Menace of street beggars and questions begging for answers
Despite sustained efforts by the previous and current Lagos State administrations to discourage and rid the state of the increasing number of beggars on the streets, the situation appears irredeemable. When sometimes out of frustration, the state government goes tough on them, the mendicants disappear for a while, only to return in even larger number, as soon as they notice that the heat has been relaxed.
Aside the fact that they seem to operate in every nook and cranny of the metropolis, many of them also harass residents in the process of begging for alms, which some Lagosians are not finding funny.
So, the question on the lips of many Lagosians is: How do these beggars, who are mostly deformed or blind get transported to the various locations they stay to do their daily business?
It has been observed that the beggars, in a well-coordinated manner, always arrive at designated locations as early as possible and then leave almost at the same time in the evening. Many are, therefore, wondering where they come from, and whether some organisation is behind their activities, as how they transport themselves to those spots remains a mystery.
Similarly, some Lagosians are wondering where the beggars retire after the day’s business. Everything seems too organised to be a coincidence. For instance, whenever there is a crisis, they hardly or don’t venture to turn up at their ‘business centres’. So, some discerning Lagosians are wondering what this is all about.
Some residents are equally bothered that not much is being done again to get the beggars off the streets.The Guardian observed that majority of the vagrants is married with kids. And some of these children are unleashed on the society once they become adolescents, with apparently no tangible means of livelihood.
Some of the popular spots, where the beggars, who some sources say are mostly from the North and Niger Republic, usually assemble include Ikorodu Roundabout, Railway road, Agege and Iyana Ipaja, opposite Ikotun Igando BRT Bus Stop.
As early as 5a.m., the male and female beggars, alongside their children, are already gathered to beg for alms from commuters rushing to their various places of work.
While some of the beggars are nursing mothers, others have adolescent children whom they usually force to run after passersby to solicit for alms. Some of them, from how they operate, look like professional beggars that have been in the business for decades.
Frequently, the younger ones among them meander between vehicles whenever there is traffic jam, knocking on car windscreen or stretching their hands inside commercial vehicles to beg for money.
Aside the nuisance they constitute to passersby, as many find the touching and pulling irritating, the beggars are also compounding the task of sweepers working for the Lagos Waste Management Authority (LAWMA). Some of them bathe their babies and urinate on the spots they occupy. Where they go to defecate, when nature calls is left to the imagination. The waste they generate is quite significant, as they throw the paper, wraps and containers they use for food carelessly on the ground around them.
The Guardian gathered that there have been instances, when they nearly had clashes with the street sweepers. When this correspondent visited Ikorodu penultimate Thursday, a commercial driver, Kadiri Idris, who plies Abeokuta and Ikorodu route, said the beggars at Ikorodu Bus Stop have appropriated the spot they usually occupy as their own, and they will not allow any other person to make use of the place.
He said: “These beggars have been staying here for decades, and I can tell you that some of the children they born are now grown ups. I doubt if there is any accurate census of them in Lagos.
“They are so well organised and spread from here to Shagamu, Abeokuta and even Ibadan. It is like an organised business, and it is time Lagos government investigated what’s going on.
“Majority of the adolescent children are also becoming a threat to the society, as they were not given formal education or acquire any form of skill. This is part of the security challenges confronting Lagos, and it will not be an exaggeration to say they also gather information about the locations they stay and divulge such, when necessary.”
At Ketu Bus Stop, the beggars assemble and settle comfortably on the median right from Mile 12 end of the Ketu-Mile 12-Ikorodu Road to Ojota.
Sometimes when they notice that the vehicles of Lagos State Task Force are approaching, they quickly run inside the market to hide at a particular spot in Mike 12 Market on Alapere side of the road. From observation, there must be a particular place the beggars stay either close to the market or inside the market.
A trader, who craved anonymity, said there are indeed many of them living inside the market, as there are many Hausa and foreigners who regularly come to do business in the place. And once they speak the same language, they are ready to protect themselves.
Some concerned Lagosians, who are also observant of happenings in Alaba Rago, LASU/Iyana Iba axis, located on the Mile 2 – Badagry Expressway, as well as Lekki Expressway by Jakande Junction, said the beggars, mostly women and children, have big-time sponsors who bring them in an open-four wheel vehicles, around 5am, before driving off to go and prepare food for them.
Later, around mid-day, the same sponsors would return, park their vehicles somewhere and news would soon go round that it is time for breakfast or lunch and you would see the beggars rushing to go and collect their rations.
One of the reasons many Lagosians are not using the pedestrian bridges at Mile 12, Ketu and Ojota is because they are occupied not only by traders, but also beggars and hoodlums, who have turned the bridges into their homes.
