By Haruna Isa
Begging on the streets, in the urban centers is one of the age long activities and perhaps occupations of the highly vulnerable, poverty-ridden individuals in the society.
This is particularly not limited to the developing countries alone. As revealed in the studies of different scholars, begging is not peculiar to developing countries; it is a universal phenomenon and a global urban problem. While a considerable number of cities were identified in the US and Mexico as having a significant level of begging activity.
The situation in Nigerian cities as observed everyday is perhaps worse with different categories of beggars found at motor parks, religious centers, markets, road junctions, venues of ceremonies, among other public places begging for alms (Ojo, 2005).
Cities across the world are confronted with diverse and complex problems which have socio-economic and physical implications for cities’ dwellers.
These problems as experienced by cities of less developed countries are enormous and multidimensional in nature. One obvious manifestation of these problems, especially in Nigeria, is begging, that is the act of asking people for money, food, clothes, etc.
The problem of begging is a social menace which has a negative implication not only for cities’ economies, socio-physical environment but also for beggars themselves.
The increasing population of beggars in Nigerian cities constitute an eyesore or environmental nuisance and health hazards, particularly those carrying infectious and contagious diseases.
Begging has serious implication for the city and national economy as beggars are not economically productive in any way since they contribute nothing to the economy. It leads not only to social relegation of the city but also to that of beggars as well as stigmatization of the class of people and their relatives.
The problem has also arrested the attention of governments at various levels. The media is not left out in this war against this menace.
It is unfortunate, however, that despite the effort of scholars, governments, media and national and international organizations, the problem of begging continues unabated in Nigerian cities.
Although, the problem of begging is a worldwide phenomenon, it is more pronounced in the third world countries.
This is true of Nigeria where different categories of beggars are conspicuously found in motor parks, religious worship, markets, road junctions, venues of ceremonies among other public places begging for alms
These categories of beggars include the disabled, the poor, and the destitute and to a considerable extent the able-bodied, healthy and physically strong individuals who take the advantage of the sympathy of the society for them to remain jobless and at times perpetrate evils (like crime) in the name of begging in the street.
The issue is that those who engage in begging have one reason or the other to support their stand.
To the easily recognized beggars, however, the problem of socio-economic maladies and physical disability are often the claim as articulated or implied in their approach to begging. However, of all those identified factors, poverty and physical disability are most visible in Nigeria.
Therefore, in order to meet their basic needs, some of the poverty stricken people resort into begging as a major means of livelihood.
Also from empirical evidences, physically disabled beggars constitute the bulk of identified beggars in Nigeria however, it is imperative to state that the increasing incidence of beggars in Nigerian cities is not only due to poverty and physical disability but also to the fact that majority of the beggars are satisfied with the “job”.
Some have become very rich from begging, that they have acquired buses and houses, yet they always appear wretched so as to draw sympathy from the general public. The presence of fake beggars and begging criminals has not helped the situation and may be dangerous to the society.
Beggars constitute social threat to Nigerian society especially
in the cities. They portray a bad image to outsiders or strangers.Some criminals hide under the guise of begging to perpetrate their evil deeds.
They are at times used as instruments by mischief makers, who use them to vandalise public properties and utilities built with nation’s resources.
The nefarious activities of those fake beggars such as criminals, area boys and thugs constitute one of the sources of civil unrest to the city dwellers.
Begging also constitutes economic threat to the society as beggars are not economically productive in any way since they contribute nothing to national economy.
As a result of this lingering menace, the Senate proposed law to ban street begging. It has described street begging as a menace that is embarrassing the country.
It therefore began a move to enact a law that would make street begging illegal.
The lawmaker representing Bauchi-Central Senatorial District, Isah Misau, while moving a motion titled, ‘Menace of Street Begging and the Need to Rehabilitate Beggars,’ expressed concern over the spate of street begging and nuisance it constituted on the streets of city centres across the country.
He added that, though street begging is a global urban problem, the situation in Nigeria appears intractable and overwhelming, as beggars are now found everywhere, especially at motor parks, religious centres, road junctions, venue of ceremonies and other public places.
The Senate is further aware that unconfirmed reports have it that an average of 65 per cent of beggars from the northern part of the country flock into Lagos to beg every year, with the Federal Capital Territory battling similar statistics.
The Senate further expressed concern that some of the women who engage in street begging also reportedly practice prostitution on the side, thereby leading to unwanted pregnancies and the bearing of even more child street beggars, while some hoodlums even hide under the guise of begging to carry out evil/criminal deeds.
The population of beggars on our streets is growing exponentially. The menace of street begging as a potential threat to our very societal fabric is obvious.
Many social commentators have attributed this astronomical growth in street begging to poverty, real or imagined, in the North. Is it really as a result of poverty or due to the manipulation of sentiments by some vested interest groups? There was really no debate in the sense of an articulation and consideration of basic issues and dimensions of the matter.
Street begging in our society today is like cancer in the body. Either we sacrifice the attacked part and save the body or we allow it to invade and destroy the entire body. Street begging thrives because we, the government and the people, allow it to. We either summon enough courage or will to break its neck and finished it once and for all; or we allow it to remain a nuisance and an obnoxious part of our culture and tradition till the end of time.
As the matter of urgency, government at all levels should strengthen its social welfare programmes in such a way that it will be meaningful. This will stem the tide of situations whereby the physically challenged are forced into begging as the only means of survival.
Isa, is a-seasoned Journalist and Programmes’ Producer at SAWABA FM, Hadejia, Jigawa State. And can be reached at:firstname.lastname@example.org