Nigerian politicians are arguing that Quraan schools in the country must be closed. This follows some pupils having been found to be, allegedly, at the center of the coronavirus outbreak in the country.
In what has been seen as the biggest ever state organised mass movement of minors in Nigeria, state governments recently packed off tens of thousands of the children, sitting shoulder-to-shoulder, into open vans, and sent them back home from cities and towns across northern Nigeria. Despite a travel ban, the vans, were permitted to take the boys to their homes in villages, even to those thousands of miles away.
While it is unknown how many ‘almajirai’ were sent home, Kaduna state alone said it had repatriated 30,000. The almajirai are mostly children from poor families, who leave home for several years, to memorise the Quraan under a teacher. Their being moved is said to have resulted in the coronavirus having been spread, rather than it being contained. Tests done on children arriving in their home states, showed that of the 169 tested in Kaduna, 65 were positive, as were 91 of the 168 tested in Jigawa. Eight of the 48 children tested In Gombe, had the virus, with 7 out of 38, in Bauchi.
The head of Nigeria’s presidential task force on Covid-19, Boss Mustapha, had warned that the repatriations could cause a “time bomb”, but was ignored by northern state governors, who viewed the pandemic as a chance to rid their states of the Quraan schools.
Kaduna state governor Nasir el-Rufai, admitted, “We’ve been looking for ways and means to end this system because it has not worked for the children. It has not worked for northern Nigeria and it has not worked for Nigeria. So, it has to end, and this is the time.” He added it was better to give the almajirai “some kind of modern education than to allow them to waste their lives away, roaming about the streets begging for what to eat”.
The schools admit children as young as five. Expected to give their teachers 100 naira ($0.30) once a week, the children, resort to begging. The teachers, who are themselves poor, say the money is for the maintenance of the schools. When schools were shut in late March, with nowhere to go, thousands of almajirai continued begging on the streets. A small business owner, Imrana Mohammed, a former almajiri himself, said the children most likely contracted the virus “through meeting strangers while begging for alms”.
Panicked state governors, realising that the children came into contact on the streets with literally hundreds of people a day, decided to send them home.
Ironically, former President Goodluck Jonathan, a Christian, invested billions of naira in building almajiri schools in the north that incorporated both Islamic and secular education, but his successor, Muhammadu Buhari, has called for a ban of the almajiri system. He handed the schools over to state government control, which saw them being abandoned, with the pupils back on the streets.
Umm Muhammed Umar