Opinion: Nigeria’s war against the poor

by Ochereome Nnanna


The deportation saga was a statement that the mega-city project of the Lagos State Government has no place for the poor and destitute.

The Lagos deportation saga exposed our collective poor attitude to issues of citizenship rights. It is a collective, national guilt because what happened in Lagos occurs in all parts of the country in one form or the other, such as employment, educational and sundry opportunities, from which non-indigenes are excluded.

In heavily urbanised states such as Lagos, Rivers and Kano, where there is a pronounced presence of non-indigenous residents, there is a growing tendency to neglect the development of those areas where they live in large numbers. But when it comes to census, elections and tax drives, they are extensively exploited by local officials. This ugly trend has been accepted as part of the Nigerian way of life.

The deportation saga was a statement that the mega-city project of the Lagos State Government has no place for the poor and destitute. In every urban centre all over Nigeria, you will see hundreds, if not thousands of beggars, destitute, homeless and mentality ill people loitering without anybody bothering to factor them in when funds of state are being allocated to solve socio-political problems. We do not even see them as co-owners of the federal allocation we go to collect in Abuja every month.

If you drive along the Benin – Shagamu Express, you will come across sections of the road occupied by lepers. For decades, these former inmates of abandoned leper colonies have been on this highway, waving and hollering at the vehicles that go by at high speeds in the forlorn hope that someone would slow down and show kindness. These are people dislodged from their families and communities as a result of ailments, which the society regards as taboo.

If we were a society that learns useful lessons from our experiences, the dust generated in the wake of the Lagos deportation episode would force us to look for ways of carrying the poor and destitute along in our quest for development. Instead of this, we are allowing it to whip up undue ethnic tensions among the Igbo and the Yoruba. We are allowing drug addicts and discredited politicians seeking relevance to lead sabre-rattling that, if it boils over into street fights, they would melt into background and allow the misguided youth from both sides to murder one another before the army would be brought in to quell it.

The question remains germane. What do we do as a nation to develop our urban and rural areas and at the same time keep our streets and under our bridges clean of the destitute and homeless people, some of whom can become a threat to society? It is a well known fact that Lagos is a choice destination for beggars, especially those who come from cultures that are very tolerant of begging as a way of life. The commercial success of Lagos gives it the reputation of a place where professional beggars can come and actually become “rich”! Today, all sorts of crimes against humanity are committed, such as the renting and outright selling of babies and children to be deployed on the streets of Lagos and other big towns to make money for evil syndicates.

It is very common to see young men and women dressed in green trousers and white shirts, clutching tills and waving them under the noses of motorists while a severely disabled person sits in the middle of the road displaying his/her disfigurement to attract alms. This manner of criminal exploitation of the destitute goes on but little is done by officials to address them.

Let us emulate the white man who brought the modern lifestyle that we all are living to us. When the white man came to colonise Nigeria, he knew that the effort to develop the society through the capitalist model would leave some weak and destitute members of society behind the rest. Therefore, institutions were set up where such people were taken care of by the state, missionaries and philanthropic agencies. These included leprosariums, hospitals for the mentally ill, old people’s homes and shelters for the homeless and temporarily displaced persons.

It requires only a small amount of money out of the budget of a state to house, feed and care for these persons under social welfare programmes, and thus keep the streets clean and safe.

Jigawa is about the only state in the country that followed their ban on street begging with the payment of seven thousand naira (N7,000) per month to beggars of Jigawa origin. It costs the government just about a quarter of a billion naira per annum to maintain.

Other states have adopted some measures, such as payment of stipends to the old and retired persons, free healthcare for pregnant women, children and the aged and other measures that do not go far enough. Can’t we have a national model for catering to the needs of the poor and destitute to avoid the problem of such people going for “greener pastures” in other parts of the country where they are subjected to humiliating treatment by the indigenes of such states?

Let us think about it.

Orji Kalu’s house seal-up by LASG

IT nearly made me laugh if it were not so ridiculous. Former Governor of Abia State, Chief Orji Uzor Kalu (OUK) reacted without proper advice to the deportation saga by declaring Lagos a “No man’s land”, threatening to sue Governor Babatunde Raji Fashola for the controversial exercise.

In a flash, some officials of the LASG went to the Park View palatial mansion of OUK and sealed it up! And before it became another hot potato topic, Governor Fashola ordered it reopened. Perhaps, it was their way of asserting that Lagos is not such a “no man’s land” after all. It was a show of power; a demonstration that the indigenes of Lagos, who are in charge of the machinery of government of the state, can “do and undo” when it comes to that.

If I know OUK well (and I think I do) this is exactly the kind of thing he would do those days when he was in power in Abia State if anybody questioned his authority as he questioned the authority of Lagos indigenes when he called their state a “no man’s land”. Fashola also played smart when he quickly reversed the seal-up because it would have mired him deeper in controversy and probably scar him permanently as a politician and leader in the state and country at large.

In those days when OUK and Bola Ahmed Tinubu (BAT) were governors in Abia and Lagos states respectively, they used to be such close friends that tongues even wagged in certain mischievous quarters. What happened?

Read this article from the Vanguard Newspapers
Op-ed pieces and contributions are the opinions of the writers only and do not represent the opinions of Y!/YNaija.

One comment

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