From Lucky Ighomuaye, Benin
The country would certainly be a better place for all if citizens accommodate themselves irrespective of tribe and religion. The ever-present crowd of beggars from the North at the gate of the Holy Cross Cathedral on Mission Road, and other churches in Benin, Edo State, underscores this assertion.
At the Holy Cross Cathedral, those who give alms have no consideration for tribe or religion, even though the beggars who have a coordinator are Muslims. The coordinator, Mallam Rabiu Umar, was heard dishing directives to them:
“Sit here, don’t sit there, stand up, go there, keep quiet and don’t disturb the peace of the shop owners, don’t disturb those praying inside the Cathedral.
“Come here Adamu, is your name in my list? If you hear your name, stand up and come here. Those of you who are on my list are the ones to benefit from any Good Samaritan that will come here to share foods and other items. Is that clear? Those of you who are not, how did you get here?”
This is the picture of what usually takes place at the front gate of the Cathedral on a daily basis. It is really a beautiful roll call and place, where beautiful things meet beggars. Usually, kind-hearted individuals often breeze in to offer donations and these vary from cooked rice, snacks, money and clothes.
Some of the donors may out of their volition decide to bring some present to the beggars while others, out of instructions from their prophets or imams, do go there to shower them with some goodies believing that yielding to such instructions would solve their problems.
The beggars are of different health conditions, the blind, cripples, just as they are of various ages too, children and adults. There are also those who are neither cripple nor blind but just take delight in begging for alms.
Umar has been ensuring that the beggars are well behaved and not constituting nuisance in the area. He said besides the coordination, when any of them dies or falls sick, he with the assistance of others, take them to the hospital:
“I am here to help the beggars. You know that some of them are blind. When a good Nigerian brings food items to share to them, they can’t see the person or be able to receive the items from the person. I am always here to receive the items on their behalf and thereafter, share to them to avoid confusion.
“We are human beings and we can fall sick. When any of them is sick, I will take him or her to hospital for treatment. Also, if any of them dies, I will bathe the body, take it to the burial ground.”
He said the church has been so helpful in meeting their material needs: “Members of this church usually give us clothes, food and they have been so wonderful to us all these years.”
Umar disclosed that the beggars have been using that spot as their meeting point for the past 50 years, explaining that some of them are either widows or widowers: “We have been using this place for the past 50 years. You see some of the beggars here are widows or widowers.
“We and our children, we are about 500 gathering here everyday. Some will come, bring their mothers or fathers before they will continue with their begging, I mean those who do not want to sit down here with us. I have been coordinating the beggars here for the past 15 years now.”
He appealed to the state government and other relevant security agencies to provide them with security, disclosing that often times, hoodlums do capitalize on their predicaments to rob them of what have been given to them by good-spirited individuals.
However, Mallam Hassan Alabidun, said Prophet Muhammad frowned at the act of begging: “It is more honourable for such a person to go into the bush and fell trees and sell to eke out a living rather than taking to the act of begging perpetually.” He described their act as an eyesore.
He appealed to government to rehabilitate and relocate them from such a popular and busy place to an area where their activities would not be seen and noticed: “When they are relocated, anyone who has anything to give to them can go there quietly and do so. Where they are at the moment is not safe because it is very close to the major road.”
A member of the Holy Cross Cathedral, Sunny Okoh, said: “We have tried to send them away all this while but they have refused to leave. We wanted them to leave because of the way they have always made the place dirty.
“Whenever they finished eating what were given to them by good spirited Nigerians, the leftovers were usually left to decay thereby making the place to smell.”
Catechist of the cathedral, John Inuope, has a different opinion. He said allowing them to stay by the side of the church gate “is demonstration of the love of God. Religion does not count because God created all.
“In the first instance, they are human beings and we are created by God. We may have different faiths and professions but one God and God has told us to love one another.
“He didn’t say we should love only our brothers and sisters, friends and relatives. He said love your neighbour as yourself.
“He said who is our neighbour? He said anyone that comes across us is our neighbour and it doesn’t mean the person is a Muslim or a Christian before we call that person our neighbour.”