To those wealthy ones with large hearts, beggars are humans and deserve kindness for comfort, care and support to survive the odds. But others think the other way. Begging to some is simply a way of life, a right and a lucrative business culture that provides shortcuts to comfort and wealth accumulation with less stress.
Not surprising, the numbers of beggars in cities and towns in Nigeria are on astronomical increase. From Kano, Kaduna, Minna, Lagos, Yola, Gombe, Dutse, Port Harcourt, Lafia, Makurdi to Enugu, the figures are alarming, the situation is provocative and unbecoming. There are, of course, factors responsible for the increase in the figures; namely the rural-urban migration that throws up unskilled and unemployable persons to urban areas in search of greener pastures; the religious factor that urges givers to be their brother’s keepers in anticipation of heavenly reward; the saying that givers never lack; the prevailing economic hardship artificially created by government’s poor economic policies and the zero economic window for disabled persons in Nigeria.
Bauchi State is swelling up with beggars of many kinds with majority coming from neighboring states: The physically challenged, the elderly and the able-bodied young boys popularly referred to as almajiris. In most corners, eateries, markets, filing stations, motor parks and business centres within Bauchi metropolis, the beggars creep up from nowhere, showcasing one pitiful condition or the other in search of assistance.
That is not all there are new trends in the booming business. The beggars are scaling up their acts by the day and introducing new systems to beat imagination. They now form associations and engage the members of the political class before, during and after elections and extract fortunes out of their desperation for votes. They use the amount realized to improve their living conditions, resulting that some of them own fleet of commercial vehicles and houses that give them good dividends.
The boom is so attractive and alluring. Well dressed able-bodied males and females, young and old (yan kwaram), seize junctions and other places to ask for alms in style. They usually claim being students that ran short of money to feed or pretend to be patients in need of money to purchase prescribed drugs or that they are stranded strangers in town that cannot immediately locate their hosts. What of those who seize the banks and lay siege at ATMs for people to collect money and present them their problem?
Some drive or are driven on wheelchairs, looking patently disabled, while some of the cases are real, majority of them don’t add up. Umar Shehu, a social critic said: “In some cases, some fraudsters buy the wheelchairs, go to the village and fetch disabled persons preferably women, recruit another person to carry the task of pushing the wheelchair with the disabled around. At the end of the day, whatever proceeds realized will be shared on agreed percentage”.
A Bauchi State University political scientist, Kamal Sanusi, said: “Have you ever seen some of them, especially the almajiris buying food even when they use hunger as basis for begging? If you want to know how smart they are, give them N100 and demand for change. You will be shocked to see the amount of money in their possession.
“Sometimes, when you give them new clothes, they hide it until when going back home they either wear or continue to hide until they reach their next destination. They prefer wearing tattered and torn clothes to attract sympathy from sympathizers.
As the situation worsens, most of those physically challenged persons are lamenting that begging, which is the exclusive right to comfort, has been hijacked by fraudsters who are not living with any form of disability.
A frontline politician from Wase local government of Plateau State, Dahiru Ibrahim Sparrow said: “From the onset, when you say or hear begging, what readily comes, to your mind are people with physical disabilities and the less privileged ones. But nowadays, everybody seems to be a beggar in one form or another, including those referred to as executive beggars who go from one office to another or residences of prominent politicians and top civil servants to beg for money without regard to their self-esteem.
“Funny enough, sometimes same persons approach you and somewhere else, you meet them saying the same thing that fetched them some amount from you. This is the level begging has reached and is not even convincing givers to help those that really need help again.
“The problem is everywhere. It is not in Bauchi alone. It is experienced throughout the 36 States of Nigeria including Abuja where we find executive beggars in large numbers roaming the streets in search of victims.
“As a politician, I’m worried of the trend as other sincere Nigerians and I support any law that may ban begging in whatever form. Let there be a law that should restrain the public from stigmatizing the physically challenged, like a law that would stop the culture of denial to have access to public facilities, stigmatization in terms of social life and employment and so on.
“Let the wealthy ones within the society strive to get the physically challenged off the streets through employment opportunities and the almajiri system of education improved as started by former president Goodluck Jonathan”.
Adding his voice to the menace of begging, Yusuf Rakis, a Bauchi based political activist said: “There has never been any iota of dignity in begging. Some of those beggars with disability have overtime made a lot of money and still remain in the trade without justifiable reason other than greed. They are now more of fraudsters than disabled persons in need of public support
“The Bala Muhammed administration in Bauchi State has a broad-based plan on the disturbing issue. As time goes on, the impact of the administration’s efforts towards rehabilitating the disabled and engaging them in profitable trades will be appreciated and possibly emulated by other states.
“Government is not happy with the situation because it was artificially created by poor leadership of the past. Begging should neither be a trade, habit nor business. There is no religion that endorses begging. It was encouraged to flourish partly by mean politicians for selfish interests. Able-bodied youth were recruited into political thuggery and abandoned after the elections. They were left with the only option of subscribing to scientific begging (kwaram) while few are into petty stealing, kidnapping and other crimes
“Bauchi State under Sen. Bala Muhammed is determined to address the menace with caution without hurting anyone while services of traditional, religious, community and opinion leaders will be fully engaged for the ultimate goal”.
Whatever may be the case, beggars roaming the streets of major cities particularly in the North, have not only attracted insults and abuses to the region but have constituted a huge nuance and disgrace to the entire region with the backing and support of some hidden shylock ethno-religious jingoists hiding under the cover of religion that should be discontinued.
Muhammad is a commentator on national issues