If there is anything that seems consistent about Nigerian governments at the federal and state level; its the reality that they refuse to learn from the mistakes of other governments. We’ve seen this play out over and over in various scenarios where the government implements a policy that has clearly failed in other states or previous federal governments without any research as to why it failed or any improvements to ensure that their attempt to revisit this policy yields a more favourable result. This has been especially true about reactionary bans to everything from transportation to importation to cultural phenomena like beggars and almajiri.
In 2020 alone, the Lagos state government has banned micro-transportation, a means of transportation the government itself introduced and regulated in response to the transportation needs of its citizens. Its ban is the fourth successive transport ban, all of which have failed because the bans and the solutions provided to alleviate the demand the transportation models provided were insufficient. Kano state also followed by banning begging across the state, ignoring the wide spread, systematic poverty and religious enshrined practice of Zakat that makes space for beggars in the first place, which ensures, for all intents and purposes that the initiative will fail. It is a nation wide problem with states like Lagos having to take drastic measure to deal with the proliferation of Almajiri.
Aminu Waziri Tambuwal, the governor of Sokoto State said during a meeting with the Indonesian Ambassador to Nigeria AVM Usra Hendra Harahap that he was also considering a ban on Almajiri in Sokoto state to replace it with the Pondok model system from Indonesia. The Pondok system employs mosques and langgar (a blend of Islamic and Western education) as well as adopt existing local institutions such as surau (Islamic assembly buildings) and pesantren (a Muslim school in Indonesia operated by religious leaders) as places for Muslims to study Islam.
The Almajiri are distinct subculture in Islam, where the first born sons of families are dedicated to the service of Allah through islamic education under an Islamic scholar. Admittedly, there has been some bastardization of the Almajiri practice in Nigeria, with the young boys who are enrolled into Almajiri school being forced to roam the streets to beg or do odd menial jobs to survive. Many are conscripted into street gangs and criminal activity or become radicalized and join groups like Boko Haram.
Tambuwal has stated he will consult with the Sultan of Sokoto and other stakeholders before going ahead with the ban, but the fact that an outright ban is being considered rather than a widespread reform is worrying. Sokoto is one of the 9 states in Nigeria who practice Shari’a law. Many of those states have instituted a Hisbah board, a religious task force whose job it is to enforce Islamic law within the state. Ensuring the rights of boys in the Almajiri programme would fall under their jurisdiction as they work hand in hand with Shari’a courts within the state. There is of course, the state’s welfare board whose job it is to ensure that all disadvantaged and marginalized people are protected by law.
Banning will force Almajiri programmes underground, giving the Islamic tutors who abuse the practice more influence over the young boys who are enrolled into the programme and making it easier to radicalize them. Perhaps its time to ensure that the systems we already have operating within Sokoto state work optimally before importing foreign ‘solutions’.