By Benjamin NJOKU
They gather under bridges, motor-parks and marketplaces, whispering and suspicious of what the next minute would bring. Here, their hopes and aspirations are punctuated with uncertainty.Â Â
Life for them isÂ meaningless. Fear and uncertainty grip them every second of their lives. For some of them, street begging is a way of life.
Saturday Vanguardâ€™s recent visit to someÂ bus stops and side-walks like Oshodi, Ikeja, Abule-Egba, Ojuelegba, Agege, Ojota, Cele, Ojota, Iyana-Ipaja and Ebute-Meta, shows that Governor Babatunde Fashola of Lagos StateÂ is gradually losing the war as more and more beggars have returned to the streets.
From Mile 2 to Ikeja, Ojota and Yaba, the situation has not changed either. Except in Ojuelegba, owing to the on-going construction works around the bus stop and partly Ebute-Meta, where beggars are treading with caution, every other busy area in Lagos is presently witnessing a clustering of beggars.
At Cele bus stop, along Oshodi-Apapa Expressway, for instance, the beggars are in full session. Everywhere you turn, you are confronted by a large army of beggars with different degrees of ailments: the old, young, male and female. The beggars,Â aware of the fact that they are not wanted on the streets anymore, are ever prepared to take to their heels at the slightest suspicious of anyÂ movement.
Many of the beggars come as far as Obalende, Ojota, and Ikeja to Cele bus stop every morning to seek for alms. Some are deaf, dumb, crippled and blind, while many others with a variety of ailments, real or imagined, feverishly advertise their conditions to elicit sympathy.
The pedestrian bridge at the bus stop now serves as a make-shiftÂ homes to some of the beggars, mainly the crippled. Under the bridge also, live women who bring children, often twins and triplets to seek for alms.
Indeed, some of the beggars who spoke to Saturday Vanguard, while admitting that street begging constitutes social malaise, insisted that they took to the business as a way of making a living, givenÂ their conditions.
According to them, while most of the beggars are genuine and semi-illiterates, who are driven into the trade by circumstances of life, many of them mainly went into the trade as a result of laziness and greed on their part.
â€œI canâ€™t tell you that Iâ€™mÂ making so much money here. Sometimes, I go home with nothing more than N250. I donâ€™t like street begging. Itâ€™s demeaning but I just have to do itÂ in order to have something to eat,â€ Alhaji Abubakar Dauda muted, as he narrated his touchy story to Saturday Vanguard
Dauda is one of the beggars at Cele bus stop who claims to have dropped out of school and taken to begging as a result of his inability to get help. He speaks English fluently and has an ambition to go back to school to complete his education.
He said, his reason for going into street begging was to see how he would raise enough money to go back to school. Unfortunately, as he revealed, what he makes per day is nothing to see him through in his dream.
Why I take to begging – Abubakar Dauda
â€œI am a student of Computer Science atÂ Bayero University, Kano. I dropped out of school because of my inability to upset my tuition fees. As a result of the development, I narrated my story to one of my friends, and course mate, whoâ€™s now a soldier and serving in Lagos.
â€œHe invited me over. So, I came to sojourn in Lagos, barely three months ago.Â I still want to go back to school to complete my studies. I donâ€™t like begging but itâ€™s just that I have no other means of surviving.
â€˜Unfortunately, my soldier friend does not know that I go out in the morning to beg. I make sure that I go back to our house before he returns from work.â€
I canâ€™t really understand what puts me in this condition but I know that I was born disabled.Â I came to Lagos in search of menial job to assist myself. I am not a beggar. I just want to get a job that can help me take care of my immediate needs. I want to go back to Kano to finish up my studies.
Daily take home
I canâ€™t tell you I make so much money. At times, I go home with only N200 to N300 per day. This is just to enable me to have something to eat. I donâ€™t like begging as a way of life.
