By Ambassador Aminu Iyawa
The problem with being a journalist in this country is that you easily get in to trouble and, in most cases, not with the athorities, but with those in authority, especially if you try to correct them on issues that they have got factually wrong.
For example, three months after former Adamawa State Governor, Senator Bindow Jibrilla took office, my good friend, a journalist and popular columnist, Abdulrazaq Bello Barkindo, wrote an article he titled: “ADAMAWA 100 DAYS, 100 WORRIES” in which he erroneously alluded that the construction of 500 Kilometers of rural feeder roads under RAMP 2 Project that commenced in Adamawa State was to the credit of the Governor Bindow Administration.
Barkindo, indeed, got it wrong and I had written a rejoinder offering clarification with facts and figures. I remember explaining that the $50 million dollars roads construction under the Second Rural Access Mobility Roads Project (RAMP 2), was a project initiated by the Nyako administration.
As Commissioner for Rural Infrastructure and Community Development, for two years and one month in the Nyako Adninistration, my staff and I struggled to bring the project to fruition.
I held numerous meetings with World Bank and French government officials in Abuja to convince them we deserve the grant. In the end, I personally signed the agreement on behalf of Adamawa State for the release of the $50 million dollars, with former Commissioner of Finance, Alhaji Ibrahim Abubakar Vokna, and the Permanent Secretary, Federal Ministry of Finance, as witnesses. The first trench of the money was released to my Ministry and I was the one that directed the opening of special accounts for the project at Zenith and Eco Bank.
I was also the one, without interference from the Governor, advertised and recommended three eligible contractors for the project that was splitted into three zones; North, Central and South.
We were finishing the last touches to get the contractors mobilised to site when Boko Haram escalated it’s attacks, forcing us to slow down on the commencement. As it were, the executive council under Governor Nyako was dissolved before the commencement of work.
I also said in the rejoinder that I could beat my chest and say that despite all the influence I had on the project, I made sure that due process was followed and none of the three contractors would say that I demanded or collected a penny from the $50 million contract.
That clarification, of course, did not go down well with Governor Jibrilla’s top aides. Apart from calling me names on social media, the then Commissioner of Works and now candidate for the post of Deputy Chair of Ganye LGA in the upcoming elections, Mrs. Lillian Stephen, who was a colleague that also served as Commissioner of Health in the Nyako Administration, made sure that I did not benefit from the connecting roads construction along the 2-kilometer Girei Street in Dougirei – Yola that ran from Bindowo’s personal house on Government House Road, all the way to Yola Road near AA Lawan filling station. My house is still inaccessible and it is located on the only connecting road that was deliberately skipped, out of about nine in the area. It is my punishment for stating the truth.
So, yesterday when I heard the news quoting Governor Ahmadu Umaru Fintiri offering to rehabilitate 30 thousand Almajiris in Adamawa State, my fingres itched to write a rejoinder, but I became reluctant not to be misunderstood by his aides and in the process bring harm or deny my neighbours development as was the case during the Bindow era, when they were denied a tarred road because of me.
By this morning however, I realised that keeping quite will only do more harm than good. Governor Fintiri may have all the right intentions, but the truth is that there are no Almajiris in Adamawa State. Adamawa Muslims, Fulanis and other tribes, take pride in their knowledge of Islam and have never condoned the practice of Almajiranci. There is nothing islamic or religious about it, but just a way of perpetuating a system that benefit only a few; parents that run away from the responsibility of raising their children and Malams that know it is wrong, but all the same do it to get free labour from the boys and to also get more adherents for their saints.
The tradition of teaching young children the Qur’an in Adamawa has never changed from the child learning at home, in the house of the next door neighbour or in the extreme, from a Malam within the ward. Even with the acceptance of the recently introduced Islamiya system, almost all children take their first Quranic lesson at home.
The Almajiri boys that are seen on the streets of Yola and other towns and villeges are not indigenous to Adamawa, but those that have been brought from other Northern states by their Malams, and that, we all know is seasonal, because they usually move back to where they came from in the beginning of each rain season to help the Malam till his farm.
I will advise Governor Fintiri to channel the funds earmarked for the rehabilitation of the “non-resident” Almajiris in the state to a more useful purpose like investing more in basic education. There are still primary schools in the state that require more classrooms, furniture and teaching materials.
The Governor can also introduce an executive bill in the State House of Assembly for the total ban of Almajiri in Adamawa. It is high time that something drastic is done to rid our society of this monsterous system that sadly, has been producing rebellious, unpatriotic, uninformed and worst, ignorant citizens that do not even understand their own religion properly.
In fact, all Northern states Governors should unite and tackle this problem. The mordern Tsangaya school system will never yeild the desired result. The only solution is total ban on Almamjiranci and force parents to enrol all school-age children in school or go to jail with no option of fine.
Let me hit where it hurts most – the Muslim North pretend to be religious, but unfortunately we lack the understanding of what our faith teaches us. We are still lagging behind in development in comparison to the other federating units that make up the country and indeed, if compared to the rest of the Muslim world.
This is largely as a result of the misinterpretation and misrepresentation of the religion in almost all spheres. Serious among them is, the notion still being held by many poor Muslims, that western education is a danger to their faith and therefore, enrol their wards in only Islamiya schools for those in urban areas, while the majority that live in the rural areas dispatch their children to far away lands to spend endless, wasteful years with mobile Malams as Almajiri. The girls do not fair either, as they are sent out to roam the streets hawking snacks all day and exposed to molestation by undesirable predators and pedophiles.
No nation or any community survives the modern world, without modern education and despite efforts by successive administrations to implement the universal basic education programme, success is still far away.
According to a December 2018 report by UNICEF, over 13 million Nigerian children are out of school with majority in the Boko Haram ravaged Northeast.
The truth is, even without the Boko Haram calamity (which came about as as result of misinterpretation of Islamic teachings), millions of school age children in most parts of the North have never been enrolled in school and roam about public places begging for food and alms.
Time to do away with Almajiri. It is now or never.
Aminu Iyawa is an Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary