I recently learned a new word. We already were familiar with “madrassa,” which is an Islamic school. An “Almajiri” is also an Islamic school. The word comes from Nigeria and specifically refers to a boarding school. Almajiris are in the news because the Nigerian military recently raided a number of schools.
This has been building up for months. President Buhari spoke against the Almajirai in speeches in June and July. There was a fanfare that quickly faltered in August, about some reforms in government schools.
But for a month now, Nigeria has been rocked by raids on private schools, almajirai, and the exposure led to additional raids, with some school owners, headmasters and teachers arrested, and other owners, headmasters and teachers on the run. It turned out that stolen children were being hidden in several almajirai, kept as slaves in shackles, and, in some cases, subjected to rape in addition to beatings.
It is really frustrating trying to track this down. One reason is that fake news is not just an American phenomenon. I went to a couple of newspaper websites, for example DailyTrust, based in Abuja, and found only one article there about the raids on almajirai. That article focused on one almajiri that had been putting itself forward as a “reform school” for parents of wayward boys who were taking drugs and were discipline problems. Covering the raids on those other schools might have embarrassed the government.
Because these are mostly Islamic schools, they have a distinctive practice that seems odd to Christians. They teach humility by sending the students out into the streets to beg for money for food. This seems odd to me, particularly considering that there are plenty of child beggars in the Nigerian streets who are not going to school at all. UNICEF estimates nearly eleven million children in Nigeria are not in any kind of regular school, with 80 percent of them in the north half (the Muslim half) of Nigeria.
The reason that they are Islamic schools is because Christian schools were targeted, shot up, raided, harrassed, threatened, and burned by Boko Haram so that the only remaining Christian schools in the north half of Nigeria are in the biggest cities and located near police stations.
What the recent police raids found was that, kept hidden in many of the almajirai, were stolen children. They were mostly kids taken from Christian villiages in Boko Haram raids, and stashed in these little desolate boarding schools until they could be sold into slavery. These are overwhelmingly boys. In fact, when they were surprised to find 22 girls in one of the early raids, it made the news and got picked up as a story in Christian niche media. I posted about that last week.
In summary, I suppose I have to report this as a good news story, in that the overall picture is the Nigerian police making some progress at closing down abusive “schools” that were fronts for slave trading. In addition, several hundred young people are getting returned to their families, though, in most cases, their families cannot afford to feed them and they will end up begging again, only without any education going on.