•Behold, Abuja residents’ latest surviving strategy
From Idu Jude, Abuja
Do not let their good looks deceive you. Not all well dressed men and women standing at the entrance of banks, churches, eateries and supermarkets in Abuja are there for real businesses.
Many are beggars masquerading as stranded corporate executives, pretending to have lost their wallets or credit cards and as such needed financial assistance. Some would approach you at a busy Automated Teller Machines (ATMs) claiming they could not withdraw but needed cash urgently.
Some move with little children to attract more sympathy from passers-by but the aim is the same. To concoct pitiable stories that will spur people to part with some money.
They identify, target and isolate their “prey,” then “pouncing” on them. Potential preys include men in flowing babaringa, “senator” attire, clergymen and doctors with their stethoscopes swinging on their necks.
They also look out for those riding in SUVs, official cars and posh sedans. The modus operandi is to literally stalk them as they alight from their vehicles or about to enter or exit a shopping mall about to exit a church before “striking.”
A corporate male beggar was recently busted at a shopping mall in Lugbe, Abuja. Unknown to him, the man that helped him a few days earlier at an eatery when he claimed he lost his wallet had marked his face as he had a cut around his left eye.
This beggar, who later gave his name as Anthony Bakus, wears dark spectacles perhaps to conceal his identity. But his benefactor spotted him at the mall when he approached him with the same story of a missing wallet.
The man screamed at him and in the process, attracted people around.
Bakus said he was forced into corporate begging due to joblessness and frustration: “I’m a graduate but there is no job. A friend said I could eke out a living this way and that is how I came into corporate begging two years ago.
“On a good day, I could make N10,000. Because I’m well dressed, many people won’t give me N100 but N500 upwards. But things are tight now because of the cash crunch.”
A typical begging drama goes thus: “Good afternoon Sir (or Ma). My name is Angela Ola (not real name). Sorry to bother you. I came here for a job interview but I don’t have transport fare back home, N500 will do.”
For a woman with an infant child, the conversation goes thus: “Good morning Sir. I’m a graduate but I lost my job and things are hard for my child and I. Her father abandoned us and moved to another state and we can’t reach him. We need your help sir.”
With a child in the mix, many would be moved to help. You would see the duo at different places telling the same old stories for alms.
Other beggars ride on the crippling cashless policy to beg. This new approach to begging has become a lucrative business venture for those who lie for a living.
They have left the conventional street begging to persons living with disabilities and destitute. Saleh Mohammed, a businessman at Apo, told Daily Sun: “Now, we no longer know who is lying and who is telling the truth.
“With many helpers becoming increasingly reluctant to help, many seeking help genuinely would be shut out of favours. The economy is down and these sorts of things are pointers to that.”
Hassan Musa, a trader narrated his encounter with beggars: “One particular woman in my area comes up with different stories every time, just to beg for money. It has become a very dirty and addictive habit that she doesn’t even recognise the people she uses the trick on anymore. I have seen her close to five times at a particular ATM point in Garki.
“The first time she asked me for money, her strategy was to pretend she was trying to withdraw money but could not. She would wait for your money to start counting then she would start interacting with the person withdrawing. She would pretend to be shocked why her own ATM was not dispensing. Then she told me she was stranded and I had to give her money.”
The use of children to beg is gaining momentum. In some instances, these kids handed trays of sachet water, which they pretended to sell.
At some point, they threw them on the floor to look like an accident and began to sob uncontrollably.
This pitiable sight would attract passers-by and motorists with some helpers electing to pay for the wares.
Findings indicate that the new twist of solitary alms begging was born out of a dare strategy to beat the Abuja Environmental Protection Board (AEPB) and the FCT Social Development Secretariat Enforcement Team, fighting to end the menace.
