Fred Ezeh

They are destitutes not by choice. They are victims of fate. They suffer discrimination and outright rejection by the society as a result of their state. Their survival is at the mercy of cheerful givers. The alms are in the area of foods, money and clothings.

They could easily be found at major bus stops, under bridges and in all the slums in satellite towns in Abuja. They get little or no attention from either the government or corporate organizations.

The FCT authorities, using the environmental protection department are always after them, with reason that their kinds are not to be seen in major streets of Abuja because they deface the beauty of the Abuja city with their “horrible” physical look. 

But these set of Nigerians have maintained that they have the fundamental right to co-habit with other members of the society and possibly look after their offspring.

Federal Capital Territory Administration (FCTA) has been unhappy with their continued presence in major streets of Abuja. 

The authorities have developed different programmes in the past that were geared towards uplifting the standard of living of these “less privileged” people in the city. However, little or no success seems to have been recorded largely.

Abuja served as haven for thousands of people whose communities and source of livelihood was totally destroyed by years of Boko Haram activities in the North-east. In thousands, they arrived Abuja and settled at Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) camps in different locations in Abuja. 

Their coming, undoubtedly, resulted in upsurge in street beggars, hawkers and petty traders, putting more pressure on the officials of the Abuja Environmental Protection Board (AEPB), that had to fight to keep them off the streets. 

Surprisingly, with the closure of the IDP camps in Abuja few months ago, the number of destitute have continued to rise in the city centre and other satellite towns.

In spite of clampdown, they insisted that they won’t quit the trade. Their reason is that they have no other business or means of survival other than begging for alms. 

Investigation reveal that the presence of the destitutes usually double in Abuja city centre during the weekends, particularly on Fridays and Sundays, when Muslims and Christians attend prayers and service.

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A street beggar who identified himself as Nazif, aged 9, said they make more money on Fridays and Sundays when Christians and Muslims are on their way to mosques and churches.

He said: “On Fridays, Muslims are always in the mood to give Sadaka to the less privileged in the society. Our research confirmed that people in the city centre are more compassionate and generous with their finances than those in areas that have predominantly low income people. So we target Mosques and Churches where rich people attend.

“We already know the Mosques and their prayer times. All we do is to arrange with taxi driver who will take us from one point to another until the day is over. 

“We do the same thing on Sundays when Christians go to church. They are more generous and compassionate on Sundays than any other day. Before now, we were allowed to stay very close to the churches. But insecurity and fear of attacks made them to push us very far from that church premises. 

“So we do position ourselves strategically there or better still, on the road to the big churches and we get the attention of the worshippers.”

Another destitute identified as Kasimu said that FCT authorities especially the AEPB were the only problem they contend with. He said they increase their presence at the weekend because AEPB officials are always few at the weekend and could not chase them.  

Meanwhile, a senior official of the AEPB who pleaded anonymity confirmed that analysis of their operations confirmed that beggars and other destitutes increase their presence in Abuja city centre at the weekend. 

The AEPB official, however, said senior officials of FCTA and AEPB, most of whom are Muslims have asked their task team to “soft pedal” at weekends to allow the beggars and destitutes, some of whom are Muslims, to ply their trade. 

“That is the challenge we have and the city is fast loosing its glory as the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) and the seat of Nigerian government.

Abuja welcomes large number of local and foreign guests everyday and it will be disgusting for them to see destitutes occupy traffic junctions and major streets in Abuja.

The official added: “I am a Muslim but I detest begging because it is against the preaching of Allah. But there was nothing we could do because the superior officers have spoken and ours is to obey the instructions.”