From Noah Ebije, Kaduna
Kaduna, the capital of Kaduna State, popularly known as the Crocodile City, is always in the news for one reason or the other. From banditry and kidnapping to urban renewal and rightsizing of the civil service, the state hardly stays off the news.
However, the latest scary reality is that all manners of beggars have besieged major streets in the city, using one form of trick or the other to solicit alms from unsuspecting members of the public, and blaming the biting economic hardship for their woes.
The state governor, Nasir El-Rufai had in May 2016 assented to the Bill banning street begging and hawking, which the resident beggars described as contrary to the promises made to them during the campaign.
But the latest crop of beggars on Kaduna streets appears more sophisticated. They are armed with no begging bowls; nothing suggests they might be needing help. But they approach you anyway, telling tales of either being victims of kidnapping, inability to settle hospital bills, working for health organisations without being paid salary for months or thrown out of homes by a landlord for unpaid rents that have piled up.
A few weeks ago, a middle-aged woman who claimed to be a widow, was seen moving about the streets with a five-year old boy, telling people that she vacated her residence in Ungwan Gimbiya area of the city because of kidnappers and now needed money to rent an apartment in a safer place.
According to the fleshy, light-skinned woman, “I was lucky that a man decided to help me and my children by giving us accommodation in his house, but when the man travelled to Lagos, his wife threw us out of the house. Now we cannot even feed, we don’t have where to put our heads. The worst thing is that a friend of my late husband wanted to sleep with me before giving me money. I resisted the temptation and I avoided him”.
Unfortunately, not many people believed such story told by the woman. Some still decided to help her anyway.
Another set of beggars on Kaduna streets are a couple, an acclaimed husband and wife going about with a new baby of about two months, and claiming that they have just been discharged from hospital but that they have no money to buy the prescribed drugs for the sick baby.
While the ‘wife’ carries the wrapped baby against her chest, the ‘husband’ would be walking closely behind the nursing mother, begging and blackmailing passers-by emotionally.
“Please help us so that our baby will not die. We have spent all the money we have on the hospital bill. We don’t have money to buy drugs again. Please help us because of God. Do not let our baby die!”
And as they are begging for more money, the man flaunts some naira notes in his hands, perhaps, to show that people have been donating to them as they move from street to street. However, on this particular day in early August, the bubble burst on the couple. As they continued to torment people with begging near St. Gerard’s hospital, Kakuri area of Kaduna city, a passer-by recognised them and announced that nothing was wrong with them,
Mr Dominic (not real names), the man who claimed to know them, said he knew where they lived, insisting that there was nothing wrong with them.
According to Dominic, “I know this man very well, I even know his friend called Ali. I know their house. Nothing is wrong with this man. He is a drug addict; he is begging to get money to go and take his drugs. He is even a university graduate as you are seeing him. But drugs have spoilt him.”
Our reporter who coincidentally was at the scene of event, saw the so-called husband, who had been displaying a sympathetic disposition few minutes back, suddenly went wild with Dominic, vowing to deal with him “whenever I meet you in town.”
When our reporter went closer to ask the man whether the woman carrying the innocent baby was his wife, he replied rather furiously: “No, she is your mother”. And everybody around burst into uncontrollable laughter as the man and the woman left for another street.
There is yet another group of beggars on Kaduna streets. These are mostly young ladies, who usually introduced themselves as health workers from one health organisation or the other.
They would introduce different types of drugs ranging from high blood pressure to waist pains to rheumatism relieving drugs.
Surprisingly, if after such introduction and their ‘clients’ showed no interest in patronising the drugs, they would speak in low voice through their leader to the customer: “Could you please help me and my sister with some money to buy food? We have not eaten since morning.” But in most cases, they go home disappointed, as such tricks nowadays have little effect on most people.
Another category of beggars, also mostly females, would lay ambush for car owners near drinking joints. And soon as the driver comes out of the car, two ladies would accost him. “We have not eaten food since morning. Help us please! No amount is too small.” Also, in most cases, the car owner would say, “Sorry I can’t help now.”
Members of another group of beggars employ tears to drive home their points. Wearing a sad face, they would inform people that their landlords have just thrown them out of the house, and that they have got another accommodation but they need some money to complete the rent before moving into the new house. This form of begging nowadays attract little or no sympathy from members of the public. And so it is running out of fashion in Kaduna.
In Kaduna, the state government had maintained its tough stance against street begging by demolishing the area that used to house the beggars in the city. Beggars in Kaduna State in 2016 staged a protest over the law banning street begging and hawking, giving Governor El-Rufai an ultimatum to withdraw the law. But their threats fell on deaf ears.
The beggars, comprising the blind, the deaf, and the physically challenged, had said that they did not mind sacrificing their lives in the fight against the law banning street begging. They said nobody could stop them from begging without providing alternative means of survival, and urged the governor to give them ten per cent job opportunities as he allegedly promised during governorship campaign.
Nevertheless, the menace of street beggars has been largely contained by the state government. The ban on their activities can be described as effective, especially in major towns across the state where operatives of the Kaduna State Environmental and Traffic Agency, (KASTELEA) mount surveillance on daily basis. This is because the places where the beggars used to consider as their operational base, known as ‘Almajiri colony’ along Kano Road, has since been demolished by the state government. So, with the demolition, most of the beggars were forced to relocate to their states of origin. But that notwithstanding, all manners of beggars, who seem to know how they can evade the prying eyes of government officials, now besiege most streets in the state capital, begging for money and food.
Governor El-Rufai had in 2017, while signing the bill banning begging and hawking in Kaduna, said: “From September 2016, every child between the ages of six and 15, must be in school, not on the street hawking or begging. Otherwise the parents must be prosecuted and sent to prison.
“We have taken this step to give impetus to the Universal Basic Education Act which makes basic education in Nigeria compulsory.
“We must force people to send their children to school and we are not going to give them a choice. Everyone in Kaduna State must go to school.”