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Out of School Children: Is Nigeria Seating on a Ticking Time Bomb In The North?

January 16, 2021 | Estimated Reading Time: 3 minutes
Written by Tolu Okunade

This is the first of a two-part piece that hopes to shed light on two key aspects the Minister of Education needs to pay attention to: the number of out of school children in the North and those who fail to get into tertiary institutions on their first attempt in the South. It aims at pointing out the problems and making recommendations. I would begin with Northern Nigeria.

The Registrar of the National Examinations Council said no fewer than I,221,447 candidates registered for the June/July 2020 Examinations. This figure sounds great until you realize that it could have been higher. How about those who have dropped out and did not even get to take these Examinations in Northern Nigeria? What happens to that population? I’d tell you.

Northern Nigeria has constantly been plagued with the sight of young children of school age roaming the streets in a quest for survival. As an age-old tradition, these kids are popularly called ‘Almajiri’ – children from poor homes usually sent to Islamic boarding schools.  

Did you know?

Between December 2010 and May 2015, the Goodluck Jonathan administration embarked on the Almajiri Education Programme which saw to the construction and equipment of 157 Tsangaya (Almajiri) Model Schools across Nigeria.

The Almajiri schools was that government’s response to the level of illiteracy in the North, where out-of-school children were known to constitute themselves a nuisance. The President had come up with a lofty ideal of building Almajiri schools, to reduce street begging and integrate basic primary education in the Almajiri system. While many believed the motive for this was wrong as it was part of his strategy to worm himself into the hearts of the Northerners to aid his re-election bid in 2015 (an election which he lost to Muhammadu Buhari), the major point is that he got the schools built.

According to Relief Web in a 2020 report, Nigeria has about 13.2 million out of school children. In West Africa, Nigeria accounts for 45 per cent of out-of-school children. 69 per cent of the out-of-school in Nigeria are from Northern Nigeria, with 60 per cent of them comprising of girls. The number of out-of-school children in Nigeria has increased from 10.5 million in 2010 to 13.2 million in 2015.

Since the emergence of Buhari as President, a Northern Muslim, many believed the projects would not suffer since they were his ‘main’ constituency. However, he has left it for more ‘important’ issues. Kano State, a state that has over 9 million persons (according to the 2006 national censors) according to the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), hosts about a third of the estimated nine million out-of-school children in the North. It has about 10 of those schools.

Some of the contributing factors to this issue is the protracted violent conflict in Northeast Nigeria. The destruction of schools by insurgents, forced displacement, and the volatile nature of the region has grossly impacted accessibility to primary education in the area. It is important to pay attention to the Almajiri system of education. It requires lots of funding because the schools provide free feeding, uniform, and instructional materials all at no cost.

Their structures built for the purpose have either been used for conventional education (not being used by the so-called Almajiri children but rather by the community children) or lay waste because isn’t properly maintained and was not furnished at the beginning, forcing students to go back to their old ways of begging. Some have even argued that Boko Haram insurgents have continued to wage war against the Nigerian state as a result of a robust recruitment source. The Almajiri system has created a mass of vulnerable younglings who are susceptible to the antics of conflict promoters upon the promise of material reward or psycho-social brainwashing.

In the next piece, I would examine the case in Southern Nigeria as well as provide recommendations to tackle issues in both parts of the country.

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