These are, definitely, not good times for beggars in the Federal Capital Territory (FCT). This is because the beggars, mostly referred to as environmental nuisance by authorities in the territory, are facing serious clamp-down by the FCT administration, while also bearing the brunt of the current economic recession.
Previous administrations in Abuja, no doubt, had running battles with the beggars. The beggars were then arrested and repatriated but they kept returning.
The past administrations, it seemed, faced frustration in handling of the beggars. Part of the complaints by authorities then had to do with what they described as obsolete laws which they said did not serve as useful tools to end the menace.
However, checks revealed that twin factors of strict crack-down by the present administration as well as the current economic recession now hit the beggars in Abuja below the belt. The beggars have even confessed that it was a hard time for them.
To achieve the desired result this time, Minister of the FCT, Musa Bello, undertook far-reaching re-organisation of the Abuja Environmental Protection Board (AEPB) by changing its leadership. In fact, he also ordered all desk heads to hand over to their immediate subordinates after expressing disappointment with the failure of the board in delivering on key mandates. The step was outside the setting up of an FCT Special Task Team on Abuja Environmental Protection headed by Squadron Leader, Abdullahi Adamu Monjel (rtd.)
Few weeks after it was set-up, the AEPB and the task team broke a syndicate of suspected suppliers of beggars to strategic locations in Abuja. Monjel revealed that the feat was achieved following an intelligence report.
The leader of the suspected syndicate, Baba Gwarma from Kaduna State, was said to have lived in Karma-Jiji, a suburb of Abuja. Three personal vehicles were used for movement of the beggars in and around Abuja as well as neighboring states of Nasarawa, Niger and Kaduna. Gwarma was also said to have rented apartments which provided shelter for the beggars of the syndicate in the Karma-Jiji.
Perhaps unlike before, the FCT Social Development Secretariat is currently under instruction to ensure that all beggars arrested now are captured in the database for easy reference. The AEPB and the task team were equally directed to ensure that the beggars, together with other destitute, were registered after their arrests before being taken to the Kuchiko Vocational and Rehabilitation Centre in Bwari Area Council.
The Centre was directed to commence the process of repatriating the beggars to their various states of origin in line with the extant rules where social welfare officials in the receiving states are to receive them officially.
Principal of the centre, Bala Tsoho, confirmed that over 145 new beggars and destitute were recently brought there. He also said that the welfare of the inmates especially their feeding had drastically improved.
Abuja Xtra spoke with some of the beggars through an interpreter. During the interrogation, some of them complained that sympathy by the public to their condition had significantly reduced.
One of the beggars in Kubwa, who simply gave his name as Baba, told Abuja Xtra that most people stopped giving him alms in recent times. He said that he and his four other colleagues made nothing on many occasions, but said he did not understand what Abuja Xtra meant by recession when asked if the current economic recession was responsible.
Also at Wuse Zone 5, another beggar, who gave his name as Musa, said he came from Niger State and made only N50 that day. He said that he had started feeling discouraged to ask for money again from people as they had stopped giving him.
Meanwhile, it appeared some forces sympathetic to the beggars had started fighting against the battle to rid the territory of beggars. Only recently, some criminal gangs invaded the vocational and rehabilitation centre at Kuchiko to rescue some of the inmates at the centre.
687 beggars/destitute arrested over various offences were said to be at the centre as at the time of the invasion. It was not immediately known if the inmates were freed by the gang or not during the incident.
Deputy Director at FCT administration in charge of information, Hazat Sule, however, told Abuja Xtra that the minister, Bello, had been briefed on the development and had vowed that the administration would continue to collaborate with the security agencies to ensure that the ban against begging in the territory was made effective.