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Street urchins: Abuja’s latest nightmare

Okwe Obi, Abuja  

The dream  of moving to Abuja, the federal capital territory, in search of greener pastures, for young men and women, may be tempting but sometimes it could end on a distasteful note. 

A visit to vicinity of overhead bridges in different parts of the capital city tell the story better. At midnight and early in the morning, young men there are either wrapped in dirty wrappers, torn blankets or worn-out tyres that they use as bedding. There are also broken bottles, utensils and clothes. This is the lifestyle of Abuja street urchins. 

They are easily recognised from the way they dress and the kind of places they inhabit and what they do there. 

Close contact with most of them offends  one’s sense of smell as they reek of marijuana and alcohol. 

Some who were doing well when they came to Abuja but were forced to team up with the urchins as a result of unemployment, have been influenced by bad company. 

The harsh economic situation does not seem to favour them as they have been knocked down by poverty, starvation and want. They are found under flyovers such as the one in Mararaba, a suburb of Nasarawa State that hosts a vast majority of Abuja workers.  According to some of the street urchins, poverty is the major cause of their present predicament. As most of them resort to begging, others find solace in touting for passengers for drivers while others take to crime.

Under the Mararaba overpass, some street urchins dress like workers and act as if they are looking for vehicles and, as commuters move to board vehicles, they do their ‘business’ of busy picking pockets They also snatch phones from passengers. Most times, they get away with it but sometimes, they are caught and promptly beaten to within an inch of death and handed over to the police. Most of them have become regular visitors to the police station.

Banex Junction is not exempted from the ugly trend as most people find it inconvenient making it through that route at odd hours.

Tunde Peters, an Abuja resident, had more than a fair share of victimisation recently. He told Daily Sun: “I closed from work late. It was about 9pm and two of these guys accosted me. As I was trying to struggle one of them brought out a knife and threaten to slit my throat if I dared. In the process, my phone, wallet and bag were taken away. The situation almost caused me my job the next because the bag contained office valuables.”

Another victim, Okon Etim, 28, suffered at the hands of the hoodlums. He was waylaid near Mararaba bridge early in the morning as he was looking for cab to beat the morning traffic. Three youths came out of nowhere, dragged him into a corner, gave him the beating of life and collected his valuables before they let him go. When they saw police patrol van, they lay low for a while bu as soon as the police left, they resumed in full force.

The situation has grown worse such that members of the public are now afraid of moving about at night. In addition to their street mugging, the miscreants alsoconnive with some drivers to unleash mayhem on innocent Nigerians going about their legitimate business.

Tom Obi, a hotel staff in the FCT, relived his bitter  ordeal: “We had an event to manage. After the event, we closed very late. So I boarded a taxi that had three guys in it and headed to Mararaba. On approaching Kugbo, the driver stopped. He pretended to fix the vehicle. Suddenly the other guys grabbed me and dragged me into the bush. They ransacked my pockets and collected everything I had. They were even contemplated killing me; God saved me but not without them giving me the beating of my life.

“I had to trek from there almost to Mararaba before I saw a police van. The police office were very kind to me. They stopped a car heading in my direction and paid my transport fare.”

There are many others like Obi and Etim who have been at the mercy of the vagabonds.

And so the tales of pain and anguish for Abuja residents continue while the miscreants have a field day.

The worst victims are women, whose valuables are not just collected, but they are often sexually assaulted.

Child hawkers are similarly getting hard knocks from street urchins as they are beaten up and their goods seized. People who carry bags are prime targets for the rogues.

Such unholy experiences have given residents of Abuja cause to worry and many of them now clutch their bags while boarding buses or walking on the streets.

Mr. Otu Emmanuel, a civil servant, said: “Most of them are lazy. They don’t want to work.

“We know that life is tough, but they can do little things to survive. If it is not feasible, they can learn trade or get skills to help themselves.

“Most people who are making it as success stories today are people who learnt one trade or the other.

“But most of them want it big. And when it is not forthcoming they resort to crime.”

They are calling on security agents to help rid the city of miscreants who have turned residents of Abuja into their ATM for survival.

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