The current free reign of beggars, hawkers and almajiris in the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) is an indication that the Abuja Environmental Protection Board (AEBP) and the Social Development Secretariat of the FCT, are sleeping on their oars. CHIKA OKEKE writes on the security implications of this menace. During the inauguration of a 19-member task…
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The current free reign of beggars, hawkers and almajiris in the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) is an indication that the Abuja Environmental Protection Board (AEBP) and the Social Development Secretariat of the FCT, are sleeping on their oars. CHIKA OKEKE writes on the security implications of this menace.
During the inauguration of a 19-member task force, headed by the former FCT commissioner of police, Joseph Mbu in 2014, the former minister of Federal Capital Territory Administration (FCTA), Senator Bala Mohammed ordered beggars, street hawkers, commercial sex workers and street urchins to vacate the nation’s capital city or face immediate arrest, detention and prosecution.
The task force was also to identify all hotbeds for street hawking and other untoward activities in Abuja metropolis for crackdown as well as arrest, detention and prosecution of environmental sanitation defaulters, street hawkers and their sponsors.
The minister challenged the task team on the need to rid the Federal Capital City and its satellite towns of the menace of street hawking, destitute population, commercial motorcyclists, tricycle operators, illegal car marts, and commercial sex workers.
It could be recalled that Governor el Rufai banned beggars and street hawkers from operating in the streets of Kaduna due to terror attacks by Boko Haram terrorists who resorted in carrying out their nefarious activities using beggars, hawkers, children and women as suicide bombers.
In a swift reaction, a spokesman of the beggars association in Kaduna, Mallam Yahaya Makaho while addressing the media recalled that they used proceeds from their begging to fund campaigns and rallies for el Rufai, when he aspired for the governorship seat.
According to him, “Now, it will appear that we made a mistake because the governor wants to bring us down and does not want us to live.
He has chased us out of the streets and has made no alternative arrangement for our survival. If he refuses to rescind this decision, we shall make sure we bring down his government.”
Recall that former President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan rolled out the 64 newly completed and furnished Almajiri Model Schools in 2013 across the states of Adamawa, Borno, Gombe, Bauchi, Yobe, Jigawa, Kaduna, Sokoto, Zamfara, Kebbi, Oyo, Osun, Lagos, Ondo, Ekiti, Edo, Rivers, Kogi, Niger, Katsina, Taraba and Nasarawa states.
The aim was to address the out-of-school children syndrome that is also impeding growth of the economy.
Three years down the line, the almajiris (out of school child beggers) abandoned the schools and went back to the streets in search of free money despite federal government intervention.
LEADERSHIP Sunday discovered that even with the task team set up by the FCT which is now headed by the current FCT commissioner of police, Wilson Inalegwu the almajiris and beggars are everywhere in the entire nooks and crannies of the city, operating unhindered.
An on the spot assessment by our correspondent revealed that beggars had taken over the sweeping of pedestrian bridges at Car wash Junction, Federal Housing Lugbe in a bid to be allowed to beg for alms.
As the government street cleaners neglected their assignment, the beggers, who though sweep the bridge better, took over.
When LEADERSHIP Sunday visited the pedestrian bridge, two beggars who were almost crippled as a result of poliomyelitis were seen sweeping the pedestrian bridge in the morning while passers-by dole out money to them.
Findings also revealed that almajiri’s have increased in their population, thereby exposing the city to security threat.
This is evident in a recent case at Federal Housing Estate Lugbe involving a man and almajiri boy. The hungry man was said to have bought food and just as he was about to eat the food, his phone rang and he dropped the food beside to answer his call.
The eye witness who identified himself as Chelsea noted that when the man ended the call and attempted to lift the plate of food, he discovered to his shock that the almajiri boy roving the scene of the had lifted the food and turned it inside his own plate.
Only pleas for leniency from passers by saved the almajiri boy from attack from the furious hungry man.
Apart from beggars and almajiri’s, LEADERSHIP Sunday observed with dismay the increase in number of teenage boys cleaning car windshields at hold ups, unsolicited inWuse, Utako, Kado, Wuse 2, Garki, Gwarinpa, among others.
The issue of child labour, almajiri, beggars and street destitutes have taken alarming dimension especially across the northern states of Nigeria. According to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), Nigeria has 10.5million out-of-school children while over nine million are almajiris.
Their unchallenged presence in FCT and its environs is no doubt an attestation to the fact that the Abuja Environmental Protection Board and Social Development Secretariat have relaxed their operations and yielded the city over to these categories of people.
A resident of Utako who pleaded to be anonymity regretted that the almajiris abandoned federal government’s investment that would have provided them with basic education and better life but preferred to roam aimlessly on the streets.
According to him, “The federal government keeps lamenting the activities of Boko Haram but has failed to monitor closely the resurgence of beggars, almajiris, destitutes and hawkers on the streets of FCT.”
He also drew the attention of policy makers on the need to order the beggars and almajiris to return to their respective states and engage in meaningful activities.
Another resident of Wuse, Mrs Maryann Abubakar advocated the establishment of vocational training centres across the northern states; a task she believed should be accomplished by the state governments in partnership with local government chairmen and not the federal government.
She further advised the FCT task team, SDS and AEPB to step up their game by addressing the anomalies in FCT even as she lashed attraditional rulers and the elite for the escalating number of almajiris in the North.
A resident of Lugbe, Mr Adam Muonye frowned at the situation where beggars took over the sweeping of the pedestrian bridge, a situation he linked to negligence of duty by government-paid street cleaners.
He added, “It’s an eyesore that men who are physically challenged sweep the pedestrian bridge better than the women who are paid to do the job.
Muonye called on FCT administration to build little facilities at Beggars Colony in Karonmajiji as well as skills acquisition centres for proper integration in the society irrespective of their challenges.
Reacting, the head, Information and Outreach Programme of AEPB, Mr Joe Ukairo said it’s the responsibility of SDS to manage beggars, destitutes and almajiri’s not AEPB, adding that issues that has to do with child labour does not fall within the purview of AEPB.
On beggars sweeping pedestrian bridges, he said, “The job of city cleaning is an ongoing work and I have noted the location.
The head of Public Relations, Social Development Secretariat; Mr Abuo Francis Ojie told LEADERSHIP Sunday that no beggar was authorized to sweep the bridges any where in the FCT, adding that beggars who engage in such activities could be apprehended.
He stated that the cleaning of Abuja is being handled by waste management experts who engage the services of street sweepers.
According to him, “ Our efforts to rid FCT of all kinds of street beggars is ongoing and we have not relaxed our operations.
He called on FCT residents to resist the temptation of needless patronage of beggars saying that if people refuse to give alms to the beggars that they would be discouraged from begging.
On the activities of unsolicited windshield cleaners, he said, “It’s not legal because it’s an extension of street begging. “These people do not force themselves on vehicle owners, it is up to vehicle owners to say no when the cleaners make advances,” he added.