There is a new trend of begging in Abuja. It is mainly practised by ‘blind’ women.
These women are mostly found at major bus stops with infants strapped on their backs, and usually led by children who are old enough to be in school.
They move from one bus stop to another, chanting religious songs as they solicit for alms. Before the Federal Capital Territory (FCTA) banned street-begging in the city, they were quite few but now, with the ban in place, their numbers are slowly increasing.
Who is the father of the babies they are breastfeeding and the children who serve as their guides? What lies in store for the children who beg on their behalf? These are some of the questions that readily accosts one’s mind once they start pestering people for alms at the bus stops.
Street begging is not a new phenomenon in Nigeria. In motor parks, along busy streets, major roads and even in very discreet highbrow areas, beggars can be found soliciting for alms. What has intrigued a number of people recently is the stylish trends beggars have been adopting to capture the attention of the people from whom they are soliciting alms.
At Zuba bus stop, they move around in dark goggles with infants strapped on their backs, while a child, usually below the age of 10, guides them to the buses that take passengers to Wuse, Berger, Area One, and other strategic bus stops in the city.
These are the new class of Abuja’s beggars who use their children to gain the sympathy of commuters.
“My helper oh, my helper…,” the women chant as the children before them board the waiting buses and pester passengers thus: “Please help my mother, please help my mother. Anything you have, help my mother, God will bless your work and your business.”
They repeat this until sympathetic passengers give them money. By their side hangs a small handbag where they stuff the money they are given. On a particular day, a passenger obviously tired with one of the children’s pestering asked her what was wrong with her mother. Are they taking advantage of the religious injunction that requires us to give alms to the poor and the needy, one wonders.
“But you can see,” one passenger says, not realizing that the school-age child is just a guide, the real beggar is outside the bus. The little girl keeps quiet and the passenger reluctantly gives her some money.
Before this trend of begging became popular in the nation’s capital, there was a certain woman who wore dark goggles and frequented the Zuba bus stop with a child who usually entered buses to solicit alms as she sang and played a tambourine. But recently, many more women seem to have realized it is a lucrative business and have taken to appearing like her, with a baby on their backs and a child old enough to obey instructions.
Some of these children are as young as five years old and fumble in saying the usual, “please help my mother,” a line all the child-beggars from separate mothers use.
“I feel two things when I see them – pity and embarrassment. Pity, because I do not know the condition they are in. Embarrassment, because of what they do,” Musa Umar, a commuter at the Zuba bus stop says.
“People live their lives based on hope. That is not proper. Had it been the institution of governance was functioning, we would not find ourselves in this tragedy,” another commuter, Huzaifa Yahaya, adds.
Although many feel pity for the ‘blind’ beggars, many think they are only pretending in order to court people’s help.
“It pains me whenever I see them,” Amos Yauri, a driver, says.
“There was a day I was going to Wuse and saw a woman with an injury that seemed to have been treated with native medicine. But again, there are those that I believe have those that can take care of them because I see them with breast-feeding babies on their backs. That shows that they have someone. But for those that are sick, I understand.”
However, corroborating some people’s feeling that some of the beggars are pretentious, Mustapha Habibu Kadiri revealed that: “One day, a woman here was exposed when a man said she was his neighbour and that there was nothing wrong with her sight. “When he said this, the woman rained abuses on him and said he was lying.”
Perhaps some of these women are indeed blind. But the question remains: Who is responsible for them and their children? If there is a husband, why are they begging on the streets?
There is no escaping this new generation of beggars wherever one turns to in the capital city. If you do not fall for their songs, you are certain to be carried away by their comic displays. One way or the other, you must “find something for them.”