The Ugly Spectacle of Street Begging
There is moral justification on the part of the British for making begging a criminal offence. The state provides for the well-being of its citizens, especially the very vulnerable ones. The relatively few beggars in British society could be alcoholics or drug addicts, who are perpetually begging or stealing in order to feed their anti-social habits.
On the contrary, in Nigeria, government at the local, state and federal levels lacks the moral justification to reproach begging in the streets. There are very many vulnerable Nigerians, including the physically challenged and extremely poor, who are abandoned to fend for themselves.
Street begging constitutes an irritating and frightening public nuisance. Sadly, Nigerians have sustained this nuisance with philanthropic ostentation or pretensions, as well as religious justification. However, it is a welcome development that some state governments, even in the most affected region of the North, have decided to ban begging in the streets. Kano State is the latest in this regard. Those who value public decency will applaud their decision.
From my part of Nigeria, isolated cases of begging were once associated with poor parents who had given birth to twins. They begged for money in order to provide for their families: “Taiyelolu says I should greet all of you and I shall greet all of you one after the other.” Even then, most of those in this category of beggars came from distant communities and they were resented by many. Most women would pray never to give birth to a set of twins, even if it was one gift of God that would reduce them to dancing and begging for money in the streets.
Unlike my part of Nigeria, public begging was more or less a culture elsewhere. There was religious justification for its acceptance. My first appreciation of how irritating public begging could be came sometime in 1966 when I was driving through the city of Ilorin with my uncle, Prof Akinola Agboola. We were besieged by a horde of beggars. One had never seen anything of such before, but my uncle warned me it could be a lot worse in some other cities across the country.
Banning street begging cannot be a cosmetic affair. Those who want street begging to be banned must not deny that a serious sociological problem exists. The unfortunate ones in our midst must be helped by the rest of society to live independent lives. Beggars who have no families must be accommodated in hostels or homes. A special ministry of social welfare will have to train personnel who will care for their needs.
In most of the Western world today, tertiary institutions train those who are interested in social work. The job market welcomes and rewards adequately those who have acquired professional skills in handling cases of disability, be it mental or physical. Even those, who are less equipped for the rigour of university education, train as care assistants and work in numerous homes. There is hardly any limit to the future of vocational education in any expanding society.
While begging is prohibited, there should be a new approach to alms giving in our society. Those who genuinely seek to support vulnerable Nigerians should constitute themselves into charitable organisations for the causes they are concerned about. Nigerians have generous hearts and they would enthusiastically support the unfortunate ones among them, if
convinced they are not being defrauded by some unpatriotic individuals.
Not just a few otherwise beggars can be trained and equipped to live independent lives with the support of governments. The fact that one is disabled should not mean that one has become useless to himself and society. There are many blind men and women who lecture in universities elsewhere or hold sensitive positions in government.
Please, if you venture into the United Kingdom and you see a physically challenged person doing his or her shopping, do not pitifully ask to help with the basket. Your intrusion will not be welcome. The disabled person demands to be respected just like any other human being, not pitied or discriminated against.
To care for society, our political leaders must get their priorities right. They must fight corruption and reduce waste. They must provide education and jobs for their citizens. There will be no justification for governments to engage in sponsoring religious pilgrimages, while vulnerable Nigerians die of hunger and disease.
It might have been something to be proud of in the past, the truth of the matter is that it is no longer economically advisable for our men to accumulate wives and father children they cannot provide for. They should stop breeding potential beggars and criminals. The recently deposed Emir of Kano, Muhammadu Sanusi 11, is renowned to have preached this loudly to his brethren in the North and that is the honest truth.