By Tonnie Iredia
A common trend in Nigeria is the giving of awards to those the organizers call achievers. Unfortunately what the recipients did differently from their peers to be so selected is never clear, hence different organizers are yet to pick the same achievers.
Each organizer has a different Governor as man of the year for doing what- paying areas of salaries and pensions? This is why I find it unattractive to join those who organize award ceremonies. It is not just that I am hypercritical as some analysts would feel, it is just that I was wise enough not to clap too quickly for a governor who builds an expansive road in his state until I know the cost of the project.
This should not be taken to mean that there are no political leaders that I admire. For example I have had cause to publicly commend proactive Governor Nasir el Rufai of Kaduna; and Senator Dino Melaye who comes across as perhaps our current most articulate senator. Both men no doubt have done well.
I am particularly happy with Dino’s arrangement to encourage our banks that often declare huge profits to spend some on keeping Abuja orderly and clean. So I commend the senator’s foresight and doggedness just as I thank el Rufai for dismissing extortionists from Kaduna roads but I am yet to appreciate the dislike of both men for beggars.
It is a grudge I have held against Nasir since he announced the banning of beggars from the streets of Kaduna in 2015. Only last week, Dino in his capacity as chairman of the senate committee on the federal capital territory announced plans to remove from the streets of Abuja beggars and prostitutes.
I made up my mind to reach out to both men to draw their attention to our constitution which guarantees freedom of movement for all citizens, but before then a new dimension was raised in a comedy show I attended 2 days ago (comedy has become my hobby since I left office).
In the show, the comedian heartily observed that our government is angry with Nigerian prostitutes who soil our image by operating abroad and is also angry with those who do not wash our dirty linen in public by operating at home! So government, which one do you prefer?
Outside of comedy, while it is easy to appreciate the operation against prostitution on moral grounds, the one against beggars contradicts Africa’s, best quality of being the only people in the world that are their brothers’ keepers. Why are our leaders turning their backs at the less privileged?
Are we all not Nigerians and is the government not for us all? On this ground, discrimination against beggars, some of whom voted for those in government is unfair. If begging is bad, the relocation of beggars from Abuja to other places does not stop the so called evil, instead, it merely transfers it elsewhere.
So, which Nigerian location is good for begging and what is the name of the capital city of Nigerian beggars? While no one is against the beautification of Abuja, we need to know that as a no man’s land, Abuja metropolis should accommodate every type of Nigerian-the rich and the poor; the healthy and the sick the strong and the physically challenged etc. if some capital cities across the globe don’t have beggars hanging all over their streets, it is not because they hide them, it is because they don’t have our type of unemployment just as we do not have their type of social security schemes.
Some critics say begging has become a profitable venture as Nigerian beggars now allegedly garner figures close to that of legislators. If so, that’s a good one as it can increase the number of citizens that can now live above the internationally recognised poverty line.
Legislators with huge take home pay and expensive official cars during recession are privileged Nigerians, it is not bad to add another group – beggars. After all, no one knows what the average beggar takes home in a month just as legislators’ pay has been a mystery. The good thing about begging is that no one is obliged to help a beggar and as such it is unfair to grudge the lucky ones among them. So, let our beggars be; because they are not our problem.
The people on our streets that should really bother us are uniformed public officials who are obviously a nuisance to virtually everyone. They collect money through several approaches including outright begging, public relations, as well as intimidation and harassment of motorists.
In their own case, they take away their collections in addition to their monthly salaries and although they belong to different organizations- Police, Road Safety, VIO etc, they all do the same function-checking of vehicle particulars. On the high ways almost every official in uniform has the same goal which is extortion of motorists.
According to Audu Ogbeh, our Minister of Agriculture, it is their extortion from motorists transporting food from place to place that is responsible for high cost of food. It is the ‘government street/road beggars’ that should be taken off the streets and not beggars
Senator Dino Melaye should bring his articulation to the task of clearing them from our streets. To start with, he should compel their organizations to get equipped for professional performance. For instance, the Federal Road Safety Commission should among other things have towing vans that can rid our roads of broken down vehicles.
Such prompt service would evoke public confidence. Rather than have a cluster of officials standing all over our streets that join VIOs to erect toll gates here and there, they should have facilities that can identify from a distance, vehicles that are recklessly speeding.
This would introduce to the officials best practices in ensuring safety on our roads. If these are not done, no one can convince any person that most of our men in uniform are not there to channel funds to their private pockets. If on the other hand the reforms are done, revenues generated from vehicle licenses etc will greatly assist government such that emphasis will no longer be on making vehicles road worthy but also on making roads vehicle worthy.