Whether or not it is related to the insurgency and banditry in the northern part of the country, it is not clear, but in recent times, street-begging and destitution have returned to the FCT; ELEOJO IDACHABA writes.
Like an army of locusts, they have returned with their associated social nuisances in places where they find habitation. Even though they are not reported to be behind the recent cases of banditry in some satellite towns within the territory, their presence in hundreds along major highways from satellite towns into the city centre speaks volumes about how the country caters for its citizens. These are beggars and destitute that have literally taken over Abuja city.
In the recent weeks and months, investigation has revealed that the beggars with their children and family members now form a colony along strategic locations. For instance, they are found in droves along Bwari-Dutse road adjoining the city, they are found along the Kaduna road leading to Zuba, Nyanya/Kugbo road just before the popular AYA Junction in Asokoro and along the Nnamdi Azikiwe Airport road. More extreme is their presence in Area 1 as they are sandwiched along the street between the corner shop and a popular mosque in the area.
This latest development, according to the authorities of the territory, is posing a serious concern.
Expressing its concerns about the development, the Social Development Secretariat (SDS) of the Federal Capital Territory Administration (FCTA) said this is akin to invasion.
While conducting participants of the National Institute for Policy and Strategic Studies (NIPSS) Senior Executives Course 44, who were on a visit round the FCT Vocational and Rehabilitation Centre located in Bwari, the acting director of the department, Sani Amar, said they were taken aback by the influx of beggars, a development he blamed on the overwhelming, terrible trend of the never-ending insecurity in several states in the northern part where the beggars mostly migrated from.
He used the opportunity to express the helplessness of the territory in carrying out punitive measures against them, basing it on what he called the United Nations Human Rights Act which prohibits the detention of arrested persons beyond three days. According to him, that provision is the major reason for the swelling number of beggars in the city.
He lamented that even though the secretariat has been struggling to rid the streets free of beggars and destitute lately, the efforts, he noted, have not yielded the desired results. Before now, he said, officials of the department usually arrest between 20-25 beggars when they go for their routine sanitation exercise, but now he said the situation has changed drastically as they now arrest over 100 beggars and destitute in a single operation.
While calling on the government and Council of State to act fast by pushing for a legislation that will criminalise begging, he however added that if punitive actions are not meted at those who hide under the cover of begging to defraud innocent Nigerians, the menace would not stop.
For him, neighboring states particularly at the northern axis of the territory should put in place policies that would discourage street begging as he noted that the FCT ends up being at the receiving end.
“The recent influx of beggars in the city is so overwhelming. The day before, when we went round, we apprehended about 20 people, but now in one spot, we arrested 100 plus. Our major problem is the United Nations Human Right Act that says you can’t detain human beings beyond three days and then coupled with the fact that their feeding is expensive, these people have made it just like a business.
“The insurgency, banditry in the north generally is too much. Beggars now are not only people with disabilities; the majority of them are able- bodied with their women and children. I think there is a need for the government to see if the Council of State can do something about this influx so that states responsible can provide succour for the beggars.
“So, what we are trying to do now is to advise the authorities if they can explore any law/act that would at least make it deterrent to anybody because so many of them were apprehended with huge amounts of money. Some with N120, 000, N200, 000 and they are still begging.”
This is not the first time that the territory, especially Abuja municipal city, would be taken over by beggars. Way back in 2012, beggars took over every available space in the city centre to the embarrassment of the government that the Vocational and Rehabilitation Centre in Kuchiko, Bwari area council was strengthened to accommodate and rehabilitate beggars, but not long after that, another form of begging known as corporate begging resurfaced. Although corporate begging appears to have died down, the nuisance posed by the destitute are on the increase.
A beggar old man in his sixties, Baba Musa, told Blueprint Weekend along Bwari-Dutsen Alhaji axis that he came to Abuja from Niger state along with his wife and two daughters to beg in order to survive.
Speaking in Hausa language, he said, “We came here from Niger state. We could not go to the farm because of bandits who were killing us. I managed to escape from Shiroro to Kuta, but in Kuta, we still cannot stay or go to the farm. We were dying of hunger before someone brought us to Bwari where beggars are kept, but they refused to accept us because they said we have no data with them. That is why we came to the street to beg in order to eat. Here on the road, some people would give us money; some women would give us akara and sometimes cooked indomie. We need help.”
Elsewhere in Area 1, this reporter gathered that begging thrives there because a philanthropist often visits the place mostly in the evenings to donate foodstuff to the beggars who usually wait for him at the Area 1 Bus Stop.
An eyewitness told Blueprint Weekend that, “An undisclosed wealthy Muslim feeds them in the morning and especially evening, that is why they have refused to leave here. Whenever officials of FCTA come here, they all disappear briskly even those with disabilities, but as soon as the officials leave, they return to the same spot. In fact, it would be difficult to remove them from here as long as someone comes to feed them daily.”
Attempt to speak with Amar, the acting director of Social Services Secretariat of FCTA, proved abortive, but a female staff in the secretariat who would not want to be named for obvious reasons said the rehabilitation centre in Bwari cannot accommodate the sea of beggars in the territory even if the secretariat is able to arrest all of them.
“The cost of keeping them together and feeding them is not easy. Many of those beggars you find on the streets have been at the centre, but when they realised that feeding and the required rehabilitation were not forthcoming, they escaped, some with their families while those who had the strength to cultivate land stayed back on the farms.
“The people you are referring to along the roads are probably the ones displaced by banditry and insurgency in nearby states. The only way out is for governments of northern states to focus on the welfare of their people in order to discourage them from migrating into the city in order to beg. This is not even a matter of insurgency yet because begging has been going on long before insurgency and banditry started,” she told this reporter.