Recently the Boko Haram Millitants / Islamic sect in Nigeria announced a unilateral cease-fire. Many Nigerians and probably also many westerners would have heaved a sigh of relief. They must have felt that Nigeria is coming back from the lurch or brink after six years bloody uprising by the sect.

However, history should have shown Nigerians that there would be no ending to Nigeria’s bloody religious conflict. Since the 1804 Sokoto Jihad and since the amalgamation of Northern and Southern Nigeria’s protectorates, the country has witnessed a series of bloody and deadly religious conflicts mainly in the northern parts.

List of some major bloody Conflicts in the North:

  • The 1804 Jihad of Nigeria

  • The 1953 Kano riots

  • The 1960 – Tiv riots

  • The 1966 – Igbo pogrom in the North

  • The 1980 Maitatsine riots in Kano

  • The Jos crises in 90s

  • The Kanfanchan, Zaria and Zango Kataf riots in Kaduna

  • The Kano riots of the 90’s

  • The miss world Abuja riots 2000

  • The post-election violence of 2011

  • And the anti-Muslim reprisal of 2012

Thus, no one should have expected that these riots would go away easily. It is highly likely that in the next two years, in the run up to 2015 election, and immediately after, there could be violent sectarian conflict in the North.

Many reasons have been given by analysts for the continuous violence in Nigeria especially in the North; however one crucial factor in the continuous religious war has been overlooked.


To a layman, the word Almajiri simply means one who comes in search of Qur’an or Islamic education. However, the term AL-MAJIRI comes from the word “AL–MUJAHIRUN”, meaning migrant students.

In Nigeria, the Almajiris are groups of boys who have left their homes, due to their families’ poor conditions, seeking qur’ anic and Arabic education under the tutelage of Islamic and Arabic scholars called the Mallams. The Mallams or teachers are barely literates in Islamic literature.

The almajiri system is a century long system, where children aged 5 and above from poor homes are sent to study under the Mallams. The almajiris come from rural areas in Northern Nigeria states, Chad, Niger, Cameroun, Mali and even Burkina Faso and converge in major towns in Northern Nigeria.

There are no actual records of the total numbers of the almajiri in Nigeria, but the President of Nigeria has put the recorded numbers at 9.5million. Some states have also given their statistics as follows:

  • Sokoto 1.3million

  • Kaduna 1.1million

  • Borno 389, 000

  • Kano 1.6million

  • Niger 300, 000

Therefore what is gleaned from the records shows that there are more than 12 million official and unofficial almajiris living in the northern Nigeria, that is if the total numbers of the 12 Northern states are duly recorded. As a matter of fact, the 12 million almajiris constitute a slightly larger population than some of the neighboring African countries and also some in Europe.


The schools where the almajiri converged to study the Qur’an is called Islamiyya and it is devoid of any formal educational curriculum.

The life of almajiri consists of memorizing the Qur’an – this is called the Tilawa -, writing of Arabic language – the Hafizi -, while writing and reciting of the Qur’an in Arabic – Darasi.

These forms of learning take around twenty years to be completed. Thus, by the time an almajiri graduates, the almajiri is too old for formal/western education and he is therefore useless in the formal sector.

The everyday life of an almajiri starts as early as 6 in the morning when he is sent out to the street to scavenge for food or beg for alms – this is called Molah. He begs at the motor parks, washes plates at the restaurants and does all menial jobs. He is expected to remit more than half of his day’s income to his Mallam.

A typical almajiri boarding school consists of the Mallam and his assistant with an average of 40 to 100 students crammed in a small spaced room, as an hostel without mattresses or beddings. The process of teaching the almajiris is also very harsh: they are horse-whipped for every little mistake and often deployed to do hard and odd jobs for their teachers.

In Nigeria, the students are made to believe that English Language or western education (Makaranta Allo) is a nuisance or sinful. They are also taught morbid hatred for non-believers, Christians and westerners alike.

By the time an almajiri graduates, he is too old to enroll in any formal sectors, he therefore becomes a danger to everyone but his own kind. He looks at every one with hatred and suspicion and therefore can be called upon on only one service … Jihad.


The people employed to fight on the streets by the politicians in Northern Nigeria are the religious clerics (Mallams), who are paid huge sums to instruct their students to attack and kill non-believers. Therefore the almajiris becomes the weapon that Islamists and politicians use in religious and ethnic conflicts. The almajiris provide a source of manpower to all form of militant Islamic sects, including the Boko Haram. So long as there are over 10 million uneducated youths in Northern Nigeria there will always be ethnic and religious conflict. In 2012, the federal governments raised an alarm that the Boko Haram sect was recruiting almajiris. However, that alarm turned out to be too late because the almajiris had for long been the fuel and source of conflict in the north.

Recent attempts made by the federal government to provide western education to the almajiris has been totally misinterpreted politically. The survival of the program is highly in question. First, the Christian who is at the helm of affairs in Nigeria means little to a people who have for years been kept in obscured ignorance to be mainly employed as a means of violence.

This is a typical scenario: when a northern Muslim politician steals from national coffers and is arrested, to the general northern Islamic community he is only being victimized and not guilty. The result is the mobilization of almajiris to protest in defence of that same politician.

The Boko Haram is not borne out of economic needs, truth need to be told, it is an instrument in the hands of religious and political leaders in the North.

Article by: Mike Odeh James



  1. Pingback: Understanding Boko Haram: A Legacy Of Decades Of Ethno-Religious Violence In Northern Nigeria – By Lawrence Chinedu Nwobu |

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