Sunday, November 18, 2018


Almajiranci, we can all agree is one of the evils that beautifies Northern Nigerian streets. The Almajiri system is a system of oppression that takes away the fundamental human rights of the most vulnerable members of our society, children. You can be rest assured to walk into the streets of any state really in Northern Nigeria and you will be welcomed with a sight of children holding rubber bowls and begging in traffic stops.
These children often range from as young as ages 3 to as old as ages 18. Yes, I have seen children as young as 3 begging in the street. There is no strict age criteria or any standards, one simply has to be willing to forcibly snatch childhood away from a child before sending them out to the streets to become statistics. You would often see these children walking about with no sense of personal hygiene and if you talk to one of them, you would often be met with a lack of hope. One would wonder where these children are coming from. Are they orphans? Does nobody care for them? People care.

According to a Wikipedia definition, “Almajiri is a system of Islamic education practiced in northern Nigeria. We'll go with that. Almajiri is gotten from an Arabic word "Al-Muhajirun" which can be loosely translated to mean a person who leaves his home in search of Islamic knowledge.” The sight of these almajiri children often times evokes a feeling of social responsibility/spiritual obligation on the everyday Hausa man/woman. We were all raised with the belief that "da na kowa ne" (a child is everyone’s responsibility) so you would find people who would always give these children money and food. This sounds good in theory, but it is not.

The Almajiri system, in the northern Nigerian context, is a system of traditional education which involves sending children to live in what we would call boarding houses with a “Mallam” who takes up the responsibility of teaching the child about Islam and The Qur’an. This is not an entirely terrible system. These informal institutions of education have existed across northern Nigeria from a very long time. It was a system which fascinated white colonizers whom came to Northern Nigeria, expecting savagery and barbarianism but instead, found a people well versed in the teachings of Muhammad (S.A.W). Arabic and Islam fused neatly into the northern Nigerian culture as it paved a way out of alleged darkness. Islam brought about emphasis on learning to speak and write the language of the Qur’an. The community was included in funding these schools and maintaining their standards. Through the teachings of the Qur’an, the Sokoto caliphate was established which successfully ran these systems of education in conjunction with the Borno caliphate until the colonial wars which ended up killing prominent Emirs in the north. The system fell apart. These schools now have to rely primarily on alms and farm outputs by the students as the system has since been abolished and hence, does not receive any funding from the state.

Ideally, leaving the moral upbringing of a child to the parents and the educational aspects to the schools is a system that works. Today, according to a report by the National Council For The Welfare of the Destitute, nearly 7 million Nigerian children have been failed by this system. Children are still sent into the almajiri system in large numbers. With a growing population and farms to be tilled, these Mallams often set the children to work, forcing them to work long hours on the farms without any monetary compensation. The Mallam sells his outputs in the market to feed his family and cater to his immediate needs and sometimes produce enough to feed the children. Often times, the children’s nutritional requirements do not make it on the Mallams list of priorities. The direct effect of this is children begging on the streets. Whatever they can get, they take it back to the Mallam who uses the money however he pleases.

We have heard the numbers and we have all cried outrage but why does this system still exist? What can we do to fix it? Well for one, we need to stop giving these children money and empowering the Mallams.
Every Friday afternoon is a day of chaos on my street. This is because an Engineer who lives opposite my family’s house shares money (500 naira, most times less) to a group of elderly men and women. I am not sure when this man started this and why. All I know is they keep coming back every single hot Friday afternoon to sit and defecate in front of my father’s house, begging until the sun goes down. Almajiranchi has become synonymous to begging. We would now call any person begging in the street or from door to door an almajiri. Why do you think these people keep coming back to beg for alms? Because we keep giving. As long as we keep giving people who beg on the street, they will always keep coming back to the street. Giving Zakaat is one of the fundamental guiding principles in Islam. Islam, the foundation of the Almajiri system of education. One is required yearly, to give a portion of his profit to charity. However, encouraging almajiranchi is not giving out Zakaat. Giving people who beg on the street money is not empowering them, if anything, we are taking away power and agency from them by reinforcing their belief that as long as one begs, he/she is entitled to receive. It is a toxic culture which no child should be intentionally sent into.

The Almajiri system is in desperate need of reform. It is a system that failed, post-colonial invasion. Begging became a natural trickle effect of poverty, which a lot of the children in this system are products of. Poverty often pushes parents to send their children off for an education. It is almost a win-win if the system worked. Families can afford to cater to other needs while the educational system took care of one extra child to feed.

Almajiranchi is not a system that can entirely be abolished as a large population of Northern Nigerians still adhere to and defend this practice. We can improve it. Both Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa and Sir Ahmadu Bello, Sardauna of Sokoto were educated through this same system of education. Historically, this system has worked once. It educated some of the founding fathers of the Nigerian Republic.

Through rigorous reform tactics, this educational system can be liberated. Schools need funding, the responsibility of catering to the children’s basic needs, including feeding and housing cannot fall solely on the shoulders of the Mallam. A strict curriculum that includes basic hygiene, human rights and western educational components can better prepare the Almajiri for a life far from destitution. A child who is educated and aware of his rights would not be gullible enough to fall into the traps of groups like Boko Haram who are always looking for innocent naïve children too manipulate. Insurgent groups benefit from this failed system because it is easy to recruit children born into poverty with the promise of a place to sleep and hot food in their bellies. For a price of course.

