They come in various shades and nature. They move from one street to the other in search aIms. They are in Asaba, the Delta State capital, in their high numbers. They are beggars, who are looking for help. DOMINIC ADEWOLE reports from Asaba
The saying that “beggars cannot be choosers” has been relegated to the background in Delta State. Their influx, in coat of many colours, into Asaba, the state capital, in search of livelihood, has assumed a worrisome dimension, such that it has dawned on every discerning resident of the capital city that they preferred areas that are producing a great deal of profits to poverty stricken sites.
The massive expansion of Government Reserved Areas (GRAs), public and private housing estates, coupled with the developmental strides within the metropolis since the advent of democracy in 1999, and the finishing touches embarked upon by the incumbent Governor Ifeanyi Okowa, in the past three years, were largely responsible for their influx.
That the governor accorded the capital city its pride of place and went ahead to sponsor an executive bill, establishing the Asaba Capital Territory Development Agency, being manned by Chief Clement Ufuani, which was passed by the state’s House of Assembly and was immediately signed into law by him, also influenced their choice of Asaba as beggars’ new-world. Initially, residents were of the opinion that, it was because Asaba was touted by those at the corridor of power as “the fastest growing state capital in Nigeria”, owing to the wealth and empowerment strategies with which former Governor James Onanefe Ibori and his successor, Dr. Emmanuel Uduaghan, built bridges, roads, schools and constructively engaged the minds of militant youths across the state throughout their tenures.
They had postulated that these sick folks, in beggars’ toga, invaded the state to have a good measure of their own share of the action – the ‘share the money’ mantra of the trending politics of the era, which flowed into public sector of the economy and boomed the businesses of individuals.
But it soon dawned on top government functionaries, captains of industries, business moguls, residents and politicians in the state that the geometric progression which their influx took since last year was as a result of the acute recession that Nigeria’s economy nosedived into. As the situation assumed a dangerous dimension this year, when beggars of different categories started trooping into Asaba to source for a means of securing the necessities of life, it became a mind-bulging issue to residents and new-comers to the state.
Besides that the sick, who have turned beggars, and destitute, have taken over the popular Nnebisi road, along the West-End axis of the metropolis, and are also roaming the streets of the capital Territory, begging for alms, they are now laying siege at market places and ragging market women at the ‘almighty’ Ogbeogonogo market, Agbor motor-parks, and harassing bank customers and church worshippers to part with their incomes.
The eateries and shopping malls at the state capital, especially popular Mr. Biggs, Crunches and Shoprite, are not left out. They have all become flash-points where they solicit alms and harass customers. Although, Okowa’s Commissioner for Health, Dr. Mordi Ononye, supported by his counterpart in Information, Mr. Patrick Ukah, confirmed during the yearly ministerial press briefing in Asaba that most of the beggars and destitute came from boundary towns and villages, especially Anambra and Edo states, the South South Focus gathered that a good number of them migrated from the Northern part of the country, even as some were dumped in the state for the nuisance of several years and stigma they have constituted to their families in Chad and Niger Republic respectively.
While their presence along the streets of Asaba have combined to entertain onlookers as they sing and dance with the scriptural injunction that “givers never lack”, accompanied by beats from old cans and offering bags, other groups of deaf and dumb individuals, with horrific postures that elicit pity and almsgiving get their fair share from motorists and passengers.
Others are commonly found at the project cites of Okowa, especially around traffic jam, occasioned by the ongoing multi-billion naira water tunnels being constructed along Nnebisi road, giving out flyers, which contain their litany of problems, their physical conditions and why they should be helped.
An unfortunate encounter with a teenage girl, who hails from Aguleri, in Anambra State, who simply identified herself as Chiamaka, revealed that she was actually suffering from a defacing tumour infection, but that the herbal healing home that brought her to the streets to canvass for funds to effect her treatment, had been using her condition to extort money from the general public without an end for years.
She lamented that they had taken her to several states in the South- South zone, including Bayelsa and Calabar, before she was brought down to Asaba. “I don’t know how much they have collected on my behalf. All I hear from them is that the money had not reached what is required to carry out surgical operation on me. I am ashamed that after several years of street begging and when some people see me, they bury their faces”, she lamented.
Ononye, who sympathized with the beggars however said the state government cannot clear them off the streets of the state through the Ministry of Women Affairs, Social and Community Development, to rehabilitation centers with its resources, because, firstly, they are not from the state, and secondly, the attempt may give impetus to more other destitute and persons who have similar challenge to troop into the state.
He warned those speculating that the band of beggars were indigenes of Delta State to desist, maintaining that their countenance and body language have shown that they migrated into the state. He said: “People should be very, very careful. They should stop going out there to disseminate lies to the general public. The story making round the streets about the beggars is untrue, wicked and borne out of calumny.
They are not Deltans and we will not start what we cannot finish for them.” He explained that Okowa paid over N483,400.00 to the Federal Medical Centre (FMC) Asaba to offset the bills of patients that were managed for Monkey Pox and spent huge sums of money to prevent the outbreak of other diseases in states that have common borders with the state.
“An outbreak of Lassa Fever was reported in Delta State on January 26, 2018. We had seven confirmed cases of which three died in the state and one from Anambra State. The second person died shortly after admission. Although, safe burial was done by Anambra State when contacted but this largely authenticated our position on influx of all manners of persons to the state”, Ononye said. His counterpart in the Ministry of Environment, John Nani, said beggars have no particular location, and as such, they move from place to place in search of alms. “For you to have said they have besieged Asaba was unfair because as far as I know, beggars are wanderers.
I also know that some of their cases can be treated but because of lack of finance, they found themselves on our streets. We have some level of sanity on our streets compared to other states”, he said. While he lamented that most of those on the major streets of Asaba, using young boys and girls to beg for assistance on the ground of their ill-health but are diverting the proceeds to other ventures are doing so at their own peril.