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Surge in street begging

By Babatunde Ayedoju

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Akure, the Ondo State capital, is a very busy and bubbling city. A walk or drive through the streets of the capital confirms the busy nature of the city. Of all the popular places in Akure, areas such as Oja Oba, Arakale, Oke Aro, Old Garage and Oba Adesida  stand out.

When you drive through these places, especially Oba Adesida down to Old Garage, there are many sights to see. Such include traffic police men controlling traffic, various shops and stores with goods worth a fortune, taxi drivers dropping and picking passengers, commercial motorcyclists who are also known as Okada riders, and last but definitely not the least beggars and destitutes.

A visit to Old Garage, Post Office, popular eateries and supermarkets shows children  running about and asking passersby for handouts and beggars sitting on a straight file, asking for alms from passers by. These people are of diverse backgrounds, because of the languages they speak but majority of them come from the northern part of Nigeria. A peep into the bowl in front of each of them shows the numerous denominations of money that people have dropped for the beggars.

The Hope checks revealed that a lot of people patronize the beggars for religious reasons. In other words, people believe that giving money to beggars will make them receive certain favours and get answers to their prayers. That explains why the bowls in front of the beggars tend to be full of naira notes in various denominations.

The Hope found out that street begging in Akure is not a recent development. Investigation revealed that during the lockdown last year, following the outbreak of the corona virus pandemic, street begging increased in Akure, the Ondo State capital.

Some children whose ages range between five and seven years, including some adults, particularly women, loiter around Oba Adesida road, where the market is located, begging for alms. Between the hours of 9am and 3pm, some teenage boys and middle aged women hang around the Alagbaka area, in Akure, where most banks are located.

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The Hope gathered that the so-called beggars wander the streets of the banks, waiting for customers going in and out, and at the ATM centres, to beg for money.

Reports indicated that some of these teenage boys speak Yoruba language’. Unfortunately for them, only few individuals going in and out of the banks tend to give them money. Many others ignore them.

In Akure, street begging has evolved in another dimension with the presence of some underage children from other parts of the country who graduated from street begging to washing windscreen of cars in traffic and making a living out of this.

The business of washing windshields of vehicles in traffic has become quite unusual with motorists beginning to worry. It is common to find able bodied young individuals set up petty trading business with the money from the wind shield washing.

These people occupy the commercial nerve centre of the sunshine state’s capital city. It is a booming business in the capital city. Is it therefore healthy to have beggars and destitute occupying the place? Will it not be inimical to the commerce and economy of the city?

The Hope spoke with some shop owners in the area. Mr. Otitokoro Oluwaseun, a PoS operator said that the beggars had been around  for a very long time. He said, “I personally do not have any problem with them. As you can see, where they stay at the road side is a bit far from my shop. However, I believe it would be better if the government could move them to another place, because where they stay at the road side is not safe for them. Accident occurs there sometimes.”

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Also speaking with our correspondent, Mrs. Olawole who said she was there to visit her friend stated that, “they have been here for a long time. I see them always. Their presence here is dangerous for them.”

Mrs. Olawole further said, “I suggest that the government should move them to a better place and feed them, because lack of money and food brought them on the street to beg.”

She also pointed out that the beggars tend to litter the street around that place with wastes.

Another trader, who did not give his name said that he was not comfortable with the presence of the beggars and destitutes in the business area. He, however, noted that the police sometimes come to the place to evacuate them.

Also  a top official at the Ondo State Ministry of Women Affairs, who preferred to be anonymous said that the issue of beggars and destitutes on the streets is one that needs critical attention.

He said, “periodically, we go for raids to evacuate the beggars from the streets, but the problem is that most of them have taken begging as a job. They leave their homes in the morning to go to the streets begging and return in the evening. Some of them are not so impoverished that it has become part of them to beg.” He said that most of them are not learned and they have taken it as a way of life to beg.

Talking about the destitutes, he disclosed, “After moving them out of the streets, we normally take them to a rehabilitation centre for a psychiatrist to come and examine them. After the medical examination, medications are given to them. However, the exercise takes place periodically as we get information from the public.

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A question that begs for an answer is that, even if people are not buoyant financially, should begging on the streets be the next viable option for them? Could it be that there is a need for public enlightenment, after all, knowledge, they say, is power?

The government official, who noted that a big chunk of the beggars are non-indigenes, said that public enlightenment can be helpful to some extent but cannot totally eradicate the problem. He noted that even if the government carried out public sensitisation, there are people who will still want to patronize the beggars for spiritual reasons.

He said, “Some people believe in giving money to beggars for religious reasons. Effort to set aside a separate place for them is in the pipeline. We are trying to do that in order to sanitise the environment.”

To butress the point that some of the beggars have taken it as a way of life, the social welfare officer said, ” There was a woman whom we rescued from the streets. She used to be pushed around in a wheelbarrow for begging. We were able to trace her place of origin to a neighbouring state. The government gave her an accommodation with some money to start some business. Within three months, she was back to the streets. That means some people have taken it as a lucrative business. Why will anybody be given some money to start business and live a noble life, and within a short period the person will be back to the streets begging?

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