GBENGA ODUNSI went around the Capital City to spotlight the activities of hawkers and beggars and how corrupt officials are exploiting the situation in less than moral ways.
Many petty street traders and beggars have continued to invade major bus stops, interjections, road corridors and pedestrian bridges or over-head bridges located within the heart of Abuja, the Federal Capital Territory (FCT).
Residents of Abuja have raised alarm over the influx of beggars and hawkers into the Federal Capital Territory. They expressed concern that the influx of beggars and hawkers into Nigeria’s capital could be a security threat if not checked.
According to reports, several attempts at enforcing the ban on street hawking and begging within the federal capital seemed not to be yielding the desired result, as it is not uncommon to be accosted by many street traders and beggars roaming the city, investigations revealed.
Though the Abuja Environmental Protection Board (AEPB) is saddled with the responsibility of getting rid of hawkers, beggars and lunatics in the city, it is safe to say the board has gone to sleep.
“Hawking and begging for alms on major streets in Abuja is now a regular sight. Far from the intention of the city’s master-plan, hawking is carried out in places where it has earlier been prohibited,” an angry resident says.
Investigation further reveals that the old parade ground in Garki Area 10, Banex junction, Lugbe Federal Housing, War College, Area 1, Area 3 axis of the city centre, boast growing population of hawkers taking over the city.
The AEPB in collaboration with the security agencies carried out major raids on some street hawkers operating around Banex Plaza and some streets in Wuse 2, as well as other environs of Abuja.
The exercise, which was part of the Board’s monthly sanitation programme, initiated as part of its efforts towards promoting a sustainable environment and city management, specifically targeted at ridding the FCT of illegal traders and food vendors operating in restricted areas in the city.
To escape arrest by the AEBP task force, many of the petty street traders took to their heels as if it was a rat race competition they were involved in. While some abandoned their wares and ran, wishing they had wings to fly, a few looked for places to hide their wares before running for cover.
However, to hawkers like Abdullahi who came from Kogi state, hawking became the last resort after he came to Abuja where he thought connections and opportunities abound. He said that hawking at night is safer than in the day.
Another hawker who does not want his name in print said he came to Abuja, because of the hardship he was passing through in his state, feeding his wife and children was a tug of war. He however noted that the only problem in achieving his plan is the AEPB task force who are very brutal when discharging their duties.
Another hawker, Nabilah, selling donut and eggroll along the street of Area 11, who expressed her anger and frustration over her predicament, decried that the constant pressures being exerted on her and others by the Board is too much to bear, as they keep recording huge loss in their business.
“Environmental people usually mount pressure on us, as if people working in the organisation don’t have human sympathy for the poor, just trying to cater for themselves.
“They are very wicked, as they destroy people’s items that some of them bought on credit; so, when we see the task force na so I run; but what do they want us to do when we have to eat,” she said.
Taking time to interview some beggars in the FCT, findings revealed that begging for alms is the main source of livelihood for most of the beggars. Some beggars hibernate under the pretense of economic hardship, while some simply see it as a way of life.
Both local and corporate beggars exist in the FCT. Corporate beggars are unemployed graduates who came to Abuja to find their feet, but are yet to gain any meaningful employment. These set of people resort to begging to keep body and soul together. They can be easily spotted carrying transparent file, and wearing suit and tie.
According to a local beggar, who gave his name as Ibrahim, he left his home state of Katsina seven years ago, to Abuja to beg as source of income when he could not lay hands on any profitable business to sustain him and his family of two wives and nine children.
Another beggar said he was invited by his friend who had been in the business for a while to come over and stop suffering working on the farms.
More Petty traders narrate their experiences, this time horrific
Gbenga, in a chat with some hawkers who sell fruits along federal secretariat said they are being ‘harassed’ daily by the authorities.
One of them identified as Gloria, who is a widow, while explaining in tears said that the operation of the AEPB officials is really affecting her business which is the only source of her livelihood.
“The government is not pitying us and we are the ones that voted them in. I am a widow and this is the only thing I am using to send my children to school and to feed them. My first son is a graduate but he has never gotten a job all because of this bad economy that we are facing.
“This people (AEPB) are really disturbing us, if I use all the money I make in a day to bribe, what will I use to continue the business. Government should please have mercy on us. This suffering is too much.”
Also, Rose who seems to be educated complained: “How do they want us to quit our source of livelihood when they haven’t provided alternatives for us?
“The government is insensitive and officials of AEPB have continued to add to the pain; they extort from us, seize our wares when we fail to pay them and most times physically harass us. You can imagine me running with my tray of banana every now and then.”
The story is not also different with the experience of Audu a teenager who hawks along Asokoro.
He told the journalist in pidgin English that AEBP officials who claim to be Abuja task force come with their vehicle and men almost 3 to 5 times daily to extort them.
Audu who sells children toys explained that he was almost knocked down by a moving car while being chased by AEPB officials.
When contacted, the AEPB management, the spokesperson Muktar Ibrahim in an exclusive interview said that hawkers giving bribes to any person claiming to be an official of the agency to evade justice is also crime but he noted that this does not legitimise hawking in Abuja as it is still illegal.
Muktar noted that the agency ‘frowns’ against any illegal act by any official that can tarnish the image of the organisation.
“This people that made the allegation they are not denying the fact that they have committed an offence because as everybody knows hawking on the street of Abuja is not permitted. So, we are all under the law but whoever gives and he who takes bribe have committed offences.
The traders and the person they gave the money to, they have all broken the law and they should be made to face the full wrath of the law.
”Haven said that, the people that have come to complain, they don’t have any moral right to make this complaint because they are partners with the ‘criminals’ that take money from them. Abuja Environmental Protection Board does not condole criminalities. We do not send out criminals to the street to extort money from whoever.
”But as we have in the world, there will always be bad eggs. If the claims by the traders are truthful, it will represent the act of the bad eggs which we have in Abuja Environmental Protection Board agency. If we can unmask them as we have done in some occasions, we will make them to face the full wrath of law after kicking them out from the organization.
”Everybody needs to be aware of the activities of imposters, we have imposters that act as members of AEPB and that is why I advise the public that there if there is doubt about the conduct of any person who claims to be a staff of AEPB, they should call our numbers and complain. we will not protect any bribe taker…”
How to rid the city of the menace?
A public affairs analyst, Muftau Salihu has this advice to the authorities on how to curb the menace
“AEBP not only needs to double its raids on the perpetrators, but to equally adopt new measures, to achieve the desired goal. Since the hawkers are adamant to leave the streets, the raiding should be more often, more anti-hawking posters should be placed along the streets, boldly in the three major languages in Nigeria. This would enable the beggars and hawkers to understand the message very clearly, which before now, they seemed not to be doing.
“In addition, trade unions in the FCT should have a workshop for the hawkers telling them the dangers that comes with street hawking, as this will go way to reduce the menace. Beggars should be given vocational skills, and thereafter equipped and made to return to their various states.”