BY HARUNA MOHAMMED
With their unkempt hair, dirty faces, blistered lips, tainted teeth, crusty skin, stinking bags and bare feet; armed with plastic bowls, decorated with shabby attires and congregated into small groups, in another scenario, a young child leading a blind, older man or woman who clutch onto the other end of a long stick going from vehicle to vehicle, individual to individual while chanting the same lines over and over accosting members of the public with alluring songs and soliciting alms.
This is a common sight in major cities across Nigeria particularly Northern States of Kano, Borno, Yobe, Katsina, Kebbi, Niger, Gombe, Kaduna, Bauchi, Sokoto etc, most times they are referred to as street beggars or “almajirai” they have become a feature on the streets to the point that nobody takes notice of them anymore except those who want to give them alms.
Street begging has become as serious menace and a liability on the Nigerian populace. This street begging not only constitute nuisance to the society; it is also taking its toll on the lives of teenagers who either act as guides to beggars or even engage in the act of begging themselves.
Street begging is believed to be carried out by the homeless, physically challenged and poor people mostly in Northern Nigeria, although a general phenomenon that almost every state in Nigeria is battling with. It is reported that an average 65% of beggars flock into Lagos to beg every year. Abuja the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) has also been battling with the menace.
In our society today, many individual are disabled in one way or the other either by birth or after birth thus making them unfit to use their complete body parts to work.
It is however been observed that the rate at which street begging is increasing in the society, particularly in Nigeria is alarming and embarrassing. Streets of major cities across the country are being flooded by beggars.
But of all the beggars flooding major cities in the country, not all of them are really disabled, there are those who take into begging because of the inability to afford the basic needs particularly the sustenance of their families. As lamented by a beggar in Lafia, Mallam Iliya who said “Begging is the only way I can take care of my family because nobody will give me and my family food. So I have to beg to sustain myself, my wife and my 7 children.”
There are also those that join the list because of unemployment.
There is no doubt that when one look at some of these beggars, one will discover that some can still work despite their disability but the difficulty in getting job makes them to take to begging. There can even those that pretend to be beggars but are agents of crime in the society. It is not surprising that some beggars have link in one way or the other with armed robbers, kidnappers and ritualists.
Mr. Ogiri Ugama a social welfare officer in Makurdi opined that “Street begging is not only perpetrated by hopeless, sick or physically challenged people. Strong and agile men do beg too. If you go to ministries and agencies, you will see able men going from office to office begging for money. Some ladies too indulge themselves in the act of begging, some will hold little babies and tell one lie or the other to beg for money, while others hire children to beg and return them later in the day.”
As for the Almajirai, who are suppose to be well taken care of by their teacher/guardian to ensure a conducive atmosphere for learning and master the basic tenets of Islamic knowledge, but are left to beg house –to- house for food, they are also made to beg for money on the street and perform menial jobs for the sake of money from dawn to dusk instead of learning Islamic Knowledge. One wonders when these children ever have time to study.
The effect of street begging in Nigeria cannot be overemphasized as the menaces has already taken its toll on the Nigeria Child of school age who are suppose to be in school but end up on the street begging. Recent statistics released by the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) shows that over 9.5 million Nigeria children of school age are not in school with about nine million of such hapless children from Northern Nigeria. And what this ugly trend portrays is that those children might end up in the act of armed robbery, violence, kidnapping, 419, internet scam and other vices.
Mohammed Musa a civil servant in Lafia, Nasarawa State, condemns the pervasive way people nowadays especially in the north resort to begging, saying that all the major streets and public places are flooded with them and it has become a nuisance.
He said, “Children drop out of school at will and with their parents’ support, they end up as beggars.”
He further stated that, the northern leaders carry a large share of the blame putting these kids on the street because they refused to do what they are supposed to do. And now the same children “forced” to beg are the ones being used to perpetuate violence.”
He regretted that, “Volatile and persistent violence” in northern Nigeria has been traced to some of these street beggars. “We all know that some of the reasons people or families turn to begging is displacement caused by communal clashes, death of parents, inadequate family income, unemployment, lack of access to education, abandonment by parents, lack of accommodation, drug abuse and peer influence” Musa stated.
As far as street begging is concern, the political class is gullible and could hardly go beyond paying lip service to curbing the menace. Much as poverty is the major cause of street begging in Nigeria, there is need for government at all level to eradicate poverty to the barest level to reduce the number of beggars on the street. Government should provide jobs for people in the society so that they in turn can take care of their families.
There is also a need for government to strengthen its social welfare programs in such a way that it will be meaningful. This will stem the tide of situations whereby the physical challenged are forced into begging as the only means of survival.
Also government at all level should embark on an enlightenment campaign to make the populace understand the concept of either street begging or ‘almajiranci’ and the ability to differentiate it from the tenets of Islamic culture and norms for those that use the malaise to further their selfish interest.
Street begging in our society today is like cancer in the body. Either we sacrifice the attacked part and save the body or we allow it to invade and destroy the entire body. We either summon enough courage or will to break its neck and finished it once and for all, or we allow it to remain a nuisance and an obnoxious part of our culture and tradition till the end of time.