El-Rufai and the Beggars’ Revolt

The no nonsense fire-eating governor of Kaduna State, Mallam Nasil E-Rufai has locked horns firmly with the “Beggars’ Empire” that has been striving militantly and vaingloriously in the old Northern Nigeria capital. The empire transcends times, tides, spaces and seasons. The begging hound is certainly older than El-Rufai’s hundreds of generations gone before.

Governor El-Rufai announced the banning of hawking and street begging following July 7 bomb blast at Sabon Gari Local Government Secretariat in the state that killed 25 people and left 32 others injured. A suspected female suicide bomber had sneaked into the secretariat and detonated an Improvised Explosive Device (IED) strapped to her body on that fateful Tuesday morning while civil servants were undergoing staff verification.

Therefore, El-Raufai intoned forthwith: “Kaduna State Government’s decision to ban hawking and begging in the state followed last week’s bomb attack that killed 26 innocent citizens and injured 32 persons. The government is a responsible government and conscious of its constitutional role to protect citizens and to ensure law and order for common good. The state government will not fold its arms and allowed citizens to be killed via terror act and break down of law and order hence the decision”.

The statement further warned all beggars and hawkers to stay off the streets until further notice, warning that any of them found on the streets would be arrested, until these measures are relaxed. In addition, the government reiterates that the ban on commercial motorcycles popularly known as ‘Achaba’ remains in force.

The hurried beggars rehabilitation centre put in place in Kakuri, a Kaduna suburb has not met the expectation of the begging clan, the beggars exclaim. The survey conducted by Street People Care Foundation, SPCF, based in Kaduna revealed astonishing numbers of the begging community and how much income they have been generating for themselves.

The former minister turned governor has intimidating task in his hands at the moment. As FCT minister he stoutly established modern Beggars’ Rehabilitation Centre that accommodated and trained 20,000 beggars in various trade and skill acquisition. This accounted for the enormous support his governorship bid garnered in the colony of beggars. But it’s a different kettle of fish now with an army of beggars numbering hundreds of thousands.

The foundation said “on the average, a beggar may earn between N200, N500 and even N2,000 a day depending on several factors. And if you aggregate that sum and share by their numbers, we concluded that the 9,000 beggars for instance may each earn N200 per day. That means that in Kaduna town alone, N1.8 million per day, or N54 million per month goes to beggars all from charity. The figure for a year would be N648 million. Now, if you do a rough estimate for the entire state, you may be looking at a few billions of Naira per year, just from begging”, the Director of ,SPCF, Kande Yusuf said.

As expected, the banning order was met with ferocious condemnation by the beggars’ colony. They alleged that they had used proceeds from begging to help join the movement that produced President Muhammadu Buhari and Governor El-Rufai and also pledged to bring down El-Rufai government if he insists on stopping their livelihood without providing them any alternative. They have addressed journalists countless times in Kaduna through the leadership of Kaduna State Beggars Association, and regretted that if they knew that El-Rufai would stop them from begging and would show no care about their plight, they would never have voted him into office.

The beggars’ spoekeman, Abdullahi Jugunu, a visually impaired person, who is said to live in a decent accommodation, owns a car and speaks good English, told journalists in Hausa that the governor had stepped beyond his bound. A visibly agonising Jugunu said: “Apart from feeling insulted, we will be seeking legal redress against the government, first for defamation of character .

“The ban which came only after the Zaria blast is a subtle way of calling us terrorists. Our right to life is now under threat because our existence is hinged on begging activities on the streets. “We are giving the authorities three days to rescind their decision or risk being victims of a spell we would cast on them through prayers. Our promise for now is that we will be returning to the streets for our normal business”, Jugunu boasted.

The revolting beggars have met their match in the granite will of former minister of Federal Capital Territory, FTC, who liberated Abuja from the ghetto mentality that travelled with it from the old capital territory, Lagos. For Governor El-Rufai, that menacing Abuja demolition episode will constitute a bulwark or albatross all through his political carrier. Those who love his gust and gaiety adore his steadfast commitment to composite development and, for those who hate him wail against his unbending zeal for strict adherence to the rules.

One cannot be certain that the Kaduna State Beggars Association, KSBA, had an insight into the ruthlessness with which El-Rufai brutally enforced the building regulation law that renders millions of illegal occupants homeless as minister of FTC. Otherwise what they call “inexplicable, irrational wickedness” would not have been a surprise to them. That is why they now see Governor El-Rufai as a wrecker of hopes on the eve of their salvation! What salvation? Propulsive change chanted by the APC!

Malam Yahaya Makaho, a visually-challenged person, who spoke on behalf the group, said: “I want to swear on my honour that I personally used my proceeds from begging to canvass for the support of El-Rufai. I used my money to mobilise for his support both on the streets and where I usually teach my students. And I am not alone in my group that made that sacrifice.

“We decided to support El-Rufai because we were tired of the then governor (Mukhtar Ramalan Yero), who did not show any regard to our survival. We worked hard, spent money and prayed and God heard our prayers and brought down Yero.

“Now, it would appear that we made a mistake. The new governor wants to bring us down. He does not want us to live. He has chased us out of the streets and has made no alternative arrangement for our survival. Look, some of us here have between three and four wives and many children. How can you lock such a man, who must resort to begging because he has found himself incapable of doing any other thing?

“We are asking the governor to rescind this decision now or find ways to meet our basic needs. If he refuses to heed to this demand, we shall make sure we bring down his government. We are not going to pray that he dies, even if he wishes us so. We are not going to say that he should be impeached because we voted him to power. What we will do is to hand him over to the Almighty God, and we know he will remove him the same way he removed the former person. We are servants of God, and he always hear our cry.”

The solution to the prevailing crisis of destitution may well have been a mixture of muddled concern for the beggars themselves, Governor El-arufai, the Nigeria state and the world at large. Here is the full horror of the situation! More than 90% of the 10.8 million Nigeria children of school age, susceptible to all kinds of social manipulation who are out of school according the UNESCO statistics, are those hawking and begging on the streets of Nigeria, especially the northern part where you can find a veritable army of genuine beggars.

The “Accidental Public Servant” who has showed leadership in the past graphically encapsulated the situation more adroitly: “From security reports, I have been told that terrorists use some of you, would give you a bag containing explosives with the reward of N5,000 to keep somewhere with the promise of giving you the balance when you return. But you never always return. Because they will detonate it on you and their targets.

Should they be left to be cast into dysfunctional mess? Governor El-Rufai should try as much as possible to create proper rehabilitation colony for the beggars who have simply become adrift or are institutionalised destitute as you have them in Indian and other destitute-ridden countries of the world. The rehabilitation will have to include training in specific trade in a period of three years term or thereabouts before ploughing them back into the society.

The “Sea of Darkness”, a poem by Rose Ann V. Shawiak mirrors these mendicants with their feeble minds who only know the immediate world of fit and sorrow around them in which they are constrained unto death. “All the sorrow of earth was felt here inside my heart, I could feel your pain, but do nothing to stop it – not even to save myself”. Will Governor Nasir El-Rufai save them?

Erasmus Ikhide, a Public Affairs analyst write in from Lagos, Nigeria.

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