The Far North and the Begging Syndrome


Dahiru Maishanu


I have recently received numerous responses for raising the issue of the serious problems of street begging by indigenes of the states of the far north in general and those of Sokoto state in particular. In one of such responses, one writer with a multiplicity of names and a borrowed genealogy that go by Usman S. Abubakar Torankawa Yabo tried to castigate me for daring to bring this issue to the public domain. Yabo said the issue of almajirinci was not new in the far north as it predates the Nigerian state itself.
While not arguing with Yabo over the existence of the Islamic system of education before the birth of Nigeria, I still think the issues I raised in my write-ups concerning street begging by our indigenes need to be more closely examined.
Obviously, Yabo or his sponsors were furious at me for saying that out of every five beggars on the streets of our cities in Nigeria, one is from Sokoto State. Although Yabo did not debunk the arithmetic, he wrote that the issue was not new and I had no right to blame the Bafarawa administration and by extension the leadership of the Far North for not doing anything about this social, cantankerous malaise.
He further refused to divulge to the reading public what the administration has done to arrest the problem as he didn’t see it to be a problem in the first place. His only point was that the state administration had tried to reform the traditional Islamic educational system, which if true, is commendable but still does not answer my questions on street begging        
The point here is, either Yabo’s knowledge of the issue is too shallow and therefore dangerous, or he is deliberately trying to take the reader for granted, as has been the standard practice of his sponsors. For Yabo to say that there is no problem of begging by indigenes of the far north, he must have mistaken his target audience for his paymasters who often want to hear only ‘sweet’ things rather than the members of the public who read his piece.
For avoidance of doubt, this piece is not written to take issues with Yabo who as far as I’m concerned, is a virtual creation doing the bidding of a few overzealous officials whom I have recently learnt may not even be acting with the consent of the Governor himself. On the contrary, this piece is to dwell on the begging syndrome that seems to envelop both able bodied as in the case of Yabo and more especially the physically disabled from the far north
The issue of Almajirinci, which Yabo referred to in his article, is a practice where young, able-bodied schoolboys are sent to different Islamic teachers (malIams) throughout the caliphate in order to learn Islamic and Arabic education. While they are at school, the boys are sent in the evenings to the doorsteps of their host communities to solicit for food and go back to their various schools at the end of the day. This is the simple Almajirinci that we used to know not only in Sokoto but also in the whole of the far north.
The begging syndrome, which I referred to in my article, is not that of young school boys going in the evenings to get their plates of food filled just for that evening and retire peacefully to their abodes. The type of begging I meant was one by adult destitutes from the state on the streets of all major towns and cities in the federation. Mr. Yabo cannot tell the nation that these beggars don’t exist in Lagos, Kano, Kaduna, Abuja, Benin and Port Harcourt to mention just a few.
These beggars are seen everywhere roaming the streets from morning to evening, dragging along their young, vulnerable children disturbing vehicular movements and traffic. From their physical attributes and their accent, one doesn’t need any body to tell him that these beggars are not only northerners, but are obviously from the far north. If Yabo has ever been to Lagos, he would not have so flagrantly written that there are no beggars from the state. This would amount to playing with the intelligence of the reading public.
These beggars have various degrees of ailment and deformity that must have arisen from simple, preventable childhood diseases that the governments of the affected states including the one Yabo is fronting for could have prevented by simple immunisation and control. Some of them are not afflicted with any obvious ailment or deformity apart from their pauperised looks as a result of hunger and dirt. Some of the women are looking healthy, but use their children as front to solicit for money.
While many people from the south think of these beggars as simply from the north, we from the north, perhaps with the exception of Yabo and his sponsors know fully that these destitutes are by and large from the so called ‘core’ northern states populated by the Hausa/Fulanis. It is also an obvious fact that these beggars are mostly affected by preventable childhood diseases such as polio.
It is easy for government officials to pretend that these problems don’t exist, but to some of us who live in Lagos and other southern cities, there is simply no hiding place. We are daily being branded as children of beggars, cripples, blind men and lepers.
