What’s Wrong with Arabic Schools in Nigeria?

by Akeem Alao

Recently, I stumbled on a video of three students of one Arabic school in Ibadan. In the video, the boys rendered songs to pray for a group of people who later rewarded their performance. It was reported that it is the usual practice of these boys to go round motor parks and parties, where they compose songs (known as wákà) to praise people and get monetary rewards.

Fascinated by their musical ingenuity, someone videoed their performance and uploaded it on Facebook. Soon, it went viral, drawing the attention of well-meaning Muslim leaders. Little did the person know that he had in a way contributed to the success stories of these boys.

Many viewers passed positive comments about the video, commending the talented boys. People are obviously oblivious of the systemic challenges plaguing the Arabic schools in the Southwestern Nigeria: maltreatment of students and improper academic programmes. Most of these local Arabic schools do not have a specific focus.

One will begin to wonder that In this 21st century, some sane parents will still decide to take their children to one ilé kéú or better put, Almajiri center.

What benefits do these parents stand to gain?

Let me begin with a sincere appreciation to the Chief Imam of Lagos State House of Assembly Central Mosque, Dr AbdulHakeem Abdulateef, who has volunteered to sponsor the education (both Western and Islamic) of the three students in civilised and modernised way. This man has proven and reinforced his commitment to emancipating the Muslim child.

If I had the opportunity, I would do more than that. I would visit every part of Ibadan to emancipate the kids in those local Arabic schools. The reason is that I am equally a victim of such disorganised academic system.

Those who are excited about the musical display of the three vibrant, talented boys might not have the understanding of the frustration those boys are facing. It is not funny at all. Beneath that Stellar performance lies a life full of sorrow.

It has become a norm among some Muslim parents in the southwest to abandon their parental responsibilities to their children and send them to Arabic schools popularly known as Ilé Kéú. These children, majorly boys, are apprenticed to and left in the care of the Proprietor of the school, who lack the financial capacity to give them adequate care. That’s why they are mostly seen around event centres begging for leftovers.

Students at most of these substandard schools (Ilé Kéú) are more or less Almajiris who wander around in tattered clothes. They look unkempt. They are exposed to miserable lifestyles.

They are labourers to Ustaz who leverage their parents’ irresponsibleness to use them for farm and site work. When the suffering becomes unbearable, they rebel, retreat and escape, in search of a better livelihood.

Majority of them are so unlucky that they become miscreants at different motor parks, especially in Lagos State. No wonder a larger percentage of these boys answer beautiful Muslim names. May Allah help us!

Even the so-called lucky ones rarely get assistance from Muslims- individuals or organisations- due to dearth of solid welfare programmes. In most cases, they are rescued by the Christians who are desirous to achieve their evangelical missions and enlarge their membership.

When these boys are picked up on the street, or at any event centers, they are refurbished, counselled, pampered, well fed, trained in some useful skills and preached to in order to lure them to embrace Christianity.

Non-Muslims, especially Christians usually come up with packages in order to lure these victims of poverty and chaotic homes to quit Islam for their faith. I love the Christians for that.

But nothing prevents the Muslims from following suit by emulating the leadership style of Dr Abdulhakeem Abdulateef. This kind of gesture is what is missing. Muslims are rich. Priority is a challenge. Funds earmarked for pilgrimage will be useful for achievable social intervention.

Akeem Alao teaches English and Yorùbá Studies at Landmark College, Ikorodu, Lagos.
He can be reached on WhatsApp: 07085303977

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