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Beggars Return to Abuja City

Fifteen years ago, the city centre of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) was cleansed of the presence of beggars. In this piece, Zigwai Tagwai reports that the beggars, who were relocated to a satellite community by the Federal Capital Territory Administration (FCTA), have made a return to the city centre.
Amina said that they have to pay a fee of between N300 and N400 every day to be transported from Dei Dei in Abuja to their begging spots, and this has been going on for a number of years…they are faced daily with the fear of harassment by task force members, who arrest and pick them up to Area 3, where their wheel chairs are being seized, and not returned

In 2003, Malam Nasir el-Rufai, who was then the Minister of the Federal Capital Territory Administration (FCTA), decided to rid the streets of Abuja of beggars by relocating them to a specially provided location in the Bwari Area Council.

His reason was simple: the beggars were considered nuisance by the FCT residents, and there was the need to make the city centre presentable to both the residents and visitors.

Then, the destitute were flooding the FCT at an alarming rate in search of a livelihood and better life as every other able bodied individual.

A vocational rehabilitation centre was provided at Kuchiko, Bwari Area Council so as to give an opportunity to the disabled to build a better life for themselves.

Presently, the vocational centre, which was supposed to serve as an avenue for rehabilitation and training in areas like welding, tailoring, shoe production, poultry and electronics has become an eyesore as a result of complete neglect and inadequate budgetary provisions for its maintenance.

The hostel, which has 40 rooms in it, and was meant to provide accommodation, has been overgrown with weeds.

The fence, the roofs of some of the buildings, the bathrooms and toilets have all collapsed.

The streets of Abuja are, once again, as flooded as they were in the past, if not worse, with beggars seeking alms from residents as a result of hunger and lack of livelihood to sustain them and their families.

There is an urgent need for the Nigerian government to respond to the plight of the destitute, not just in Abuja, but all over the nation.

There is also the urgent need to continually follow up with total commitment, not as a pet project for applause or political party project, but as a government humanity project.

Taking the beggars off the streets does not automatically translate to leaving them in isolation at the outskirts of city centre.

If the government is for all, then, the welfare of the beggars should also be put into consideration, and adequately catered for so that they can easily be reintegrated into the society.

In an interview with DAILY ASSET, the representative of the female beggars from Bwari Area Council, Amina, said that begging on the streets provides a better option of survival than staying in the provided location in Bwari, where they are faced with starvation and lack of care.

Amina said that they have to pay a fee of between N300 and N400 every day to be transported from Dei Dei in Abuja to their begging spots, and this has been going on for a number of years.

When asked their reason for begging on the streets, she said that it was all for the sake of being able to provide good health care for their children, support their husbands, provide foods and school needs for their children, as well as take care of themselves: “Abinci, sutura, yaran makaranta, taimaka ma mazan mu,” Amina said.

She also said that begging on the streets is quite beneficial because they get gifts of money, food, water, clothes and so much more from passersby or residents of the estate where she is positioned.

According to Amina, they are faced daily with the fear of harassment by task force members, who arrest and pick them up to Area 3, where their wheel chairs are being seized, and not returned.

She also hinted that they are being locked up, refused food or water, not permitted to pray, given buckets to answer the call of nature, and sometimes fined a sum of N10,000.

On the issue of how they cope with the harsh weather of Abuja and being exposed to varying weather conditions, Amina said that they take refuge in close-by shelters, use umbrellas when they can, move to verandas of homes of residents of estates where they are positioned, or return to their homes.

Amina stated that the residents of the estate where she and many others are positioned do not frown at their presence or harass them for any reason: “Takura na da sauki”; they are quite accommodating, and help out when they can: “Godiya ga Allah da taimako”.

She further explained that the beggars did not chose the life they have found themselves living, neither did they create themselves, having one deficiency or the other: “Kowa na da nakasa a jikin sa, ba jarin sana’a”.

She admitted that they are tired of begging: “Bara ya dame mu, mun gaji da bara”, and every day they live in fear of the unknown: “Muna tsoro mana”.

When asked how they can be assisted, Amina stated that they need the government to look into their matter, especially since the government has said that they do not want beggars on the streets.

She regretted that nothing has been done for them to serve as an effective alternative to begging: “Gwamnati ta duba irin halin da muke, gwamnati ta ce ba a son bara ama ba abun da suka yi mana, ya gwamnati take so ta yi da mu”.

Amina lamented on how the politicians follow them right to their homes to campaign, offering them gifts, and making so many promises to them; but chase them away, and treat them inhumanly, after they have got what they want: “Mu kenean ana dauke ashe ba mutane bane”.

