They are destitute not by choice but by providence and other circumstances. Most of them are physically challenged, confined permanently on wheelchairs. Many depend on the support of others for mobility still some are able-bodied but helpless.
They suffer all forms of discrimination and outright painful rejection by the society as a result of their state of physical deformity or deliberate choice to beg. They are called the downtrodden and apparently rely on interventions from kind-hearted Nigerians.
They could easily be found at major bus stops, under bridges and in the slums in major satellite
owns of Abuja. They get little or no attention from either the government or corporate organisations.
Government agencies particularly the Abuja Environmental Protection Board (AEPB), areal-ways after them. They claim their kinds are not to be seen on major streets of Abuja because they deface the city with their “horrible” physical look.
However, this set of Nigerians argues that they have the right to co-habit with other members of the society and look after their offspring. But the Federal Capital Territory Administration (FCTA) expressed its disgust by repeatedly raiding their enclaves.
The FCTA developed programmes in the past geared towards uplifting the standard of living of these “less privileged.” But little or no success seems to have been recorded largely due to lack of interest to embrace the skill acquisition opportunities offered to them.
Abuja has served as refugee camps for thousands of displaced people whose communities and sources of livelihood were com- pletely destroyed by years of Boko Haram Islamist insurgence activities in the North East. They had arrived Abuja in hundreds and thousands and established the Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) camps at different locations in Abuja.
Their presence, undoubtedly, resulted in the upsurge in the number of street beggars, hawkers, roadside traders and hooligans, putting more pressure on officials of the AEPB that have to fight to keep them off streets. Surprisingly, with the official closure of the IDP camps in Abuja, the number of destitute on the streets of Abuja has not reduced; rather it has continued to rise in the main Abuja city centre and its satellite towns.
In spite of the high handedness of the AEPB officials, the destitute insisted that they would not quit the trade, giving the reason that they have no other business or alternative source of survival other than begging for alms.
In recent times, an unusual influx of destitute is noticed in Abuja at weekends. This is particularly evident at Friday prayers in the mosques and in churches on Sundays.
A nine-year-old street beggar, who identified himself as Nazif, said he plies his trade mostly at the National Central Mosque, Abuja: “It is more rewarding there and few other mosques where the elite worship than elsewhere particularly at satellite towns.”
He told Daily Sun that they make more fortunes on Fridays and Sundays when Muslims and Christians are evidently more spiritual in their activities: “On Fridays, Muslims are always in the mood to give ‘Sadaka’ to the less privileged as they go to mosque for Friday Jummat prayers.
“People in the city centre are, obviously, more compassionate and generous with finances than those at satellite towns predominantly occupied by low income earners. So we target mosques and churches where the rich and average people attend.
“We already know the mosques and their prayer times. All we do is to arrange with taxi driver who will take us from one mosque to another until the day is over. We do the same thing on Sundays when Christians go to church. They are more generous and compassionate on Sundays than any other day.
“Before now, we were allowed to stay very close to the churches to beg for alms. But insecurity and fear of attacks made the officials to push us very far from the church premises. Nevertheless, we still make some incomes before the end of the day.
“We strategically position ourselves on the road to the big churches so we could get the attention of the worshippers. It has been paying off until after the 2019 general elections. Our income dropped for reasons unknown to us. We later discovered that people that hitherto showed sympathy to us seemed unhappy with the outcome of the elections. They claimed we were the ones who re-elected President Muhammadu Buhari.”
Another destitute identified, Kasimu, at Area 8 Traffic Junction, Abuja, lamented that FCT authorities, especially the AEPB task officials are the problem they contend with. He confirmed that they increase their visibility at weekends because AEPB officials are always few on the streets at that period of the week:
“In addition, we have our way of relating with them. We do ‘rob their palms’ so they could look the other way round and allow us to do our business.”
However, a senior official of the AEPB who pleaded anonymity admitted that record analysis of their operations confirmed that beggars and other destitute increase their presence and activities in Abuja city centres at weekends. He alleged that senior officials of FCTA and AEPB, most of who are Muslims do ask their task force officials to ‘soft pedal’ at weekends to allow the beggars and destitute do their business unmolested:
“That is the challenge we have and the city is fast losing its glory as the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) and the seat of Nigeria government. Abuja welcomes large number of local and foreign guests everyday. It will be disgusting for them to see destitute occupy traffic junctions and major streets in Abuja.
“I am a Muslim but I detest begging because it is against the preaching of Allah. It is not Islamic at all. But, there is nothing we could do because the superior officers have spoken and ours is to obey the instructions,” the official said.
Head, Monitoring, AEPB, Abubakar Hassan, admitted that the strength of their workforce always drops at weekends due to the fact that some of its workers take time off to rest, while street beggars and destitute take advantage of the situation:
“All 700 members of our enforcement team are temporary workers. We have large number of Christians among them who go to church on Sundays. Muslims among them also take out time to rest on Fridays and Saturdays.
“That has largely affected our operations at weekends. That is why we always witnessed increased presence of destitute on the streets at weekends. We used to have joint task team some years back that enforced discipline until 2018 when FCT minister disbanded the team and asked each department to operate independently.
“Since then, we have our work clearly separated for us, with FCT Social Secretariat and other relevant agencies. Collectively, we work together to achieve sanity in FCT.”