Strategically positioning themselves at traffic light controlled junctions or in front of shopping malls, restaurants, banks and offices; women, men, and children are often seen begging for alms in Maiduguri, the capital of Borno State, Northeast Nigeria.
According to residents, street begging used to be the preserve of people living with disabilities. Today, with the influx of Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) due to the ongoing insurgency, there are more beggars on the streets and the current situation is at “an all-time high.”
Around the city center, children between three and 15 years old are seen walking long distances from IDP camps. Dozens of women are also seen in clusters begging for alms. A lot of these women have been widowed due to the insurgency and are left with several children to feed, without a source of income.
Hadiza, a 10-year-old who frequently begs around the city, told HumAngle that she would rather beg than go to school “because people give us money freely to buy food; but when we go to school we will not be able to go begging and everyone will be hungry.”
She lives with her grandmother and four younger siblings at Bakassi IDP Camp. Hadiza’s mother remarried after her father was killed during an attack by Boko Haram. She left the children and moved with her new husband to Auno village. To ease the burden of raising the five children, Hadiza said her grandmother “prefers us to beg.”
For IDPs like Falmata Muhammad, begging supplements what the government provides. “What the government gives periodically is good, but they are not always sufficient. We have to go out to beg for alms in order to support ourselves,” she said.
In Nov. 2019, the Borno State government outlawed street begging and launched a scheme that pays N30,000 each to about 3,127 people living with disabilities. The state’s Commissioner for Poverty Alleviation, Nuhu Clark, had promised that “the scheme would be continuous.” The number of street beggars since the scheme started has, however, increased tremendously.
Things have turned upside down
“Things have turned upside down for our people here in Borno state, and no thanks to Boko Haram,” said Chiroma Ali, a civil servant.
“A typical Kanuri woman would have to pull off her shoes to walk past the gathering of men, and they do so with sensitivity that the sound of their slippers may attract undue attention in public. But today, see our women and our children roaming the streets asking for alms. They wake up as early as 5 a.m. to start begging and would not retire till around 10 p.m. at night. I don’t blame them because Boko Haram has forced them to flee their local environment. But the big worry is that the children are being brought up under this shameful culture of begging,” he said.
Chairman of the Borno state civil society, Ambassador Ahmed Shehu, told HumAngle in a phone interview that “the issue of street begging has become a major source of concern to the people of Borno state.”
According to him, one of the effects of the conflict is that there are a lot of women and children whose breadwinners and fathers were killed. Shehu worries that there is no clear structure to provide for these orphans. He also noted that the culture of the majority of the Borno community does not encourage orphanages.
“That was why previous attempts by some actors to establish orphanages were not successful at all, due to some reasons that had to do, partly, with licensing and other related bureaucratic considerations. This leaves a sea of orphans with no care other than to take to the streets begging. At the risk of providing justification for begging, what I am trying to say is that there is supposed to be a clear cut structure that cares for these children who have now joined the multitudes begging in the streets. Even if we want these children off the streets, where exactly do they go? There has to be available alternatives for them,” he said.
The civil society leader also blamed the large number of people begging in the streets of Maiduguri on the influx of people from other states who took advantage of the insurgency situation to feign displacement and come to beg in the state.
Meanwhile, a top government official, who spoke anonymously, said the culture of begging will lead to more children being raised on the streets, where they get zero orientation in discipline, decency and self-reliance, which could cause serious problems years later.
“We the Kanuris are known for pride that is not of arrogance, but that of discipline, comportment and self-reliance. But today, our ancestral villages which used to be the preserver of our culture and values have been sacked and the people who are the custodians are now in the cities living and raising children. Our future is in IDP camps and streets of Maiduguri. Now, our people are inadvertently being taught how to earn a living without working and they are fast getting used to it. We may not see the dangers in what is going on, but it will manifest in the next ten to 20 years when these army of children from the street grow to become leaders in the society,” he said.
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