They called on those in government to fear God: “Gwanati ta ji tsoron Allah”, and help them: “Muna so gwamnati su taimaka, ko da aiki za ba mu, kowa na son hutawa, mun gaji da barace” by providing and helping them properly maintain accommodations and vocations so as to be able to live decent lives and earn a living to support themselves.

She also emphasised the fact that, if all of these provisions are made available to them, and any physically handicapped person is seen begging, then he or she must face whatever consequence or punishment that such should attract.

DAILY ASSET spoke to one of the oldest residents of the estate, who simply gave his name as Mr. A.B., and he noted that the beggars are Nigerians, who deserve better care and provision from the Federal Government.

In an interview with one of the oldest (15 years) residents, Mr. A.B., in the estate, where Amina and some other beggars are positioned, we got the following responses to the questions asked:

“Beggars are beggars, they move around begging for alms. Where they discover they receive greater patronage or alms from people, they stick around.

“It could also be because the estate provides a cover for them. It’s not easy for Task Force, charged with the responsibility to evacuate them and move them to Bwari camp provided them to relocate them.

“They have also found shelter (trees) where they can conveniently stay during various seasons. At the very entrance of the estate, there is a mosque and it is very likely, everywhere there is a mosque you find beggars. That could be one attraction. The entrance into the estate is a beehive of activities; a clumsy site filled with various retailers and provides convenience for beggars.

“The entrance and exit provide high traffic, which helps generate revenue for the beggars. I have been to other estates with higher population in Abuja, and I am yet to find any beggars because of high level of control by residents, which is contrary to the porous nature of this estate.

“Not really. I have nothing to do with them personally, and vice versa. I just observe them and that’s all. But, of course, if you ask me how comfortable I am as a resident with their presence in the estate, I would say these are Nigerians that deserve better care and should be provided with it,” he said.

He, however, expressed concern that the beggars could be disguised for some bad works.

“As residents, we deserve privacy and security to an extent, nobody bargained for a colony of beggars.

“Security consciousness, especially at a time when Nigeria is faced with these challenges should be of concern. You can’t be too sure, if they are informants or not. At some point, we had some of these beggars pitching tent opposite my house, we didn’t know where they came form at the break of day or went to at the end of the day. Our going out and coming in was known by them and it is not good for the security of the residents,” he said.

Mr. A.B. also spoke about the dirty and nuisance that are connected as a result of their presence.

“Environmental pollution through littered feaces and urine is another challenge. Human beings cannot stay through the day without answering the call of nature, and we have no public toilets so they make use of any place they find around them.

“They constitute nuisance. There ought to be authorities in the Federal Capital Territory, which is the model federal capital, which should be able to compete in terms of decency, ambition with any capital in the world but at the rate we are going, that kind of behavior has health hazards posed against the residents of epidemic at a time when everybody is suffocating for lack of money. How will people treat themselves?” he queried.

He also spoke about how it concerns his fellow residents.

“For some people, it’s not an issue; but different people have their varying opinions. Some see it as an avenue to assist those in need, and send food for such people – it is an opportunity to give to the needy for heavenly reward, but I think different. These are Nigerians that deserve better treatment by government and ought to stop constituting nuisance. When I decided to buy this house, I didn’t bargain to have colonies of beggars around,” he said.

The uncertainty of how long it would last bothered him.

“As long as the constituted authorities fail to carry out their responsibility, the beggars will continue to feel comfortable because they benefit and continue to have the favourable conditions that encourage them so, I cannot say.

“If for goodness sake we can’t see them hanging around places like Asokoro, the gates of Aso Villa, or Maitama, where you have choice houses and embassies because there is no decency in having them around, why is it okay to have them here? If we feel it’s the right thing, then we should have them everywhere so we know that we are magnanimous enough to be our brother’s keeper,” he expressed.

The lack of continuity of government policies also worried him.

“Just like any other project, the El-Rufai project for beggars also died when his tenure ended, no continuity or follow up. We should ask ourselves, how are other governments doing it?

“The way to measure the effectiveness of a government is by the way those, who are the weakest link are being taken care of and not by the way the highly placed are living comfortably,” he stated.

According to a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), Chief Afe Babalola, in Ado Ekiti, during a visit by the leadership of the Pharmaceutical Council of Nigeria to Afe Babalola University, bad leadership is fast turning Nigerians into beggars as the culture of begging was an alien practice to the Yoruba race but today, it has become a common practice to see Nigerians begging on the streets “because of poverty caused by bad governance”.

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