By Ben Agande, Abuja
Gradually but steadily, beggars have been returning to Abuja after they were hounded out of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) by a former Minister of the Federal Capital Terriroty, Mallam Nasir El-Rufai. The return of the beggars, sometimes accompanied by family members, have been a source of concern to Abuja residents because of the security and other implications for the city’s infrastructure.
A drive around the city centre showed that many of the major intersections of the traffic well paved roads have been taken over by beggars who swoop on motorists any time the light turns red.
But what is it that has made Abuja captivating for these beggars who have defied all odds to remain in the city? According to Abuja Bulletin findings, the relative peace in the FCT makes it a destination of choice for many beggars.
Though majority of the beggars in Abuja are from one particular part of the country, it does not mean that people from other parts hitherto not quite associated with begging, have not started having a sizeable representation among the crowd of beggars in the city. In fact, Abuja’s attraction as a begging destination extends well beyond the shores of this country as there are beggars from Niger Republic whose reason for being in Nigeria is to beg for arms and make returns back to their families in their home country.
According to one beggar, who gave his name as Abdulmajid Danbatta, he left his home state of Kano, five years ago, to Abuja to beg as a means of livelihood when his income from subsistence farming could no longer sustain him and his family of two wives and nine children. Danbatta said he had been invited by his friend who had been in the business for a while to come over and stop ‘suffering’ working on the farms.
“My friend invited me to visit him and see what he was doing in Abuja. When I came, he told me that he had been begging in the streets of the FCT and, since I was visually impaired in one eye, I would make a better beggar because people are bound to sympathise more with me. When I came, it was during the regime of President Jonathan; on my first day out on the street, I made N10,000, after giving my friend who introduced me into the business N2,000!
It was unbelievable. I have remained hooked here since then. Abuja people are very rich; so they can give you five hundred, two hundred or even one thousand naira, without batting an eye lid. Since then, I have remained here doing this business and I am not in a hurry to leave. When I save enough money, I will go back to my village in Shanono, to set up a small shop to take care of my family. But for now, I am here for good”, he said.
While Danbatta was invited by his friend to Abuja, Adamu Bindawa, who is blind, relocated from Lagos when his friend, who had earlier relocated, told him that, with the exit of El- Rufai, Abuja was no longer a harsh terrain for beggars. Bindawa, who said he had been a beggar all his life because of his challenge, explained that he did not think twice before relocating to Abuja because it was tough begging in Lagos.
“Sometimes, Area Boys, in Lagos, will collect all the money we had made all day, leaving us stranded. Since I am blind, there was little I could do to resist them. So when my friend told me that the last government was no longer harsh, I decided to relocate to be closer to my family members who are in Kano State. Although I spent almost ten years in Lagos, I am adjusting to Abuja. The difference between Abuja and Lagos is that, in Lagos you can spend the whole day to make just two thousand Naira while in Abuja one big man can just give you two thousand Naira. And there are no Area Boys to contend with in Abuja here. Abuja is a better place for me,” he said.
Asked when he will retire from begging, Bindawa said: “As soon as my son graduates from the university. Now he is in his final year in secondary school. I understand it takes four to five years for somebody to leave the university. As soon as he leaves and gets a job, I will retire home so that he can take care of his siblings and his mother”.
While Nigerian beggars are a mixture of men and women, the beggars from Niger Republic are mostly women and children who beg to complement the jobs their husbands and fathers do. In very many homes, and especially construction sites in Abuja and environs,
Nigerien Tuaregs are mostly employed as maiguards because of their famed loyalty to employers and ruthlessness in dealing with intruders. Since most of these Tuaregs come to Nigeria with their families, the women, and sometimes children, are deployed to strategic areas in the city, especially busy motor parks to beg for alms. Their fair skin and sometimes scrawny children strapped to their backs serve as a source for empathy for many people who give them alms.
But beyond these obvious classes of beggars, there are others who have elevated the art of begging to a higher level. These are university graduates who have either chosen to beg in order to eke a living as a result of joblessness or who are too lazy to try their hands on other sources of income. Beggars in this category, who are usually very well dressed and speak fairly good English, appeal to the sentiment of the prevailing joblessness in the country to get their victims to part with money.
According to a journalist, who had been a victim of one of such beggars: “They are very suave and persuasive. They tend to cover their tracks well and don’t appear in one place two times in four weeks.
There was this guy who approached me at the Federal Secretariat with his documents in hand and told me that he had just attended a job interview and needed to come back for the oral interview the second day. He claimed that he neither had transport fare to take him back to where he was coming from nor did he have hope of getting any money to attend the oral interview the following day. I took pity on him and gave him two thousand Naira.
“To my surprise, I was at the Ministry of Transport headquarters at Central Business District for an official assignment two weeks later when this same guy came with the same story. Because I was dressed differently from the day he saw me, he did not recognise me. When I reminded him that he had approached me two weeks ago with the same story, he apologised and hurriedly left. When I narrated my experience to my colleagues in the office, at least two people had had similar encounters. It is the new face of begging in Abuja”.
But all these will soon be a thing of the past if the assurance by an official of the FCT is anything to go by. According to an aide of the Minister of the FCT who spoke with Abuja Bulletin, measures are being taken to check, not only the influx of beggars into Abuja but also people of questionable character.
“We are working with relevant security agencies to ensure that beggars are removed from the streets of Abuja. The last administration relaxed on its mandate and that was what informed what we are witnessing today. We have started removing them from Abuja streets and I can assure you that the minister and his team are working on a permanent solution”, the aide, who refused to be quoted, said.
And until that is done, Abuja residents would have to continue to contend with the hordes of beggars because the pull of the city’s glamour remains irresistible to them.