The question here is, are we, the so-called Hausa-Fulani inherently lazy or more prone to these childhood diseases than the other tribes both in the north and in the country in general? Are we so desperately poor that we have to travel to Lagos, Benin and Port Harcourt to ply this inexplicable and shameful trade of begging on the streets? Or are there fundamental issues that need to be addressed in order to tackle this issue. If this is the case, are the governments concerned doing anything to address the issue?
Obviously, the Hausa-Fulanis are by any measure not lazy people and are not gullible to diseases than any other group of tribes in the country. They are similarly not desperately and helplessly poor that they resort to taking to begging as a sort of a profession. If there is any part of this country that can be called the food basket of the nation, the far-north undoubtedly qualifies to be that basket.  This is because they can conveniently feed the whole nation with their agricultural, dairy, meat and poultry products.
But the problem is far beyond being lazy or disease prone. The problem has fundamental undertones which whether the likes of Yabo like it or not have to be brought to the fore. If governments of the states in question as far as from the military era to the present have addressed issues of poverty alleviation juxtaposed with job creation, jobs would have been created for the masses to avoid finding ourselves in this embarrassing situation.
If the people have been properly educated about the benefits of having their children and wards immunized, there would have been less number of beggars from our states. If the people are given quality education, the society would raise and manage better leaders who would see the menace these social problems bring to us as a people and evolve ways of solving them.
The other issue is that of immunisation of children against preventable diseases which require not only the vaccines but also massive awareness campaigns to sensitise and educate the people to the benefit of this simple procedure. Even though this wanton neglect started from the military era, the present administration could have remedied the problem instead of sponsoring faceless people like Yabo at the expense of our meagre resources
Another issue is that of rehabilitation of these destitutes. A single visit to Borno way, Lagos, slum of these beggars will make any reasonable person filled with shame and pity for these destitutes. The condition of living in that slum is unimaginable. Men, women and children are crammed upon each other in this foul smelling squalor that is worse than any ghetto in the country.
Crime is also breeding in all slums inhabited by these beggars. Young children born in these slums are growing into irresponsible adults engaged in drugs and prostitution. Physical and Sexual abuse including incest have become the order of the night.
The question of education for these children does not even arise for that has no meaning to them. For these children, nothing matters to them apart from the daily struggle for survival in the harsh realities of life they found themselves. The street is their home, school and office; they live and die by the street. Such is the unfortunate situation this seemingly simple situation has turned into. This is inviting our leaders from Kebbi to Kano to pay these destitutes a visit to see the situation for themselves
The other group of beggars which Yabo himself qualifies to be amongst is the group which consciously parades itself as the vanguard of the ruling class in writing uncharitable articles for them for a fee and attendant favours.  This group has recently multiplied in number as the people have started taking their destinies in their own hands and demanding for their rights from the present façade of leaders.
These people are usually fed with all sorts of stories by the leaders and given the mandate to write to attack citizens of the state who dare to speak the truth on the activities of government.  They, in turn, turn to personal abuse, family intimidation and fabrication of false stories in order to tarnish the image of those they are hired to attack.
Unfortunately for these writers and their sponsors, the reading public is more sophisticated than they are thinking and could fathom the truth from falsehood. Readers know that there is a problem of beggars in the society. They equally know that the origin and preponderance of these beggars is not only from the north, but also from the far north with Sokoto taking the lion share. The government of Sokoto state and other northern states affected by this problem owe both the public and the beggars themselves a duty to address the problems facing the destitutes with the view of rehabilitating them.
The likes of Yabo have turned an otherwise healthy debate into a personal war aimed at pulling down people with dissenting views at all costs. They have deliberately refused to separate issues from personalities. As for this writer, he will continue to address issues that concern the generality of the people, not petty personal issues of individuals. Finally, one hopes that one day, the people behind the likes of Yabo can come out  with their own write-ups and engage us directly instead of wasting tax payers money sponsoring some one to so. Failure to do this confirms that they are round pegs in square holes.