By LUKA BINNIYAT
A bomb exploded penultimate Tuesday morning in Zaria, Kaduna State’s second biggest town, killing no fewer than 26, injuring several others and destroying the livelihood of thousands of hawkers and beggars.
Immediately after the explosion, Governor El Rufai banned hawking and begging in the state, saying beggars and hawkers were susceptible to being used by terrorists to bomb targets for a fee.
Typical of El Rufai’s policies, the order has attracted praises and condemnations. Those who praise the governor describe him as an agent of orderliness and sanity, while those condemning him see him as a villain who has no sympathy for the poor and punishes those without means of survival.
Meanwhile, no one can authoritatively state the social, economic and even political implication of the governor’s directive, due to lack of data.
Sunday Vanguard tried finding anyone with an idea on the number of persons engaged in hawking and begging in Kaduna State, but met a brick wall even as El Rufai, when asked on the number of people in that category, briskly replied: “We don’t have the statistics yet. But that is what we are working on right now”. The governor spoke in Kakuri, a Kaduna suburb, last Tuesday, shortly after the inspection of the rehabilitation centre for beggars.
Were hawking and begging to be incorporated into economic activities, Kaduna State would be grossing millions from taxes.
Saidu Saleh, an unemployed sociology graduate from Ahmadu Bello University, told Sunday Vanguard that he had done a study on street hawking in Zaria in 2011 as an undergraduate. He said that in Zaria city and suburb, there may be close to 6,000 hawkers made up of school-age children, and adults who can not secure regular jobs. He said that they may be grossing in as much as N3 million per day, taking an overall average profit of N500 per day. That then should translate to N90 million per month or N1.08 billion per year from Zaria town alone
Kande Yusuf, Director, Street People Care Foundation, SPCF, based in Kaduna, said the Foundation conducted a survey on the number of beggars in Kaduna town, and that it was astonished at the number and how much income was generated.
“After our study of the situation in 2013, we discovered that there were at least 8,000 persons engaged in full-time begging, from which they support an even larger number of dependants. We also have others that are not into full-time begging, or are circumstantial, temporary beggars. This group may add over a thousand. On the average, a beggar may earn between N200, N500 and even N2,000 a day depending on several factors. And if you aggregate that sum and share by their numbers, we concluded that these 9,000 beggars may each earn N200 per day. That means that in Kaduna town alone, N1.8 million per day, or N54 million per month goes to beggars all from charity. The figure for a year would be N648 million. Now, if do a rough estimate for the entire state, you may be looking at a few billions of Naira per year, just from begging”, Yusuf said.
A few days after the announcement of the ban, the Kaduna State Council of the Nigeria Union of Journalists, NUJ, on Wharf Road, was besieged by scores of physically handicapped persons who came with their dependants.
They came to protest the embargo on begging – and to inform El Rufai about the battle he had sparked off.
The spokesman for the beggars, Abdullahi Jugunu, a visually impaired person, who is said to live in a decent accommodation, owns a car and speaks good English, told journalists in Hausa that the governor had stepped beyond his bound.
A fuming Jugunu said: “Apart from feeling insulted, we will be seeking legal redress against the government, first for defamation of character .
“The ban which came only after the Zaria blast is a subtle way of calling us terrorists. Our right to life is now under threat because our existence is hinged on begging activities on the streets.
“We are giving the authorities three days to rescind their decision or risk being victims of a spell we would cast on them through prayers. Our promise for now is that we will be returning to the streets for our normal business.”
Last Tuesday morning, a day after the expiration of the ultimatum, the beggars camp on Kano Road.
By 10:30am, El Rufai arrived the camp.
Whether intimidated by the reality of seeing the dimunitive governor and all the fuss about him, or cowed by the intimidating security arrangement around El Rufai, all the bravado of the beggars protest disappeared while one Mallam Abdullahi Samaila welcomed El Rufai and explained the beggars plight after which he asked for assistance on daily survival in the face of the ban.
In response, the governor told the beggars to their face that some of them were being used by terrorists to courier bombs at a price.
“From security reports, I have been told that terrorists use some of you, would give you a bag containing explosives with the reward of N5,000 to keep somewhere with the promise of giving you the balance when you return. But you never always return. Because they will detonate it on you and their targets,” he stated.
“On this note, let me announce that the deputy governor, Arc. Barnabas Bala Bantex, has donated two cows for your Sallah celebration. As for me, I will further add all that is required to make you have a great Sallah celebration”, El-Rufai told them, as they shouted out thanks after which the governor left.
The hawkers, they just don’t have any space in the arrangement of the governor. They are now locked in a cat-and mouse game with officials of the Kaduna Environmental Protection Agency, KEPA. And hundreds have so far suffered arrest and prosecution. Poverty and hunger would, however, always push them to the streets. And KEPA officials would be waiting.