renowned Muslim scholars and teachers from Timbuktu in Mali were found in the empire advancing the education. From this point the education spread to Kano, and Katsina. The Jihad of Usman Dan Fodio in 1804 led to the widespread of Islam and education in the north, and to some extent the South of Nigeria.
An Islamic scholar, Abdul-Rahman Salih Abdullah, stated that the core objective of Islamic education is to “build up the individual who will act as Allah’s Khalifah (representatives on earth), or at least put on the part that leads to such an end which means doing good to mankind on earth.
Another Islamic scholar, Abduttawab Rahmani, added that Arabic syntax and morphology evolved to protect the Quran from ungrammatical utterances by foreign speakers. It should be noted that Islamic education covers other areas of study in economics social sciences, medicine, pure science, arts and law.
Prior to the arrival of the British colonialists, the almajiri system was founded to perpetuate Islamic education. Pupils lived with their parents, the schools were within their vicinity, institutional funding was provided and even an inspector reported to the emir on progress.
“The British invaded the region and killed most of the emirs and deposed some. The emirs lost control of their territories and accepted their new roles, as mere traditional rulers. They also lost fundamental control of the almajiri system,” Prof. Idris Abdulkadir, a former Executive Secretary of National University Commission (NUC), had explained.
Abdulkadir further said, “The British deliberately abolished state funding in respect to the system arguing that, they were religious schools. With loss of support from the government, its immediate community and the helpless emirs, the almajiri system collapsed like a pile of cards. Karatun Boko, western education was introduced and funded instead. The pupils now turned, Almajiri together with their Mallams, having no financial support resorted to begging and other menial jobs for survival. This is certainly the genesis of the predicament of the Almajiri system today.”
Scholars argue that the north never believed that education was bad, only the Western kind, which they believe will corrode their values roil their stomachs. That is not difficult to believe with the spread of illiteracy and advent of insurgency.
The proliferation of mosques in the north and the failure of the almajiri system have led many to believe that the system has morphed into a fertile ground for recruiting extremists.
“As the system is currently being practised today, lots of the children never make it. Some are lost through violence in the streets and some remain as untrained armies available to anybody poised to ferment trouble. They have their own axes to grind against their parents, authorities and the society at large,” Abdulkadir noted.
A large population of illiterate, unemployed northern youths bruising under the weight of a corrupt political system are among the conditions that gave birth to Boko Haram, also known as Jama’at ahl al-sunna li-da’wa wa-l-qital, in 2002 in Maiduguri, Borno State, by 32-year-old Mohammed Yusuf.
Yusuf, a preacher gave scathing sermons against the government, which resonated with the people who hold a searing grudge against the establishment and Western education. When he was killed b y security forces in 2009, hardliners in his organisation led by Abubakar Shekau led a bloody insurgency whose embers still burn to this day.
This, however, is in sharp contrast with the southern parts of Nigeria where though it seemed a church is springing up at every block, yet does not experience any sort of extremism.
For more than eight years, the conflict in the North-East and the resulting humanitarian crisis is devastating the lives of millions of children, women and their families. With children under 15 years of age accounting for about 45 per cent of the country’s population, the burden on education and other sectors has become overwhelming.
Forty per cent of Nigerian children aged between 6 and 11 do not attend any primary school with the northern region recording the lowest school attendance rate in the country, particularly for girls.
Experts have come to the conclusion that the educational crisis in the north is not a problem that the likes of emir of Kano and the Sultan have to contend with alone – nor is it something to be left to the whims of some governors. It is a national crisis that may yet snowball into a nationwide mess if care is not taken.