Nigeria’s Almajiri schools: recruitment ground for terrorists?

An Almajiri school

It’s a good day for Rabiu. The 9 year-old has just started going from house to house, singing verses from the Koran. An elderly man opens his door and pours rice into Rabius’ metal bowl. “I’ll cook it and eat it straightaway,” Rabiu says. He usually has to wait much longer until someone gives him something to eat but he rarely has to go to bed hungry.

It’s midday in Bauchi, a city in northern Nigeria. The streets are full of boys looking just like Rabiu. They wear white robes and each one carries a bowl.

Rabiu goes out begin every day

They are known as ‘almajiris’ and are partly beggars, partly Koran pupils. There are several thousand of them in Bauchi alone. Most have been sent to the city by their parents who want them to receive a religious education in the Almajiri schools.

For many families, that is preferable to attending a state school which costs money.  Most of the religious schools provide free tuition.

But the Almajiri pupils have to take care of their own daily needs which is why many of them go begging when they do not have to be in the classroom.

The social significance of the Almajiri schools has long been a topic of debate in Nigeria. There are hundreds of them, especially in the Muslim-dominated north.

Sign for one of these schools

Many Muslims regard the schools as an important element of their religious identity. Critics, especially from abroad, say the young Almajiri pupils who wander through the streets and seek religious orientiation are ideal recruits for extremists.

Nigerian publicist and activist Eneruvie Enakoko went so far as to say in an interview that the Almajiri schools were partly responsible for the Boko Haram terror. The Islamist sect has been destabilising large parts of northeast Nigeria for years. The name Boko Haram means “western eduction is a sin.” Attacks by the group on hospitals, police stations or schools have resulted in thousands being injured or killed, most of them Muslims. In February this year alone, an estimated more than 500 people died in Boko Haram attacks…