Govt-beggars’ face-off in Kaduna
AFTER what appeared a knee-jerk reaction by the Kaduna State Government to a specific problem of begging in the state, report of the two parties – government and beggars – reaching an understanding on the ban on street begging and hawking is a reassuring step to finding a lasting solution to what has become a challenge and an embarrassment. It might just be that Kaduna is destined to set the pace in turning round a long-held social problem that has defied solution, most likely for wrong diagnosis and treatment.
The unsustainable culture of freeloading resonates across the country but for some reason it is more commonplace in some areas than others. If the Kaduna treatment works out fine – the probability is high – the other parts of the country especially the hard-hit core areas in the northern region stand to benefit from an audacious move of Governor Nasir el-Rufai to redefine the parameters.
In its insistence to take the beggars off the streets, the Kaduna government has decided to rehabilitate and train physically challenged persons in various skills in their own interest and that of the larger society. The governor had rightly pointed out during a visit to the state Rehabilitation Centre on Kakuri Road with a capacity to train 500 people that the interests of a group of people who think they have a right to begging should not override the security of millions of residents of the state in the face of daunting security challenges facing the region in particular, and the country generally. Part of the new scheme will be the acquisition of land for the disabled at the Kano Road beggars’ colony. The colony will also accommodate a training centre.
The protesting beggars had compelled an assurance from the governor that all residents of the state would be given equal opportunities on his watch. The failure of governance, principally for lack of political will, has been as much a factor in the disconnect in the social system and El-Rufai no doubt would need a dose of such political will to carry through his reforms. The Kaduna incident has also reiterated the increased awareness of issues – social, political or economic by citizens. In expressing their angst, the beggars interestingly demonstrated enough awareness and threatened to sue the governor for defamation by allegedly linking them with the fatal Zaria bombing at a verification exercise in Sabon-gari local government secretariat! (The blasts actually premised the ban on street begging and hawking in the relatively peaceful state).
The claim of the protesting beggars, and by extension the hawkers, is also instructive to governments in the states that are facing similar social problem, which is that previous administrations have failed to provide them with alternative source(s) of livelihood. This, they threatened, can force them back on the streets in defiance of any ban. However, all citizens have no choice but to reason along with the government that its decision, as hard as it may seem, was purely for security reasons to ensure maximum protection of lives and property. Such is the reality of the security situation in the country generally. Really, no responsible leader would compromise their safety and security.
El-Rufai deserves commendation for taking the group’s message to prompt his reaction and promise of better life. This immediate problem-solving approach to issues is hereby commended to other governments at all levels, not only on begging but also other areas affecting the wellbeing of citizens.
The Kaduna governor is, however, advised to act speedily on the proposed centres. Residents must see value in the new government policy. Under the envisaged new life, every group or individual in the society must be factored in to become productive citizens through the proposed special welfare and rehabilitation centres or the skills acquisition centres. The government can, in the interim, work on existing social instruments and facilities to step up service delivery to the less privileged groups while perfecting its strategies on rehabilitation and skills acquisition.
One thing, however, must not be left out of the entire calculation: education. Provision of the centres is laudable but educating the citizens is the defining all-important step. An educated person will even be more amenable to learning at the skill centres irrespective of his or her physical challenge.
The Kaduna approach which is not to unleash pain and agony on an impoverished people but to make better citizens of them, is commendable. All other states should learn and follow the idea.