New Telegraph

Street Beggars: Undying menace denting Abuja’s image

Background

Abuja is the capital of Nigeria, is located with the Federal Capital Territory (FCT). Known as the City of Unity, it is eighth most populous city of Nigeria. Conceived in the early 1980s as the new federal capital city of Nigeria, it is a planned city built based on a master plan by International Planning Associates (IPA), a consortium of three American planning and architecture firms made up of Wallace, Roberts, McHarg and Todd (WRMT – a group of architects). The Central Business District (CBD) of Abuja was designed by Japanese Architect, Kenzo Tange. It became officially the capital city of Nigeria when in December 12, 1991, the seat of power of the federal government with the former Military President of Nigeria, General Ibrahim Badamosi Babangida, moved over to the new city. Abuja landmass spans 1,476 square kilometres, with its geographical and physical features basically defined by Aso Rock, a 400-metre (1,300 ft) monolith left by water erosion.

The Presidential Complex, National Assembly, Supreme Court are located with a precinct known as the Three Armed Zone, with much of the city extended to the south of the rock. Zuma Rock, a 792-metre (2,598 ft) monolith, lies just north of the city on the expressway to Kaduna. Going by the 2006 official national census figures, the city boast a population of 776,298, making it then the eighth most populous city in Nigeria. United Nations figures showed that Abuja has grew by 139.7% between 2000 and 2010, making it the fastest growing city in the world. As of 2015, the city is experiencing an annual growth of at least 35%, retaining its position as the fastest-growing city on the African continent and one of the fastestgrowing in the world. Developed in phases, ranging from phase one to phase three, the city consist of six Area councils, they are: Abaji, Abuja Municipal Area Council, Bwari, Gwagwalada, Kuje, and Kwali. The Abuja Municipal Area Council (AMAC) governs the centre of Abuja and has a total of 12 densely populated wards: Wuse, Kabusa, Garki, Gwagwa, Nyanya, Karu, Orozo, Jiwa, Karshi, Gwarinpa, Gui, and City Centre. The city has also witnessed a huge influx of people, as the growth has led to the emergence of satellite towns, such as Karu Urban Area, Suleja, Gwagwalada, Lugbe, Kuje and smaller settlements towards which the planned city is sprawling. The urban agglomeration centred upon Abuja had a population estimated at 3,770,000 in 2022. The metropolitan area of Abuja was estimated in 2016 at six million people, the country’s second-most populous metro area. The city has a large and growing immigrant community consisting mainly of nationals from the ECOWAS sub-region. The city has been undergoing a rapid pace of physical development over the last fifteen years.

Festering street begging

Abuja, Nigeria’s seat of power and acclaimed one of the fastest growing cities in the world, is currently being challenged by several oddities. One of such oddities and most threatening to an improved global ranking of the city is the undying culture of open street begging.

Destitute

It is a common sight, in most of the major streets of the capital city, destitute of all manner, both men and women as well as children, besieging people soliciting for arms. The situation is even more disturbing at the rural areas, within the six Area Councils. In some of the semi urban and rural communities, street beggars operate like a swarm of bees. Mega satellite towns like Gwagwalada, Kubwa, Bwari and Kuje appear to have been unofficially designated as beggars’ colonies – due to the situation where beggars compete for every available space in almost all public places in those areas. A worried resident had once said that Abuja’s known slogan ‘Centre of Unity’ is robustly reflected in the representation of all categories of the good, bad and ugly in the city. Some concerned residents have also said that the heavy presence of beggars may not be completely strange, because no society exists without some destitute. They are, however, disturbed that the consistent influxes of beggars into the city centre should not be left unchecked by the relevant authorities. They also said that it was a distasteful aberration to allow beggars the liberty to gather within the precinct of the ECOWAS Secretariat located in Asokoro and other areas where diplomats live. This festering oddity has given birth to all sort of unpalatable developments and happenings, which many said is a blithe on the supposedly shining armour of the ‘Unity City. One of such fallouts is open defection, which has continued to constitute health hazard to the people and the city.

Open defecation

Findings have shown that one of the factors militating against the pride and glory of Abuja is open defecation by these street panhandlers. New Telegraph learnt that the increasing influx of beggars in Abuja was due to unchecked migration. Reliable sources revealed that the destitute were regularly shipped into the city from far Northern states, and sometimes from the southern parts of the country. Last year, the Social Development Secretariat of the Federal Capital Territory Administration, repatriated 217 beggars to Katsina, Kaduna, Niger, Jigawa, Kano, Zamfara, Sokoto and Kebbi, Abia and Anambra states. It was learnt that on a daily basis, cargo trucks that bring food stuff and livestock from the north, convey these beggars in large numbers, and drop them off at different places.

