•Rake in N45,000 monthly, parade blackberry phones
From ALOYSIUS ATTAH, Onitsha
They are regular faces along Onitsha- Enugu expressway. Easily noticeable, they have many things in common – varying degree of deformities mainly due to poliomyelitis attack. All of them are of Northern extraction while their permanent places of daily “business” are the various failed portions of the Onitsha- Enugu highway.
They surface as early as 6am daily while their benefactors are commuters who ply the road and throw naira notes of several denominations at them. They often wave in anticipation anytime a vehicle gets closer to the strategic positions they occupy while their finance controller strains to collect the money sometimes at the risk of being crushed by another vehicle.
A chat with Sunday Sun reporter who had observed them for quite some time, became quite revealing.
At the failed portion of the road, near Amawbia junction, Sunday Sun reporter encountered a special group. Eleven in number, interaction with the group revealed that 9 out of the group hail from Gombe state while the other three are from Borno State.
Posing as a concerned citizen sent by the government to provide better life for them, the most outspoken in the group who identified himself as Idris Adamu gave an insight into their lives and background.
“We are normal human beings though condition has placed us in this situation. I am from Gombe state and most of us have been in Anambra for more than one year now. We live inside Army barracks in Onitsha and we come here early enough to make money so as to help ourselves.
“Though I’m physically challenged as a result of polio, I have a wife just like many of us here and we send money to our families from the proceeds of this begging for alms.
“I enrolled to train under the National Directorate of Employment (NDE) in my state. Unfortunately, when the thing matured and they were to give us money to set up business, they bungled everything. I was also part of David Osunde Foundation (brings out his purse and presents both identity cards to the reporter) and they were to fix us into something meaningful but it has been promises upon promises. That is why we are here and we are hoping for a better tomorrow”, he said.
The beggars’ spokesman was later to drop a bombshell when he told Sunday Sun that he and his colleagues wished that the government would abandon the on-going rehabilitation of the ever-busy road.
While commuters who ply the highway lament the deplorable condition of the road and pray that government expedites action on the pace of work, the beggars are praying another set of prayers that the work stalls forever.
When the reporter asked Idris his position on the road’s condition and its implications on their business, he did not mince words in saying that what is good news to others is actually bad news for them.
“Allah, I must tell you, if government repairs this road fully, hunger may kill us. We don’t have any other business apart from this. We attach ourselves at the failed portions because drivers will always slow down when they approach such bad spots and it is from there that people now throw some money to us. Let Allah put confusion in the minds of contractors and the government so that they will abandon the project or else, hunger may deal with us.”
Some of the beggars at a spot near Amawbia roundabout included Ibrahim Isa, Haruna Babangida, Usman Adamu, Bello Mohammed, Abdullahi Shehu, Usman Mohammed. The reporter noticed that the group maintains a common purse and asked how they share their money at the end of the day.
The purse keeper, Abdallah Abdullahi said there was no discrimination in terms of sharing as they divide the money on equal ratio. He said: “If we begin to do survival of the fittest here, the aim of brotherly love among us will not only be defeated but some of us that are highly deformed more than others may not have the strength to struggle when people throw money to us. That is why we decided to maintain a collective purse so that everybody will be accommodated squarely. It is from the common purse that we get our individual shares daily when we finish”, he said.
As the chat progressed, the reporter noticed some flashy phones brandished by the beggars. One of them flaunted a London-used blackberry and received a call from his new wife that he later identified as Amaria after the call.
Idris disclosed that each beggar takes home a minimum of N800 daily but sometimes between N1200 and N1500 daily on days of better ‘harvests’.
Dreaming of Olympic gold
The reporter later spoke with another set of beggars from the north at Amansea, a boundary between Anambra and Enugu states. Sitting on their roller skaters while some use constructed woods for mobility, this group exuded optimism and excitement. Though their mode of operation is was similar to the other groups, this set comprised of some beggars with several talents waiting to be utilized.
Their spokesperson, Sadiq from Bauchi said that he is a trained sports man who dreams of representing Nigeria in the Paralympics games someday. He said he has been looking for opportunities to showcase his talent to the global world.
Maltreatment by government agents
Before the reporter left the group at Amansea, they barred their minds on their predicament and urged that they should be left alone to mind their business.
“We don’t give anybody trouble while we are not criminals. Unfortunately, those of us that shuttle daily from Enugu to this place have been having it rough in the hands of government agents. The task force constituted by the government arrests those on indecent dressing and mad people in the streets.
“Surprisingly, they have classified us in the same category and we have been banished from the city metropolis. We plead with the government to allow us carry on with our legitimate business because we are not trouble makers.”
The power of money
After the interview with the beggars, it was a different ball game when the reporter wanted to take their picture shots. They vehemently refused their images to be captured for fear that the government may sack them from their means of livelihood, and threatened to stone the reporter if he dared it.
Surprisingly, when some crisp naira notes were given to them and a promise of passing the message for their rehabilitation to the governor was offered, they willingly accepted and raised their hands gleefully as the reporter clicked away.