The war against Street begging in the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) has gradually metamorphosed into a guerilla warfare as the authorities try to enforce the law. CALEB ONWE reports.
Over the years, public enlightenment campaigns and threats of forceful evacuation have been deployed by the Federal Capital Territory Administration (FCTA) to tackle the menace of street begging in Abuja. Street begging has been banned several times by the administration, but it seems that the ban usually opened the floodgates, letting in more beggars and other destitute into the city.
The beggars include aged men, women and children, many of whom are physically challenged. Apparently, they are shipped into the nation’s capital from various states across the country.
The more anger and resentment is unleashed against it by relevant authorities, the more daring the beggars have become. Their presence on the streets does not only constitute a nuisance but a security threat to the city as criminals could hide among these people.
Unfortunately, all the measures put in place to curb their influx into the city have failed woefully. The menace of street begging has become like a boil located on the eyelid; no matter how painful it is, maximum force won’t be applied in removing it.
Attempt at arresting and evacuating them from the streets, usually attracted streams of emotions and sentiments from onlookers. Sometimes, strong opposition and condemnation had come from human rights activists
. Inside Abuja’s investigation showed that there is a rehabilitation centre built by the administration in Bwari Area Council, meant to accommodate and cater for the needs of these vulnerable people, once they are evacuated from the streets.
However, many of them prefer the unfettered freedom they enjoy on the streets, albeit the hazardous conditions.
After being forcefully evacuated from the streets, they allegedly escape from the rehabilitation centre on the excuse that they want to voluntarily return to their states of origin. Such escapees never return home, but shockingly, return to the harsh conditions on the streets.
Some of the beggars are said to be covertly taken out of the rehab with the collaboration of the centre officials and a certain unknown syndicate, that use them as avenue for revenue generation. Inside Abuja’s check also revealed that fight against the menace is only concentrated in city centre, while the major satellite towns in the Area Councils remain untouchable enclaves of beggars.
Some beggars’ colonies exist in some of the satellite towns, like Gwagwalada, Kubwa, Dei Dei, Nyanya and Karu. In these colonies, a large number of beggars and other vulnerable persons live together. Since they are communities of the homeless, they have no decent accommodation and toilet facilities.
The beggars are left to their fate and as a result, they live, eat and defecate by the road side, thereby defacing the environment. In other words, most of these colonies are usually in filthy conditions and constitute not just a nuisance but a monumental embarrassment to the nation’s capital.
Over the last few weeks, before the commencement of the holy month of Ramadan, the experience was very terrible, as more beggars came into the city centre and the satellite towns.
Even the combined enforcement team of Abuja Environmental Protection Board (AEPB ) and the Social Development Secretariat (SDS) saddled with the responsibility of regularly evacuating beggars from the streets, are often distraught with the daring spirit imbued in these vulnerable members of the society.
“You are taking me home for Sallah, and after the celebration, I will be back,” this was the shocking reaction of one of the physically challenged beggars who was arrested recently and evacuated from the street. Obviously, this audacity from a supposed destitute, represents the mindset of the average beggar in the nation’s capital.
This class of the poor and less privileged citizens believe that there is a ‘national cake’ in the FCT and they must get in there to take their fair share.
In the minds, the streets of Abuja are literally littered with gold and that a few privileged ones and opportunists want to deprive them of their share. A resident, Engr. Paulinus Egbe, had a distasteful experience with the beggars.
The middle aged man said he was almost robbed of his phones and other valuables by some under aged beggars, at the popular ECOWAS junction, located in the highbrow Asokoro District.
According to him, he was so shocked that some minors, between the ages of 7 and 10 who always loiter at the ECOWAS junction traffic light, could attempt to snatch the phone he was making a call with while waiting for the traffic light to turn green. He said while the boys approached him from all sides, waving and asking for alms, he did not expect that they could make such a daring attempt to rob him of his phone.
“While one of the boys that looked 10 years came from behind and tried to snatch the phone I was holding in my left hand to make calls, the other ones who sandwiched my car from the other side were already stretching their hands into the car, through one of the lowered window glass of the car, to pick some things on my car seat.
This incident occurred around 8:00pm, as I was just driving out of a close by H-Medix shop,” Egbe said. Inside Abuja gathered that as part of measures to forestall security breaches in Abuja during and after the Eid-el-fitr celebration, a combined team raided notorious dark spots and other criminal hideouts, arresting over 150 beggars.
Some of those arrested included able bodied young men, children as well as disabled, aged men and women. They were evacuated and remanded at the rehabilitation centre in Bwari, while others on account of illness and other considerations were repatriated to their states of origin.
Head of the Taskforce on Ministerial Committee on City Sanitation, Ikharo Attah, said the operation was carried out by his men in conjunction with the Abuja Environmental Protection Board (AEPB ) and the Social Development Secretariat (SDS ) to ensure the nation’s capital was not taken over by people who could give advantage to criminals to fester.
Attah said: “It was discovered that there was an alarming influx of beggars throughout the Ramadan period , due to the high level of benevolence associated with the season. Since the last two days, we found their presence very heavy in the city and about 150 beggars have been apprehended across the city.
“Those apprehended have been taken to the Bwari Rehabilitation Centre. Sadly, only few of them stay to be rehabilitated and also trained. Sometimes, some of them also request to be sent back to their states of origin.
“We are not only going after these beggars, we are also going after the syndicate that brought them to Abuja to beg and make financial returns to them. We feel for these beggars who are brought from across the country to FCT to beg, and that is why FCTA wants to rehabilitate them.
The Head of Enforcement , AEPB, Kaka Bello, said the exercise would be sustained until all of them have been flushed out from the streets of Abuja.
“We have a matching order from the FCT Minister, Malam Muhammad Bello to ensure that the movement of beggars within the city is checked and stopped.
“That is why we are working all round both day and night to ensure that no beggar is allowed to move in the city,” Bello said.