Registration fee tears Ebonyi destitute apart

From Wilson Okereke, Afikpo

People in different vocations and trades in Nigeria float all manner of unions to protect the interests of their members. Destitute and beggars in Abakaliki, Ebonyi State, are not left out.

It was gathered that the people who usually cluster at Nnewi Street, Off Ogoja Road, Abakaliki, near the St. Theresa Catholic Cathedral, have formed a union to enable them regulate their activities. They are particular about gifts presented to them collectively. But some out of greed and mischief are allegedly extorting money from other indigent persons, insisting that the said fee would be the condition for their admission into the union.

This prohibitive rule prevailed at the beggars’ colony. It was learnt that a destitute would have to pay a compulsory registration fee of N5,000 before he could be allowed to operate there. A beggar, Mrs Ukamaka Eze Akam, aka, Mama Emmanuel, was reportedly assaulted at the place by persons living with various degrees of deformities. The bone of contention was Mama Emmanuel’s failure to pay the registration fee.

Daily Sun gathered that trouble started on Sunday, March 5, 2023, when the 35-old-woman, wanted to share from some noodles donated to them by some public-spirited people. She was reminded that she has not registered with the union and, so, should do the needful.

The expectant mother, who hails from Igbudu Ekka 2, Ezza North Local Government, said she engaged in begging about two years ago to enable her train her twin babies after the death of her supposed suitor: “I resorted to begging due to frustration, which I encountered after the death of the man who had wanted to marry me. I was facing severe famine.

“Along the line, someone advised me to join other indigent ones in their cluster. Upon my arrival, I was confronted by a certain Nwankwor, who requested for the registration fee of N20,000 for me to become a member of their union. When I could not pay the amount, they began to deny me the gift items which some philanthropists are bringing to us.”

She said that despite the maltreatment, she was still enjoying the luck emanating from her twin babies in such a way that the same set of beggars became jealous and began to find means of driving her out of the entire premises.

She alleged: “Following my refusal to leave the place, some beggars one evening ganged up on the directive of their chairman identified as Elisha, beat me up and inflicted injury on me.

“At the particular place where I was staying alone, some persons looking for the fruit of the womb usually came to me. Some would bless me with N1,000 or N2,000. That was how I kept on progressing until that fateful day when I stretched out my hand to collect a gift from one of our alms givers, suddenly the people attacked me and beat me mercilessly.

“This was not the first time such incident took place. The same people beat me up late last year. The attackers during my state of unconsciousness abducted my twins. As I speak, I don’t know their whereabouts.

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“While struggling for my share of the noodles, suddenly some of them became annoyed. They attacked me with sticks inflicting injuries on me. I was rushed to a nearby healthcare facility for medical attention through the intervention of a passer-by, one Josephine.”

Another beggar, Mrs Oluchi Nweke, said the rest beggars were bent in collecting the registration fee. The mother of five who lost her husband in August last year, said: “In spite of my pathetic condition, the people collected N1,000 from me, N5,000 from my cousin and N5,000 from another blind man before we were admitted into the union.

“Their rule is that anyone who is not registered with them will not be part of any gift until the person pays the registration fee. Without the fee, they share whatever item given to them without including the person.

“And some of us have been asking questions to know whose account the fees are going into and the purpose of such payment. But till now, Elisha, Nwankwor and others have not provided us with an answer.”

Nweke disclosed: “Akam’s kids were not stolen. Some noticed that the lives of the children were at risk at the place. So, they took them to the immediate past chairman of Ezza North LG for safety. The ex-council handed the twins, Emmanuel and Chikamso, over to the Motherless Babies Home in Abakaliki.

“After the children were abandoned, suddenly a woman drove into where we are staying. She claimed she has bought one of the twins from their mother. We noticed that the safety of the children was at risk. We hurriedly took them to the council chairman who in turn took the twin to the Motherless Babies Home for both safety and care.”

Leader of the group, Mr Okechukwu Godwin, explained that the N5,000 registration fee was to control the influx of the beggars at the cluster and prevent the place from being overcrowded especially as five persons died in the place since the past two years.

He alleged that Akam, who refused to register as others was always determined to have a share of every item given to the group. This, he said, infuriated some of the people who pounced on the woman and injured her in the process:

“If not that we introduced registration to control the number among us, the place would have been crowded. Residents of the street and government officials would have become uncomfortable with our presence. It is on this note that we are insisting on the payment.

“Initially, many beggars were coming from outside the state to join us. Immediately they heard about the registration fee, most of them left us for other areas of the city.

“Concerning Mrs Akam, she collected five packets of instant noodles on that particular day whereas many of us did not get even one. Those who did not get persuaded her to reduce the number in her possession. She refused and as a result, she was attacked.

“We use the fees to address our collective problems including settlement of members of the vigilance group, whenever the security guards are invited on emergency situations and other issues.”