Written by Ismaila JIMOH

The many faces of street begging in Abuja

That street begging in the Federal Capital Territory is prohibited is no longer news, however the recent influx of beggars in Abuja and the various tricks they employ to make residents part with their hard earned money has become worrisome.

Though successive administrations tried to discourage street begging through the instrumentality of its agency, the Abuja Environmental Protection Board, AEPB, some street beggars seem to have carved out new ways of eluding arrest.

A trend which Abuja residents describe as corporate begging seems to be taking over from the conventional street beggars. The usual sight where beggars move with tattered clothes or with one form of disability or physical ailment is hardly in use by the corporate beggar, as they move about neatly dressed but armed with one story or another of being stranded.

Some ‘men of God’ seem to have also joined the begging business, as a number of them can be found around motor parks praying for travelers in exchange for money.

Investigation by METRO revealed that a number of these pastors hang around motor parks like the Nyanya Mass Transit in Mararaba, New-Nyanya park, Utako park among other parks to fleece money from travelers in the name of praying for safe travel. 

For instance, when our correspondent visited the Utako motor park, a well-dressed man who claimed to be a pastor, was seen offering unsolicited prayers to passengers travelling from Abuja to Lagos and at the end, he asked for money to ‘support’ his ministry.

An observer, Lateef Aderibigbe, who spoke to METRO about this development said: “What this man who calls himself a pastor is doing in this park is not different from those beggars on the street, because both of them ask for money from random people they meet. Let me tell you, this man is not the only one doing this business here. In fact in Lagos they can be found at all the inter-state motor parks pretending to be offering prayers for the intending travelers. 

“As a matter of fact, some of them even claim territory, which means if Mr. A operates in this park, Mr. B will not be allowed to operate here, like every other business, they protect their territory from competitors.

“I want to also believe that the so-called men of God do this in connivance with the drivers because how would you explain a situation where drivers and bus conductors try to encourage passengers to give out money to the pastors? I think the FCT administration should do something about this development, because corporate beggars are fast taking over from the usual beggars or Almajiris.”

Another group of beggars target customers at shopping malls, eateries and bukkas. They prey on their victims’ conscience by announcing that they are hungry and have not had a meal the whole day.

Sa’datu and Mariam were found begging for alms at a shopping mall in the city centre, they claimed to be married to the same husband; they lived in mararaba before the death of their husband. As a result of the demise of their ‘husband’ according to them, they were forced to beg for alms to make ends meet.

When METRO sought the opinion of some Abuja residents on the issue of street begging which seems to have gained momentum, despite a law banning it, some respondents ascribe the development to the current economic hardship in the country.

A businessman who simply gave his name as Cajetan, called for proper monitoring of beggars, so as to project the image of the nation’s capital.

“While it is not out of place to see beggars in the street even sometimes here in the city centre, it is always advisable to restrict their movement to a confined area because some hide under the pretense of begging for alms to commit hideous crimes.”

Cajetan appealed to the FCT authority to setup skill acquisition centres in all the six area councils of the territory where beggars, particularly the physically challenged, can be trained to enable them contribute towards the advancement of the country and their immediate family in particular.

Another resident, Abubakar Jibril, blamed the continued existence of beggars in the FCT on the fact that almost all the past ministers of FCT including the present one are, are all from the north, where most beggars are believed to hail from. Jibril said most beggars believe they are protected by a northern minister.

“You know majority of beggars are from the northern part of this country, and the fact that almost all the past FCT ministers including the present one all come from the north, I see it as reason why the law banning street begging has not been working as it ought to be.”

When Metro spoke with the AEPB on the influx of beggars in Abuja, the head of information and outreach programme of the board, Mr. Joe Ukairo, said the board is working with Social Development Secretariat to control their activity.

“Our part is to arrest beggars and destitute, then hand them over to the SDS for rehabilitation or repatriation. They have done quite a lot in rehabilitating and empowering this class of FCT residents.

According to him, “we work round the clock, so beggars shifting their activities to night time will not change a thing. Our night roving teams work till the early hours of the next day and we have records of beggars arrested by the AEPB night duty teams.” 

Ukairo further debunked claims that poor sanitary condition of the Rehabilitation Centre in Karimajiji had forced beggars back to the streets stressing that FCT administration have put in much efforts to make the home conducive.

While calling on residents to desist from giving alms to beggars and destitute along the roads, he suggested that alms can be deposited with the various Mosque management committee for proper disbursement to the needy.

He reiterated the resolve of the director of AEPB, to enforce the prohibition of hawking and begging along the highway or road corridors within the FCT. 

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