‘Only death can take begging away from me’
Begging for alms has always been a big problem in Osun State. Our correspondent in Osogbo, ADEOLU ADEYEMO, reports on why some people take to this act despite the dangers inherent in it
Even before recession, they were always on the streets, road junctions, motor parks, private and public office premises and food joints among other places. Many of the destitute besiege virtually all public places to beg for food and money.
Some of them take clothes if they are offered while some will decline such gifts. With the current economic situation, beggars have not only increased in number, they have also devised various means of getting help from people.
In Osun State where it has become impossible for government in the last two years or so to pay regular and complete salary, begging has taken another dimension as beggars have become more sophisticated. The conventional or those some will refer to as “professional” beggars are persons that suffer from one form of disability or the other.
These group may include those that are blind, dump and deaf or people without arms or legs. The appearance will tell the potential donor to consider their condition and part with something no matter how small. Often times, one can tell how needy these people are looking at their not-well-kept body and dresses.
Some beg with style by singing prayer-laden songs either as an individual or in a group. Many of the people in this group are of northern extraction with the majority moving about with a helper, their relatives or children; or hired for the service to be paid at the end of the day job. The commonest disability noticeable in this category is blindness.
In Osogbo, the state capital, the majority of these people live in Sabo area from where they take off daily and trek around the town. In the evening, however, they are always at the bus stop to take taxi or motorcycle home.
Those who move about, do so with the aid of either hired adults or children. These children are of school age but could not pursue their education or any meaningful engagement that can guarantee their future.
At times, these underage kids may need to leave those they are piloting to cross busy roads to go and take a donation of money that could be as low as N5, not minding the attendant risks.
Some of these people who do not move about have also chosen to stay together on a particular road junction where they think potential donors can attend to them.
Their choice of where to stay appears to be informed by a number of factors, including the need for such areas to be generating crowd such as road intersections, markets and places of worship, especially mosques.
However, the presence of these people in their chosen areas has been a sort of concern due to the associated problems with their choices. Aside the burden of slowing down the traffic and generating refuse in these areas, they also expose themselves to hazards of traffic accidents.
For instance, in Ikirun, one of the zonal headquarters in the state, a vehicle once lost control and crashed into the tens of beggars who lined up the street at Oja-Oba area of the town, killing and injuring many of them.
As expected, the state government, in its usual fire brigade approach, ordered that beggars to be evacuated from the place. Various authorities were also instructed to ensure they do not return to the area. However, within a few months, they were back and are still there till date.
In Osogbo, many areas are occupied by the destitute. The most notorious of these is Baba Onisekere area of Ayetoro/Sabo junction where beggars resume duty as early as 6.30a.m. and may be there till late in the night. As in normal business, they compete for the attention of the passers-by, using various means including singing and praying.
At times, they also fight one another over what a donor gives especially if the giver does not make clarifications among the beneficiaries.
In Ede, another zonal headquarters in the state, beggars also occupy the old and new bridges at Oke-gada area of the town, soliciting assistance with all the attendant risks. The story is not different in Iwo, Ile-Ife and Ilesa, especially around market areas in these major towns.
Apart from those that have seeming permanent areas where they operate, others, particularly the lame who ride on improvised skates made of planks are always on the road.
They are so dangerous that drivers may not notice them. At times, they hold on to any part of the moving vehicle to pull them on their skates!
Forms of begging
As the government is finding it difficult to pay its workers, a new set of beggars is being created. It is now common in the state to see well-dressed individuals, especially women and their children, approach you for assistance especially if you are standing by a vehicle even if it does not belong to you. Stories of how they have not been paid in the last several months ago and the need to take care of the children are always rendered. Some women usually tell their expected helper to do whatever he wants with them. This category of people is always at a disadvantage position as it could be very difficult to willingly offer an assistance considered “ridiculous”. Or how do you give N10 to a well-dressed civil servant with kids?
Why they are adamant
One may wonder why the beggars are refusing to vacate these areas already identified even when there were incidents that had led to the loss of lives in the past.
New Telegraph investigations revealed that one of the major reasons is the fact that some people have known these areas as the sure place to meet beggars to offer them assistance. In most cases, these donors are not really voluntary givers but are compelled by some spiritual reasons to give out either money or some valuables for certain problems to be solved. It is a common scene to see people giving out money, clothes, life chicken and other items out to these people. Many of the donors come in big cars either very early in the morning or late at night as they may not want to be seen giving out such “odd” things like life local chicken, goat or expensive clothes. The usual givers normally part with paltry sums ranging from N5 to a maximum of between N100 and N200, which is rare. The commonest denominations are from N5 to N20. It is understandable then to see these beggars coming out so early to be part of such special donations.
One of the beggars, who identified himself as Mallam Musa Ibraheem, told our correspondent that he had been in the act for the past 25 years and he had tied his destiny to it.
He said: “No one on earth can stop me from begging. I am in it. I love it. I earn my living there and I take adequate care of my family members through begging.
“I am a Hausa person who has not gone to any school but prosper in begging. Begging is my school; it is my life and that is my hope and everything in this world. It is only death that can take begging away from me, especially in this economic recession.”
All efforts to take his photographs were rebuffed as he went wild.
Also, another beggar, who identified himself as Ademola Adeseun, said he engaged in begging when he suddenly lost his sight while living in the North.
On this ill-fated day, he recalled that there was a wild windstorm which affected his two eyes while sitting down in front of his house in Kano. That was in 2013.
Adeseun, however, said it was the situation which brought him down to Ilesha, his home town, where he opted for begging to be able to keep soul and body together and at the same time take care of his immediate family members.
It was, however, learnt that even when the state government wanted to rid the streets of beggars, no provisions were made to feed and house them. At a time, the Lagos State government decided to send beggars to their states of origin and Osun received its own share with many of them finding their ways back to the streets.
The question is when will Osun State government see to the issue of beggars on the streets? Many of these people could even be trained to pick some skills and be useful not only to themselves but to the society at large.
On the effort of the state government to take care of the environment and the destitute, Hon. Sunday Akere, the immediate past Commissioner for Information and Strategy to Governor Rauf Aregbesola, said the present administration had relocated some of the destitute and linked them up with their family members after thorough investigations about them.
Akere added that government had equally engaged some of them by providing them with good jobs and accommodation after rehabilitated them at the government’s rehabilitation centres.
At the centres, he explained that they were exposed to reality of life after their lives had been transformed and re-modelled.
Akere said that preparations were made to help them live a fulfilled life and become good products of the society.
The former commissioner, who said that some of these beggars also had been rehabilitated, gave assurance that soon, begging would be a thing of the past.
As residents and visitors to the state await a policy direction that will lead to clean and safe environment for all, they will have to keep their fingers crossed for now.
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