Mr. Cleopas James of the Federal Capital Territory Adminisrtation (FCTA), said he was a victim of the new alms-seeking strategy adopted by the beggars. He stated that it has become prominent among young beggars deployed by their masters who feed fat from the proceeds of begging:
“It was a painful and difficult sight to behold when approaching a child with a broken plastic bucket whose contents are scattered on the road. What came into my mind was to immediately relieve such a young
Nigerian crying over a broken bucket and a bag of sachet water, which are not worth N1,000. As a Christian, there is a belief of bountiful blessings when you give alms to the poor.
“So, beholding such a sight makes it an obligation to clean the tears in the eyes of such a little kid and send him back to the supposed parents who could be waiting for the proceeds to feed the family.
“I couldn’t believe my eyes when I saw the same little boy at the same spot when I drove along the spot the same day. It took me some time to overcome the shock and come to terms of being swindled by a little boy I intended to clean his tears and end his sorrows.”
Maria Danjuma also shared her experience: “It is hard to believe that giving alms in the FCT eventually could amount to helping a criminal despite the paucity of funds in a terrible economy.
“I encountered such at Banex Plaza, Wuse 2. On that day, I saw a little girl who at every inch needed my help. I wasted no time giving my widow’s mite because I felt it was necessary. Surprisingly, I was told that I just gave money to swindlers through the little child who attracted my sympathy.”
Mr Akin Oyewole is a journalist: “I think there is a new dimension to street begging nowadays. But I blame the Federal Capital Administration for not doing enough despite having everything at their disposal.
“I can tell you this because the AEPB Act already addressed these things. And things happen this way because the law is no longer working. The administration should no longer look at street begging on humanitarian grounds.
“They should also appreciate the economic stain attached to it. No investor would like to come in and invest in an environment not safe for visitors to walk the street freely. Creating job opportunities was another area to ensure that people stay in their various states and work and earn a living than racing to Abuja to beg.
“I reiterate that it is the failure of the government because many states are desolate without job opportunities. Again, there should be a Federal Government social funding policy to jobless Nigerians to stop begging.”
Abigail Yakub, a member of the enforcement team of the told Daily Sun:
“Swindlers come up with different strategies on a daily basis. They have been feasting on gullibility of unsuspecting members of the public.
“We apprehend them everyday. Our challenges are that they rotate around the whole of Abuja while searching where to catch preys.
Sometimes we see them at Area 11 and sometimes it will be Life Camp.
“I can tell you this because we are here on the road for enforcement.
And we have arrested many of them. But they keep coming up with different strategies. What is trending now is such that it affects people’s moral disposition. Their leaders send young innocent children of school age with plastic buckets containing bags of sachet water.
“They ask them to splash the load on the ground by the road and wait to feast on sympathisers. People on sighting the boy and the broken items think it is an unfortunate incident that requires attention and more especially to help the poor boy who expectedly lost valuables where the family feed from.
“Others pretend to be newspaper vendors. It is alarming. There have been several occasions where we apprehend them. Residents complained to us that people who pretend to be newspaper vendors now approach car windows and ask for alms instead of offering newspapers for sale.
“One day we hunted one down. We discovered that none of the newspapers he was carrying was current. They were all old and out-dated newspapers. No one knows about it until you are told. So, most of them running after vehicles along the road with newspapers are not vendors but swindlers.”
Mr. Mike Babafemi, Assistant Director, Social Development Secretariat (SDS), FCTA, said: “Some of these beggars are mobilised by some individuals. We have encountered so much on this job. Government is trying to put some of them out of the street by sending them to the social development or less privileged camp.
“But they run away and prefer to be on the streets probably because of the huge proceeds they make for themselves and their masters. Why they change tactics daily is because government has zero tolerance in its resolve to get the city rid of beggars and unwanted individuals.
“FCTA cares for the less privileged through its SDS programme. Street begging merchants are sabotaging the efforts. The authorities have before now arrested these men and handed them over to the law enforcement agencies. But it is still on the increase, maybe government should also change tactics.”