There are different kinds of beggars depending on one’s perception of the word but in general term, it means soliciting in whatever way. In this part of the world, there are common and corporate beggars. The former are those moving on the street, stationed at public places like mosques, churches and markets while the later are well dressed moving from one point to the other meeting people especially at work places to beg.
For Abuja, being one of the newest cities in the world it has its own fair share of people rushing into it for greener pasture, which of course, comprises of the good, the bad and the ugly. As people rush into Abuja, the baggage includes the good people, criminals as well as the beggars.
It is unfortunate that when some southern parts of Nigeria were hit by armed robbery, kidnap cases, militancy, etc, some northern parts of the country have been plagued with insurgency, cattle rustling and religious extremism with millions of people in such areas seeking refuge in Abuja thereby overstretching the existing infrastructure.
As other people both skilled and unskilled laborers moved into Abuja, beggars colonies also moved along side with them. However, since Abuja is the only planned city in the Nigeria which is a product of law, everything done in Abuja is guided by the law and therefore some of these visitors are welcome with their trade while some like the beggars and hawkers are outlawed through the Abuja Environmental Protection Board law. Although some of them usually say it is against some of their fundamental human rights. That is a case for another time.
The current FCT Administration headed by Malam Muhammad Musa Bello has come at a very difficult time in the history of the nation’s capital. The country has been enmeshed into recession with its attendant negative hydro-headed consequences of job loss, high inflation and lack of adequate funds to execute government projects and programmes.
The Minister and the FCT Permanent Secretary, Dr. Babatope Ajakaiye in their efforts to stamp out street begging in the Federal Capital Territory, undertook a far reaching re-organization of the Abuja Environmental Protection Board (AEPB) by changing its leadership as well as establishing a new FCT Special Task Team on Abuja Environmental Protection to give the desired push.
These efforts have indeed paid off, as the AEPB and the Task Team was able to break a syndicate of suspected suppliers of beggars to strategic locations in Abuja. This is to ensure that the menace was uprooted from its foundation.
After this unprecedented achievement, the Chairman of the FCT Special Task Team on Abuja Environmental Protection, Squadron Leader Abdullahi Adamu Monjel (rtd.) revealed that the feat was achieved with the close collaboration of security agencies in the Task Team where intelligence sharing is uppermost. He said that the leader of the suspected syndicate, Baba Gwarma from Kaduna State, said that he is based in Karma-Jiji, a suburb of Abuja with their leader (Sarki) in the same vicinity.
Squadron leader Monjel further disclosed that he has three personal vehicles for movement of beggars in and around Abuja as well as neighboring states of Nasarawa, Niger and Kaduna states; adding that Baba Gwarma has houses that he has rented out and also provide shelter for the beggars in the syndicate in Karma-Jiji.
Meanwhile, the pedestrian bridges constructed for ease of pedestrian movements have also been taken over by beggars and hawkers. The Minister had to leave the comfort of his office to personally pay unscheduled visit to some of them in the city and suburb, particularly the one in Lugbe, a suburb of Abuja along the Airport Road. It was there that Malam Bello read another riot act directing the Abuja Environmental Protection Board (AEPB) and the FCT Task Team on Environment to as a matter of urgency stop hawkers using pedestrian bridges for their activities in the Federal Capital Territory.
During that visit, Malam Bello warned that hawking and other illegal activities are not acceptable on the Pedestrian bridges across the Territory and called for stern enforcement. He reiterated that such bridges were constructed for easy movement and passage of residents crossing the highways but not meant for hawking, begging or for other nuisances and therefore a stop must be put to it forthwith. The Minister thus, warned officials of the AEPB and the Task Team that the Administration is not prepared to take excuses anymore; saying that they must carry out their statutory duty; emphasizing that the pedestrian bridges are not shopping malls.
It was during that unscheduled visit that Malam Bello also instructed that the AEPB and the Task Team must also get rid of herdsmen still grazing in the Federal Capital City; noting, “you must find a way of dealing with that bizarre situation”.
Thus, another chapter was also opened in tackling their menace by taking advantage of technology to curtail the nefarious activities of beggars and destitute in the Federal Capital Territory. The Administration has taken bold steps to create a database for all the arrested beggars and destitute taken to the Vocational and Rehabilitation Centre, Kuchiko, in Bwari Area Council, Abuja. According to him, the establishment of the database would avail the Administration adequate information on those arrested as well as affording the government the opportunity to make adequate arrangement for repatriation.
He therefore directed the FCT Social Development Secretariat to ensure that all those arrested are captured in the database for easy reference.
Malam Bello at Kuchiko Vocational and Rehabilitation Centre also instructed that the Abuja Environmental Protection Board (AEPB) and the FCT Task Team on Environment to ensure that beggars and destitute are assembled and registered after their arrests before taken to the Vocational and Rehabilitation Centre where the Social Development staff will officially receive and hand them over to the management of the Vocational and Rehabilitation Centre.
The Vocational and Rehabilitation Centre was also directed to commence the process of repatriation of the beggars and destitute in earnest in line with the extant rules to their various states of origin where the social welfare officials in such states are to receive them officially.
During the same unscheduled visit, the Principal of the Vocational and Rehabilitation Centre, Comrade Bala Tsoho, confirmed that 145 new beggars and destitute were just brought into the Centre.
He reiterated that the welfare of the inmates especially regular feeding has drastically improved since Malam Bello came on board.
Although the Federal Capital City, Abuja has not been completely rid of beggars, cattle grazing and street hawking, it could be gleaned from the foregoing that the Administration of Malam Bello has indeed taken the fight against menace to an enviable height and at the same time following the extant rules in tune with the Change Agenda of the Federal Government to minimize any injury to the rights and privileges of the affected persons.
Mr. Bamya, is a public affairs analysts based in Abuja.