Prelate Blames Woes of Nigerian Children Seeking Islamic Education on an “elite” Group

Bishop Matthew Hassan Kukah of the Catholic Diocese of Sokoto in Nigeria.

A section of children living with their teachers to pursue Muslim knowledge in Northern Nigeria, also referred to as Almajirai, are receiving “violent” treatment from the wider society that treats them as prospective Boko Haram recruits, a situation that a Catholic Prelate in the West African country blames on the Muslim elite group in the region.

In a widely published report that was also featured by Premium Times, Bishop Matthew Hassan Kukah of the Catholic Diocese of Sokoto in Nigeria said Almajirai (plural of Almajiri) in Northern Nigeria have been “sinned against” and denied opportunities for social progress by the region’s wider Muslim community as well as by the country’s leadership.

“The Almajiri has become a scapegoat for the multiple sins of the Nigerian state in general and the Muslim Ummah in particular,” Bishop Kukah said in a paper shared with Premium Times early this week, and added, “As usual, as of now, the northern elite will do what they do best: hide in the sands of self-deception, knowing that this will blow over and soon, no one will remember again.”

In the Islamic system of education called Almajiranci, which is practiced in Northern Nigeria, parents surrender their parental obligations to an institution where their children are imparted with Islamic knowledge.

Media reports indicate that there are seven million children enrolled in Almajiranci on the streets of Northern Nigeria, all drawn from the poorest backgrounds that cannot afford conventional education. All the children spend their days on the streets begging for food and burn the midnight oil studying and learning survival tactics from their teachers, also referred to as Mallams.


Bishop Kukah says that the Almajirai and their Mallams are blamed for “being dirty and unkempt, miscreants, delinquents, nuisances to the society, petty thieves, prospective Boko Haram recruits, a stigma, an assault on our collective social sense of decency.”

According to the Nigerian Prelate, the Mallam is “charged with many sins” including child abuse, abduction, human trafficking, exploitation, physical abuse, hard labor, enslavement and many other ills.

“So, we identify the Mallam and his Almajiri more by their crimes than their names. They are spoken about and not spoken to,” Bishop Kukah laments.

Governors in Northern Nigeria have announced steps to end or reform the controversial education system, with Kaduna State Governor Nasir El-Rufai saying that “it has not worked for the children; it has not worked for northern Nigeria; it has not worked for Nigeria. It has to end.”

“The Governors indicted themselves when they said that it is time to act now because the Almajiri has outlived his usefulness,” Bishop Kukah observed and added, “At least they have admitted their complicity and the fact that the (Almajiranci) system had always been a tool for political and economic forms of transaction.”

More in Africa

“With regards to his condition today, the Almajiri is an object, not a subject, is a victim, not a perpetrator, sinned against rather than a sinner,” the Bishop underscored.

He decried the mistreatment of Almajirai saying that in the media reports, no one bothers to give the young Muslims “a voice of their own.”

“They do not speak for themselves,” he said, and added, “If they had a chance, for example, they might say: Everyone calls me, Almajiri. No one has asked me my name. We are in the millions but have only one name. I have no name. I have no father. I have no mother. I have no home. I have no town. I have no tribe. I have no address. The streets are my home. I do not know if I have brothers or sisters. I am an Almajiri. No one knows if I have feelings. No one has ever asked me what I want to be in life. I live for today and for the sake of Allah. I have no tomorrow except Allah gives me. Tomorrow is in the hands of Allah.”

According to the 67-year-old Nigerian Catholic leader, Almajiranci was ordinarily good and “much treasured” part of Islamic history with Mallams that he likens to catechists in the Catholic Church.

The Nigerian Prelate says that the challenge for the Muslim Ummah in northern Nigeria is to answer the question, “Where did all this go wrong?”


“Where was Almajiri supposed to go at the completion of his studies? Was there a career path? How and why did the Mallam and his Almajiri, a much-treasured part of Islamic history, deteriorate to the status of the scum of the earth?” he posed and added, “I do not have the answers to these questions, but I wish to raise a few issues for the attention of the northern Muslim Ummah.”

To end the woes facing the young Muslims, Bishop Kukah who is also the Episcopal Chair for the Commission, Mission and Dialogue of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Nigeria (CBCN) recommends that the northern Muslim Ummah accept full responsibility and see Almajirai as “part of the huge baggage of their failure to prepare for a future for their people.”

“They (Muslim Ummah) left their people in the lurch as the modern state emerged, providing no further rung on the ladder of progress for the Almajiri as part of the future for their children,” Bishop Kukah says.

He adds, “So, while the modern elite equipped themselves and their children with the armor of western education, the Mallam and his Almajiri were left behind in the twilight zone of ignorance, fear, anxiety, disorientation and discomfiture, treating those outside with veiled contempt.”

Agnes Aineah is a Kenyan journalist with a background in digital and newspaper reporting. She holds a Master of Arts in Digital Journalism from the Aga Khan University, Graduate School of Media and Communications and a Bachelor's Degree in Linguistics, Media and Communications from Kenya's Moi University. Agnes currently serves as a journalist for ACI Africa.