By Dennis Ezeri
Unarguably, Nigeria is Africa’s most populous nation with more than 170 million people out of which Lagos State boasts of 20 million inhabitants, thus making the City the nation’s biggest urban agglomeration. The rapid population growth in Lagos Metropolis results in shortage of housing and ultimately the evolvement of slums. Lack of housing finance and failure of the urban community as a whole to adapt to changing socio-economic conditions has continued to be a huge burden to succeeding governments in the state.
Population surge in Lagos is largely occasioned by the influx of people from different parts of the country. Like cities such as Kaduna, Kano, Johannesburg, South Africa, Shanghai and others, Lagos has to contend with various socio-economic challenges peculiar to cities with exponential growth.
Like most cosmopolitan cities in the world, Lagos, no doubt, is confronted with diverse problems. One of them is the menace of street begging. Begging is an age-long activity prominent in urban centers where it is common to see the physically challenged, visually impaired, deaf and beggars throng walkways, street corners, religious centers etc begging for alms. While some of these beggars are genuinely in need, others simply want to catch in on the legendary generosity of Lagosians to eke out a living.
With the current economic downturn in the country, the trend of begging in Lagos has now become quite worrisome with able-bodied men actively engaged in it. The increasing population of beggars in the Lagos metropolis has become an eyesore and the situation has become alarming because they now constitute environmental hazards as well as security threats. There has been instances when a few of these beggars were discovered to be agents of criminals.
No doubt, the menace of beggars on the streets of Lagos has reached an alarming dimension. This is in spite of regular rescue operations carried out by the rescue team of the state’s Rehabilitation Department. Beggars of different categories and destitutes have continued to be common sights across the state with resultant negative effects on traffic management. As earlier mentioned, some of the beggars have been found to be accomplices to certain crimes for which they sometimes hide weapons for robbers. While others under the pretext of being beggars have dispossessed members of the public of their valuables on the roads.
Despite being prohibited by section 166 sub-Section 1(b) of the Criminal Code which prohibits street begging with adequate penalty for defaulters, many have continued to see begging as a veritable source of livelihood. According to studies, people opt for begging for diverse reasons. These include harsh economic condition, chronic health challenges, cultural or traditional factors, laziness, greed among others.
In contemporary time, people take to begging for sundry reasons which include substituting begging for hard work, allegiance to tradition as in the case of parents of twins who still hide under the cloak of tradition to beg for alms. In order to tackle the nuisance of street begging in the state, the Lagos state Government has put in place several strategies. Indeed, the State Governor, Mr. Akinwunmi Ambode recently revealed that it has become imperative to tackle the act of begging in the state in the interest of public security. He said: “We’ve had security reports on the activities of persons who pose as beggars, especially in traffic, but their sole aim is to perpetrate evil. We are putting a search light on this trend and one way to do that is to ensure that we take preemptive measures to forestall this development.” To this end, he said, efforts will be made to rid the state of street beggars and the homeless.
One of such efforts is the construction of Rehabilitation and Training Centres across the state. Through the centres, about 590 rehabilitees have been re-united with their relations for re-integration. Similarly, many of the rehabilitees were subsequently placed on vocational training to make them contribute positively to the society. Drug related rehabilitees, who probably had lost hope, were restored back to their functional ability while some of them were placed under vocational training at the Rehabilitation and Vocational Training Centres across the state. The Okobaba Resettlement Centre, with a population of over 2,000 beggars and destitutes collectively occupying the place, is another helpful initiative of the state government in addressing the nuisance of street beggars and destitute in the state.
It is in view of the reality that current harsh economic situation in the country could readily turn people into beggars and destitute that the Lagos State Government inaugurated a N25bn Employment Trust Fund, ETF. The major aim of the Fund is to address unemployment and promote wealth creation through entrepreneurial development. The Fund is to be given out as loan with moderate interest rate of 3% per annum (the lowest rate in the country presently) to Lagos residents with innovative business ideas. When critically viewed, the State Government’s wealth creation initiative is a logical one. Since it has been established that many people resort to begging and other such anti-social acts on the excuse of poverty, it is quite wise and sensible that government devices creative measures that could boost wealth creation.
Ezeri writes from Lagos.