28 October 2010

Nigeria: Islam And Girl-Child Education


Mni — The poor state of girl child education in Muslim communities and the Northern states in particular has been the topic of several conferences, workshops and seminars.

Research on the topic has generated disturbing statistics. Various action plans for implementation of the outcomes of these intellectual initiatives already exist and many of them are gathering moss on the shelves of policy makers. Where attempts were made to implement some of these strategic plans, the tardiness in implementation, corruption and insincerity have retarded progress. It is better to talk than to descend into a state of despair. Last weekend, a national conference on Islam and the Education of Girl Child was organised by the Abuja based Centre for Regional Integration and Development (CRID). It held at Arewa House Kaduna from October 23-24 2010 and was well attended by stakeholders from all walks of life.

The Sultan of Sokoto His Eminence Alhaji Muhammad Sa'ad Abubakar mni, CFR, Sultan of Sokoto and President General Nigerian Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs was the Chairman of the occasion. Other dignitaries in attendance were the Emir of Zazzau, Alhaji Shehu Idris, the Emir of Birnin Gwari Alhaji Zubairu Jibril, and that of Kazaure, Alhaji Najib Adamu. The Governor of Kaduna State was represented by the Deputy Governor of Kaduna State. The federal government stake holders were led by the Hon Minister of Education Professor Ruqayyah Ahmed Rufai who was ably represented by the Executive Secretary of the Commission for Nomadic Education, Dr Nafisah Mohammed. Senior members of staff of the National Commission for Universal Basic Education were there in full force.

The event began with a welcome address by the Director of the Centre, Dr Hamid Bobboyi, a former Director of Arewa House and the Northern Nigeria Education Project. He welcomed all participants and gave a brief background to the project on girl child education which was funded by the California based David and Lucile Packard Foundation. The President of the Islamic Education Trust Minna,Sheikh Ahmad Lemu and Professor Naiya Sada of Ahmadu Bello University Zaria made remarks on Islam and girl child education where they underscored the importance of girl child education as a strategy for development of the Muslim ummah.

Dr Fatima Adamu of Usman Danfodio University Sokoto presented the outcome of an exploratory qualitative survey on Attitudes towards Girl Child Education conducted in Kano and Katsina Emirates which she conducted with another consultant, Hajiya Mardiyyah Abbas. The survey which was funded by CRID used Focus Group Discussions FGD and in-depth interviews to collect data on barriers to girl child education. It threw up the usual issues such as the cost of schooling, high poverty rates in northern states, prevalence of talla hawking, preference of marriage at the expense of education, corruption in the educational system and absence of role models in the rural areas. The survey also addressed the moral dilemma of some parents who associated western education with moral decadence while other expressed concern about the inability of Muslim communities to meet social needs and produce women doctors, teachers and other professionals to serve their communities.

This report presentation was followed by statements from Islamic scholars on Islam and girl child education, remarks by traditional rulers and a speech by the Deputy Governor of Kaduna State. The speech delivered by the Chairman of the conference, His Eminence the Sultan of Sokoto captured most of the issues raised by the various speakers.

The Sultan said Allah made knowledge the foundation of the Ummah and its acquisition an obligation upon all Muslims, male and female. He said Muslims must acquire knowledge to understand and practice the basic tenets of their religion, with regard to and the rights and responsibilities which Allah (SWT) has placed on them. Such knowledge will also enable them to resolve societal problems, safeguard the socio-economic life of the ummah, promote the welfare and wellbeing of the people and meet their developmental needs. He cited a hadith of the Prophet Muhammad (SAW) which states

"Acquire knowledge for indeed the acquisition of knowledge for the sake of Allah engenders reverence; its search is an act of worship; its study is glorification of Allah; its research is a Jihad; teaching it to the ignorant is charity; while offering it to scholars is a pious deed."..

The Sultan emphasized that women, in this part of our world, had played a significant role in the affairs of their states and societies for many centuries. He recalled "the historical record of the Sokoto Caliphate provides shining examples of the efforts made by Shaykh Uthman Ibn Fodio, the founder of the Caliphate, who fought with many ulama of his day, to restore women's right to education. He ensured that all his daughters, were educated Khadija, cNana Asmācu and Maryam, become scholars and authors in their own right. Nana Asma'u, the most prolific of the group, authored more than 50 books and poems and rose to become not only the leader of women in the Sokoto Caliphate but a counsellor and adviser to many Sultans on matters of war and peace as well as an active participant in the affairs of State."

The Sultan made many recommendations. He urged community leaders, Islamic organizations and Islamic scholars to work together to produce the enabling environment which shall see to the emergence of a robust Islamic educational system. He called for establishment of an integrated school structure which provides Islamic as well as conventional education to each and every Muslim child, regardless of gender and economic circumstances.

Other recommendations were: establishment of sustainable scholarship schemes that can support women education, Islamic as well as conventional education in our society, girl-child friendly school environment to accommodate the basic needs of our female children, employment of more female teachers to serve as role models to female students, providing school environment that is morally sensitive which protects the girl-child from harassment and facilitates the pursuit of her educational career without let or hindrance.

He called on the government to reduce the cost of education especially as it applies to the girl-child. He reminded Northern governors, of their pledge in 2002, to provide free education to the girl-child up to the completion of senior secondary school should also be revisited and diligently implemented. The Sultan advised Muslim parents to stop exposing the girl child to the vagaries of street hawking.

As his own contribution to educational development, the Sultan announced the establishment of the Sultan's Committee on Education under the Chairmanship of His Royal Highness Alhaji Zayyana Abdullahi, the Emir of Yauri. It would co-ordinate with Emirs and Chiefs in the Northern States, and liaise with other stakeholders to support efforts in the development of education especially as they relate to girl-child education, the almajirai and access to higher education.

In her vote of thanks, the Country Director of David and Lucile Packard Foundation Dr Mairo Mandara underscored the importance of girl child education and urged policy makers to provide girls with second chance schooling facilities so that those who drop out can return to school. After the opening ceremony, several papers were presented by resource persons at the first plenary session and also on the second day of the conference. These will be shared with readers next week.


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