STEPHEN OLUFEMI ONI in this report examines the menace of street begging in Kwara State, especially in Ilorin, the state capital, and steps being taken by the government to curb the crisis
Street begging is, to all intents and purposes, an undesirable social phenomenon plaguing many African countries, particularly Nigeria which prides itself as the giant of the continent. It is one of the perennial activities of the highly vulnerable, downtrodden and poverty stricken people in the society.
Incidentally, the social menace has seemingly appeared uncontrollable, particularly in major cities, despite various efforts by successive governments to rid the streets of beggars and the destitute.
Some states like Lagos, Kwara and others had at one time or the other evacuated these beggars from major streets in their domains and sent them back to their home states. However, to the chagrin and dismay of the people, these beggars are usually back to the states of evacuation after a while – often even in larger numbers.
The resultant effect of this is that the problem has given birth to a number of other issues, such as child labour, child trafficking, and insecurity among others. In Kwara State, past administrations had also made moves to rid the streets of beggars, particularly Ilorin.
But like a recurring decimal, as these beggars shipped out of the state, they almost immediately returned in larger numbers. Miffed by the menace constituted by these beggars to innocent people and public health, the present administration of Governor AbdulRahman AbdulRazaq, penultimate Thursday, announced the ban on street begging in the state and went a step further to initiate a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) which it signed with the Hausa community in the state, showing that the administration, this time around, meant business and is determined to nip this problem permanently in the bud in the state.
The Commissioner for Social Development, Hon. Abosede Aremu, who announced the ban in Ilorin, said: “The government took the bold step in view of the nuisance that street begging has posed on major roads, particularly in the state capital.”
Hon. Aremu said her ministry and the representatives of the Hausa community in the state have signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) on the banning of street begging in the Ilorin metropolis.
She reminded the residents of the punishment and penalty awaiting those who engage in street begging, which, according to her, attracts a fine or imprisonment or both in line with the Kwara State Street Begging Prohibition Law 2006.
Incidentally, this law had existed only on paper till date and remained unimplemented by past administrations until the coming of the administration of Governor AbdulRazaq which appears ready to give it a bite by the involvement of the Hausa community in the signing of the MoU. The representatives of the Hausa community:
Surajudeen Hussain, Rufai Sanni and Mohammed Lawal, were said to have assured the state government of their support, cooperation and readiness in getting Ilorin streets free of beggars.
To show the determination of the state government to rid the streets of beggars and destitute this time around, the State Environmental Protection Agency (KWEPA) had, barely 48 hours after the ban pronouncement, swung into action, evacuating street beggars from the Gerin-Alimi Bridge in Ilorin for constituting environmental nuisance.
To the delight and excitement of residents in the area, the street beg- gars were sent packing from the Gerin- Alimi Bridge following reports of environmental violations on the part of the beggars in the area to the Agency. The activities of the beggars, it was learnt, are indeed sabotaging the efforts of the state government in keeping the environment clean, aside constituting health hazards and nuisance to innocent citizens.
The General Manager of the KWEPA, Alhaji Sa’ad Ayuba Dan-Musa, was reported to have led the enforcement team of the Agency to inspect the site, following which over 50 beggars were driven away with stern warning not to return to the location or any other location in the metropolis.
Dan-Musa admonished residents in that axis as well as other areas within the metropolis to cooperate and support the government by playing their own patriotic roles by sending away the beggars whenever they sight them, while letting the government play her own part of monitoring and enforcement.
The Head, Encroachment Unit of the Agency, Alhaji Yunusa Jiddah, on his part, also issued a stern warning to the beggars in the state, telling them of the consequences of violating the state environmental laws. He reiterated that anyone caught again, particularly in that axis, would be prosecuted according to the law.
Expectedly, the pronouncement on banning of street beggars in the state by the government was greeted with applause, excitement and jubilation by the people who believed that carrying the Hausa community along this time around and signing of the MoU with them showed the commitment of the present administration to nip this menace in the bud in the state.
To a veteran broadcaster and former Commissioner in Kwara State, Hameed Adio, the pronouncement of the state government was a good development, apt and timely.
Commenting on the development in a WhatsApp platform, he said: “Much as one would want to show empathy with genuine beggars among them, street begging is fast becoming a business where you see able bodied men and women, boys and girls who otherwise should find more productive things to do, but instead take to begging, almost holding you hostage in motor parks, markets, mechanic workshops eateries and even worship places. If the ban is properly implemented, I believe this policy will bring us some relief.”
Another resident, who craved anonymity, commended the state government for taking the bold decision not minding whose ox is gored, urging the government to ensure full implementation of the ban order, and not haphazardly as it used to be with past administrations.
However, some analysts opined that a solution to street begging requires, among others, political will by the government to be firm, committed and unwavering in the full implementation of their pronouncements. Besides, they stressed the need for the government to make provisions for rehabilitation centres, food and monthly survival allowances for students in Islamic schools.
They added that specific policies and other legislative frameworks are required “in terms of age, sex, disability and family related issues to effectively address begging problems.”
In addition, they said: “It is recommended that policy planners must adopt multi-faceted, multi targeted and multi-tiered approaches if they are to have any impact on the lives of street beggars. In this regard, both the preventative and responsive interventions are needed instead of rehabilitative solutions.”
Incidentally a former governor of Lagos State, Babajide Fashola came under heavy criticism when he rounded up people and sent them back to their states of origin on the ground that they constituted a security threat and nuisance to Lagosians. The barrage of criticisms, especially from the governors of the states the people were returned to, however, forced him to back down on the programme.