My parents are late. But I have two brothers who are staying in Kano. I communicate from time to time with them. Iâ€™m eager to go back to Kano and continue my education, and I need assistance from well meaning Nigerians.
El-Rufai put me on this condition -Mallam Habibu
Mallam Habibu, narrating how he found himself on the streets, said he was one of the victims of El-Rufaiâ€™s demolition of illegal structures in Abuja carried out aÂ few years ago. According to him, he was involved in an accident that claimed his right leg.
He managed to set a shop where he was dealing inÂ provisions and other household items, just to make ends, until the El-Rufaiâ€™s bulldozer descended on his make-shift shop, sending him to the street to survive.
â€˜Iâ€™m Mallam Habibu,Â from Kano. I was not born a beggar. Rather, I was involved in an accident that claimed my right leg.
The accident happened during the regime of Alhaji Shehu Shagari in the 1st republic. I tried as much as possible to ensure that my leg was not amputated to no avail.
Then, I was running a small provision store, which I later changed over to dealing with GSM accessories before El-Rufai rolled out his bulldozer in the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja to destroy my shop. Thereafter, I had nothing to fall back on, only for me to decide to take to street begging.
â€œIâ€™m married, with four kids. At least, my daughter is in the University now, and itâ€™s through begging that Iâ€™m paying her tuition fees. Many of us on the streets have families we cater for. This is why we cannot stop begging, because we have to provide for our families. I want the government to take care of us as well as our families to keep us off the streets.â€
Long battle against beggars
In Nigeria, street begging has come a long way. It has survived the heat and resistance against the demeaning profession.
Still, society frowns at it, seeing it as a social nuance and national embarrassment.
When the Lagos State government enacted a law banning street begging last year, it was to sanitise society and rid it of the menace of street begging. The law punished the giver and the receiver, and many beggars were whisked away to the state Rehabilitation Centre located at Owutu, in Ikorodu area of Lagos. Since then, all have not been the same again with street beggars in the state.
Upon assumption of office in 2007, Governor Raji Fashola vowed to kick beggars off the streets of Lagos as aÂ measure to reposition Lagos and cause it to assume the new status of a mega-city. Governor Fashola is not alone in this fight, as his Plateau State counterpart, Governor Jonah Jang in August last year, announced the banning of street begging in that state.
Initially, while the law was invoked in Lagos, beggars temporarily stayed off the streets, as they fled to remote areas to practice their old trade. But today, despite the enactment of the law, the beggars are gradually returning to the streets, damning the consequences and becoming bolder.
It is estimated that an average of 65 per cent ofÂ beggars stream daily into the state in search of means of livelihood.
Street begging also angersÂ the National Tourism Development Commission whose efforts, it says,Â will not yield the desired results in making the country a tourism haven for foreigners until street beggars are off the streets in major cities.
Like, in Abuja, Lagos has become the haven of begging in Nigeria.
Quoting a statement credited to the Special Adviser to Fashola on Youth, Sport and Social Development, Dr. Dolapo Badru, Lagos will not relent in its effort to win the war against street begging.
â€œWe know that they come to Lagos in droves. When you see a trailer load of these people, you canâ€™t just arrest them. They only way we can go after them is if a beggar tells us he was working for a master,â€Â said Badru.
He affirmed that begging is a crime for which both the giver and receiver should be punished.Â But how much the Lagos stateÂ government has been able to win the war is only a matter of time. It is, however, believed that the nature of Lagos as a former federal capital and the economic hub of the nation continues to attract visitors, including beggars who see the city as a fertile ground for their business to thrive.
While the war rages on, some critics argue that with the beggars sleeping with one of the eyes open, it is instructive in this coming year that the government consider the option of articulating a welfare programme for the less-privileged in society.
Apart from the ravaging poverty in Nigeria, many factors have been identified as being responsible for this growing national malaise. Governments at all levels desire to introduce a sound social policy that will take care of the needs of the vulnerable and the poor in society.