Last week, when this correspondent took the Ketu Pedestrian Bridge, there were wild-looking beggars and hoodlums, with some of them looking very ill. They are permanently there, and it would be foolhardy for anyone to take the bridge when it is dark.
Some traders around the area said although no report of robbery had been recorded at this particular bridge, it is still not advisable to use it at night.
At Ketu, there is a particular beggar that has swollen legs. His loads are carefully arranged on one side of the bridge, together with a tattered mattress and small cooking stove he uses to prepare his food. This is his permanent home, at least for now. The Ketu Pedestrian Bridge is right in front of Ketu Police Station.
It is the same story at the Berger area of Ojodu, where some beggars are plying their trade without any hindrance. The Agege area is worse. Before the construction of the new railway line, the town was perhaps the headquarters of beggars. But since the railing was completed, it was reliably gathered that the beggars have dispersed into other strategic places.
For instance, there are some undeveloped property in Magodo, Omole Phase 2, Ikeja GRA and even Lekki, Obalende, Kara along Lagos Ibadan Expressway and other highbrow places, where the beggars allegedly retire on daily basis. A respondent alleged that the Nigerian Railway compound in Ebute Metta is one of the biggest centres for these destitute.
One of the things that seemingly encourage the beggars is the fact that some religions bodies, both Christian and Muslim, often take food and other gift items to the destitute.
A prophet that does not want his name mentioned, said: “It is now common practice for some people looking for spiritual breakthrough in whatever forms to carry sacrifices of all manner of offerings to these beggars in their various locations, as a form of sacrificial offerings. This is done with the aim of warding off spiritual problems the givers are experiencing. In Yoruba parlance, this is called ‘sara’ meaning sacrificial food to appease the spirits.”
Indeed, such practices are quite common in Ikorodu, where various people bring food to the beggars almost on daily basis. Often, these people bring the food in expensive vehicles.
Beyond Lagos metropolis, neighbouring community in Ogijo, Ogun State also habours these destitute. There is also a colony of beggars occupying a particular portion of Ogijo Bus Stop.
But as some respondents rightly pointed out, the problem is not limited to only Lagos. The situation is the same in Ibadan, Abeokuta and other parts of Southwest states.
To address the problem, the Commissioner for Information and Strategy, Gbenga Omotoso; the Commissioner for Youth And Social Development, Olusegun Dawodu and the Commissioner of Police, Lagos State, Hakeem Odumosu recently said the Babajide Sanwo-Olu administration is moving to end street begging and hawking.
They stated that investigation had revealed that beggars and hawkers (children and adults) are transported regularly to Lagos from other parts of the country.
They disclosed that a special team had been set up to stop street begging and hawking in the state. Dawodu said the special team was set up by the Ministry of Youth and Social Development, in conjunction with the Police Command to curb the menace.
“The special team will tackle the menace frontally and will soon commence operation,” he said. The move comes days after the police raised an alarm over the menace of robbers who disguise as beggars to attack Lagosians.
The commissioner said the task of the team was not only to sanitise the society, but to also restore the dignity of hawkers and beggars.
Dawodu said beggars on the streets and roads constitute considerable nuisance to law-abiding citizens, who are entitled to go about their businesses without any fear or hindrance.
According to him, street begging is a social vice that the government cannot afford to watch attain uncontrollable level, so as not to affect the good plans and programmes to transform the state.
He said: “The road to our desired destination of ‘A Greater Lagos’ has, among other man-made obstacles – ‘street begging.’ Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu will not fold his arms and watch the state become a haven for beggars.
This has become big business to some groups of people.
“Our investigation revealed that beggars and hawkers (children and adults) are transported regularly from other parts of the country to Lagos.
“This is with the sole aim of doing this odious ‘business’ that demeans humanity and abuses innocence in the case of children, who are being pushed into this degrading trade,” said the commissioner.
According to him, these people have turned alms begging and hawking into a huge business by collecting returns from beggars and hawkers, who incidentally, sleep under the bridges, motor parks and uncompleted buildings.
He said intelligence reports also revealed that some beggars went about with dangerous weapons, assaulting and robbing innocent residents.
“In embarking on this enforcement, we will also deploy a lot of human and material resources towards enlightenment and sensitisation via different media platforms,” he explained.
But this is not actually the first time Lagos State government would come out to make policy statement on getting rid of beggars on the streets. But the only serious attempt so far was when former Governor Babatunde Fashola evacuated the colony of beggars back to Kano State, which used to be their headquarters then.
Lagosians are still waiting to see when the Sanwo-Olu administration will turn his words into action and get rid of this social menace.