Saturday, May 21, 2016

Menace of street begging

Begging is as old as human existence. Virtually everyone begs for one thing or the other given the fact that human resources are not infinite. People beg for assistance which could be in kind or in cash. In Nigeria, the phenomenon of street begging has become a popular culture. From the north to the south, east to the west, beggars are found on major streets and highway pleading for alms. These mendicants are also found at motor parks, market places, banks, vicinities of worship centres like mosques and churches, theaters and party venues. Many of them are in rags, filthy and unkempt.

However, there is another category of beggars who are called corporate beggars. They are well dressed and very articulate, even in English language. They usually come up with tales to hoodwink people to give them money. Some will say they travel from far distances to see relations whom they did not know have left their last known addresses and as such they are stranded and need to be supported with transport money to go back to their homes. Some will claim they have come to town for a job interview and do not have money to go back home. Some women even go to the extent of renting twins for the purpose of using them to collect alms. I have read stories of people who feign one terminal illness or the other to raise funds. There are also those with religious belief that it is their divine choice of work.

The rationales behind street begging are many. They include socio-cultural and economic. Some people are lazy and believe that the easiest way to making sweat-less and stress-less money is via begging for alms. In truth, so many beggars are alleged to have built houses, bought cars and train children from proceeds of begging. There are those who have the belief that God called them into begging as a vocation. They believe that alms given is a religious obligation as it paves way for God to answer the prayers of the givers. Details of this could be found in the Senegalese author, Aminata Sow Fall’s classic book entitled “The Beggars Strike”.

From the economic angle, there are many people who embraced street begging in order to stave away hunger and starvation. Some took to begging when they couldn’t get gainful employment or fall into bad times such as losing their jobs or suffering from natural disasters such as flooding, fire, earthquake, tsunami, etcetera. There are millions of people whom the Boko Haram insurgency in the northern part of the country have turned to beggars having become displaced from their communities where they ply their trades. There are also those who became beggars as a result of ill-health or physical challenges. Most of the street beggars are physically challenged. Some are blind, deaf, crippled, mentally challenged, etc.

Apart from constituting eyesores and nuisance, many of the street beggars are also alleged to aid and abet criminal gangs. Security agents claimed some of them serve as spies and armourer for some men of the underworld as people will not suspect them easily of being capable of being used for such vices. Some beggars have also been reported to be used as suicide bombers. These ignoble roles streets beggars are being made to play are part of the reasons some state government such as Kano, Edo Lagos including Federal Capital Administration have banned them from city centers. The latest state to prohibit street begging is Kaduna State where the governor, Mallam Nasir El-Rufai recently signed into law anti-begging bill.

In truth, begging should not be criminalised with the exception of those who try to use begging to commit fraudulent or criminal activities as highlighted above. However, banning street begging, as desirable as it will seems, need to be done with human face. Before the prohibition, government needs to have made adequate provision for the rehabilitation and welfare of the panhandlers. Water will and must find its level; banning street begging without comprehensive welfare packages that will take care of the basic needs of those involved in the trade will be counterproductive.  It will be an exercise in futility. Government must also provide enabling environment that will assist people who wants to engage in decent trade and handiwork to do so. If governments at all levels can provide employment opportunities and vocational skills for those beggars coupled with grants or interest free loans for them  to establish their own businesses, many of these mendicants  will surely embrace a more honourable work.

Jide is the Executive Director of OJA Development Consult, Abuja