The truth is people have always cared. Sanusi Lamido Sanusi, HRH the Emir of Kano has repeatedly called for reform. I remember growing up in Kano and we would be stuck in traffic with my mother and she would talk to these children no older than her own children. She would often scold them about hygiene, tell them to go and take care of their clothes but ultimately, at the end of the day, she would give them some spare change and they would pray for her as she speeds off into the world. Her social guilt and the belief that da na kowa ne have been satisfied. She experiences a spiritual fulfilment and the children will walk up to the next car and have a similar interaction. They will keep tapping on car windows until one of us winds down and says, enough is enough.

Children do not belong on street corners doing god-knows-what to survive.
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Thursday, October 11, 2018

Burned Tree

Did you think
You were made of blood and bone,
Daughter of the sky,
When the women you came from,
Dug the ground with their nails,
And gave life to the stars?

Do you forget,
How your mother raised,
Lions and jaguars,
Slept of her feet,
To break the ground in two,
So you could walk?

What wonder,
Within a woman’s chest,
When she can stand on her feet,
Feed the world with one hand,
And balance the universe,
With the other.

Like the burned trees,
With the blackened skin,
Still standing under desert suns.
Even in death,
The mushrooms find life,
Within her womb.

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Thursday, January 18, 2018

The Dull Area Between Rape Culture and Dating Culture

2017 is the year a lot of us would remember as the year women spoke out. It is a start. For many women, #MeToo was not just a hash tag, it was re-living certain painful moments over and over again. It was a striking number of women living the same experiences. We must acknowledge and appreciate these women who spoke out. It is nothing short of courageous and brave to be able to stand firm in the face of oppression.

The past year didn’t just slap us in the face with the realization that even seemingly nice men could be predators; it also made us aware of our shortcomings when it comes to addressing these issues. We built a society that revolves around sex yet any conversation around sex is almost taboo. That is what makes the situation with Aziz Ansari so peculiar. Once the story of Aziz’s misconduct broke out, a lot of us were faced with the realization that our society is crumbling. The intersection between rape culture and dating culture is the reason why we must find a way to discuss these situations without labels.

To start of, I would like to point out that what Aziz did in no way makes him a rapist as he believed what they had was consensual however, Aziz is a predator like many men. Sexual coercion is a common occurrence in dating culture. Right from childhood, a lot of us are taught that persistence is romance so a lot of women and men grow up with distorted ideas towards dating culture. Based on twitter opinion, a handle I will not name tweeted at me “Women like it when you try a little harder.” The ideology that women’s No, lack of interest and excitement is a call for men to find a way to coerce a woman into engaging in sexual relations is toxic. It is what brought us here and what put Aziz in the position he was put. Little girls in school are told that boys pick on them because they like them, this is the most tragic ideology I had to unlearn.

Right from the moment we are born, the demarcation between gender roles is drawn. We are taught to normalize sexual aggression as a comfortable part of dating culture. The objectification of women, which begins from childhood, reinforces and allows for the continuation of rape culture. Women are seen as pretty objects that need to be kept safe and pure until marriage while men are advised to take the reigns of the horse and ride into the night. This childhood socialization allows male children to grow up with a sense of entitlement and women as meek creatures. Sex is often discussed as something that is done TO women and not WITH women so a lot of us grow up with this warped idea of dating culture. Often times, sex is seen as something that can be taken from women. Rape culture is not only victim-blaming, it is anything that reinforces gender-roles stereotypes. So dating becomes problematic.
How do women let lose while constantly safety conscious especially when alone with men??

When the Aziz Ansari story broke out, too many of us were forced to face the reality of sexual assault and coercion. To successfully deconstruct the system of patriarchy, we have to start by addressing issues that fall into the gray area.
What is consent?
What is appropriate consensual behavior and what is not??
Is reluctance followed by mild/severe coercion into engaging in sexual activities predatory or not?? It is.
Any sexual engagement that occurs as a result of little to a lot of pressure from a partner is predatory and borderline abusive.
To accept this reality is to accept that many of us have been assaulted in one way or another. We have.

When rape culture, which is the normalization of toxic sexual violence, intersects with dating culture, the lines become blurry. Many women are left wondering what is what.

A lot of women usually find themselves in a bind when it comes to reacting to forced/coerced sexual advances from seemingly nice men who take them on nice dates and treat them well. Are these men exempt from the rules of morality and respect for personal choice?? They are not.

Often times, consent doesn’t come in verbal responses. When two people are ready to get intimate with one another, body gestures and excitement are the normal queues any person should look for.
Is my partner comfortable?? Does my partner want this? Many women are not able to verbally say NO because we know that men usually have more physical power so fear plays a big factor. How will he take my NO? Will he force me if I say NO? Will I be in danger for saying NO? These are all valid fears. More than half women killed in the US are killed by their partners, so this fear that women feel towards saying No is rightly justified.

Consent comes in different forms and once mutual respect for one another exists, picking up on body language queues become very obvious and easy.

Until men are forced to have to consider sex as something that happens WITH women not TO or FOR them, we will still be faced with the issue of these blurry areas. However, we can discuss them, we can find ways to provide support for victims. Men must be held accountable for their actions against women. We cannot keep normalizing sexual aggression as consensual sexual behavior when too many women have to live with the psychological trauma that ensues.
Dating Culture and Rape Culture are seemingly at a cross road but it does not have to be. We can discuss this issue as intellectuals and find a way to better our societies. 

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