Syndicates

Investigation has revealed that these beggars were not embarking on the risky interstate migration alone. Rather they do it in collaboration with sponsors and highly connected syndicates who arrange for their transportation and temporary accommodation. It was learnt that the ugly trend has remained an age-long trade, because of the pecuniary interest which the syndicates always want to satisfy. Sources also revealed that it was with the help of the syndicates that these beggars, who do not understand Abuja’s terrain, evade arrest, whenever the evacuation taskforce was activated.

Selective enforcement

New Telegraph’s findings showed that the menace of street begging has remained endemic in Abuja, because the Department of Social Welfare, in Social Development Secretariat (SDS), saddled with the responsibility of evacuating beggars, have been grossly inconsistent and inefficient. Their operations are characterised by “eye service”. They only take feeble actions, but with media paparazzi, each time a complaint emanates from people considered to be “VIPS”. About one year ago, when over 150 beggars were arrested and repatriated to their various home states, officials of SDS claimed they were determined to hit 1000 targets in the number of beggars they want to repatriate. This target was, however, thrown into the cooler of inactivity, and the evacuation team went into a prolonged coma thereafter. Then, the Secretary Social Development Secretariat (SDS), Hadiza Kabir, said that the FCTA was targeting to evacuate between 400 and 1,000 beggars from the city. She added that by the time they finished evacuating and camping them in some of FCTA centres, for proper documentation, the Minister will liaise with all the governors of their states of origin, and thereafter, they will be repatriated back to their respective states. “As you are seeing today, the minister has just sent a strong and sound warning through me as the leader of this team to them that they should go off the streets, because we are coming out massively for them. “The minister has already sent them food and drinks to eat and breakfast, but we are coming for them if they don’t leave the streets, and stop begging on the streets of Abuja,” she reaffirmed. However, after the repatriation of 150 beggars early last year, nothing was heard about it, until this recent effort, when 217 were arrested and sent back home. Investigation revealed that the evacuation team usually only come alive in discharging their duties, during the Holy Month of Ramadan. It was learnt that the numbers of beggars usually increase during the Ramadan period, because they believe that there are more numbers of rich people who are disposed to charity in Abuja during the period. It was further gathered that beggars used to throng and besiege residences of diplomats and other influential wealthy people during this period in search of charity. Announcing that 217 beggars have been profiled for repatriation, the Director, Department of Social Welfare Services, Social Development Secretariat (SDS), Sani AmarRabe, said the evacuation and repatriation were parts of efforts to rid the city of human and environmental nuisances, in compliance with ministerial directives. He disclosed that the categories of those affected were not trainable, because many of them that are fit for skill acquisition have been accommodated at FCTA’s Vocational and Rehabilitation Centre. “Today we don’t have many; they are just 217 beggars and street boys that are to be repatriated, mostly to Katsina, Kaduna, Niger, Jigawa, Kano, Zamfara, Sokoto and Kebbi states. “And this time around we have some from Abia, Imo and Delta states.” New Telegraph learnt that once the inconsistent enforcement of SDS starts, the beggars will temporarily in collaboration with their sponsors, retreat to nearby Nasarawa and Niger states, to hibernate for the few days the enforcement will last. Some of the beggars who appear to be very daring and want to brave the harassment, shuttle between their temporary hideouts and Abuja city centre on a daily basis.

Making a fortune

A mind blowing revelation was made some time ago, when one of the arrested female beggars confessed that they were into real money spinning business. The 48-year-old female beggar, Hadiza Ibrahim was arrested with N500, 000 and $100 at the popular Adetokunbo Ademola Crescent, Wuse II, by the evacuation team. Ibrahim, an indigene of Kaduna State, is not new in the begging ‘business’ in Abuja, as she was confirmed to have been arrested several times. According to some reports, the arrested beggar had been begging on the streets of Abuja for over 10 years. Ibrahim said that she: “Used to come out daily from 4pm to 11pm to beg for money around Wuse II and Maitama. “Sometimes rich people around the area will give me N5, 000 or N10, 000 and sometimes even dollars. “When I make good money, I will travel back to my hometown, Kwanan Danja in Zaria, Kaduna State, and when the money is finished, I will come back. “The day I was apprehended with the money, I came out with it to buy kitchen utensils for my daughter who will be getting married very soon.” The beggar confirmed that she was into clothing business, but opted to join the growing ranks of beggars because of its lucrative nature. She further revealed that she accumulated the huge sum, from her savings through N2, 000 daily contributions, facilitated with whatever she makes from her begging on the streets. The Director, Social Welfare Services, Sani Amar-Rabe, shocked by the woman’s confession, describing her as a, “die-hard beggar and economic saboteur,” noted that she is richer than some of the people who give her alms.

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