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Curbing The Increasing Menace Of Destitutes On The Streets
The presence of destitutes and beggars on our streets is an eyesore which does not add beauty to our environment. This week’s Environment Watch is calling on all stakeholders to tackle the menace.
The spate of destitutes in our society has assumed an alarming rate. In every street of major towns and cities, many, in their prime, are seen in different shades of rags, coiling on a spot and at times, loafing around the environment, begging for alms.
On one hand, destitution is believed to be a product of poverty and they abound all over the world. It has, no doubt, become a recurring decimal in our own society.
On the other, a destitute is believed to be someone who is homeless, has no means of survival and takes solace in the streets as a result of lack of care from the society. They are people who lack the basic needs of life such as shelter, clothing and food.
They constitute great nuisance to the environment in many ways. In civilised societies, destitutes are usually not abandoned, but confined in places where they are taken care of, rehabilitated and reunited with their loved ones. If they are able to pull through, many of them stage a comeback to add value to the society and enhance the essence of humanity.
But in this clime, once somebody becomes handicapped such as going nuts and a little fruitless attempt is made to bring back the sanity, such a person is left to rot away in the streets. Consequently, most of the destitutes we see around usually emerge from families which have tactically ‘off-loaded’ them at roadsides, especially highways.’
Categories of destitution
There are different kinds of destitution in the society. According to Dr. James Ayangunna, a lecturer with the Department of Social Work, Faculty of Education, University of Ibadan, Ibadan, Oyo State, they can be grouped under economic, financial and medical destitutions, among others.
Today, major cities are bespattered with various groups of destitutes. The economic destitutes include able-bodied beggars who, because of unemployment or laziness, take to the streets to curry favour from people to gain financial favour. Some give heart-rending reasons why their request should not be ignored. At times, some look better dressed than the person they are begging for alms.
Those under the categories of medical destitution also do more of begging to survive and some usually claim to have outstanding medical bills to settle. For instance, some display cards indicating their medical situation and the need to be helped. It is also common to see social welfare groups who go about in gridlocks with their medical patients raising money from road users.
In some instances, amputated limbs and even human private parts like swollen scrotums or any other part of the body that is deformed are displayed to compel, as it were, members of the public to render a hand of financial help.
Altogether, these physically-challenged individuals constitute a whole lot of environmental nuisance to the public and often time an eyesore to sane individuals.
In about the year 1601, in the United Kingdom (UK), there were a lot of destitutes in the streets before the rich got angry over the menace and did something about it. In a study carried out to address the menace, the destitutes were categorised into the able-bodied, the sick and the dependent which included children and the old.
To get them off the streets, an act was promulgated and sealed by the Queen. While the able-bodied were forced to engage their limbs to work, the dependent and the sick were catered for and taken for medical attention.
In the Nigeria of today, immigrants have constituted greatly to the increase in destitutes. Most of them are able-bodied and prolific such that they procreate more than others who are economically better off. As if in a competition, the physically-challenged Nigerian beggars and these immigrants beg on roadsides and bus stops, employing various means such as singing, praying, and, sometimes, harassing their preys to part with some money.
“These people are compounding our problems in this country. See all these pretty and handsome fair-complexioned girls and boys all over the bus stop begging for alms?” lamented Sola Omobola, who just escaped some manhandling by one of the foreigner-destitutes.
Reasons for increase
Experts believe that one of the causes of increase in the number of destitutes in Nigeria is the high level of poverty in the society. As the gap between the rich and the poor gets wider by the day, owing to bad economic policies, unemployment and corruption, so the number of destitutes skyrockets.
Drug abuse is seen as another problem. It is common knowledge that most destitutes, who became one through drug abuse, hardly keep away from the substance except they are monitored. They buy and use drugs, which worsen their situation. When well-wishers oblige them with some money, they only spend it on substances responsible for their predicament.
Some families are believed to have a history of mental illness. When the remedy proves ineffective, they abandon their once-loved ones who end up on the streets.
Frustration is another cause of destitution. Women, who are jilted by their lovers, could become mentally-deranged as a result. This could be the reason for the increasing number of mentally-ill young ladies on the streets in major cities, especially Ibadan and Ilesa in Osun State.
Other factors include spell, isolation and neglect which could make people move out to the streets, thereby constituting environmental hazards.
In this part of the world, what seems to be in vogue is the maxim of ‘everybody to himself, God for us all’. If the wealthy individuals have failed in this regard, it is because the government has much more failed in this area of welfarism for destitutes. This is made obvious by the way destitutes mill around major roads, begging for alms, which speaks volumes of the helplessness and hopelessness of the system. The sight leaves much to be desired as no one seems bordered.
One of the dangers or effects they constitute is social nuisance. As they loaf around in rags, they blur the aesthetic value of the scenery as well as add to the filth in the environment. Destitutes are personified filth themselves. Like a heap of garbage, the stench that emits from these forgotten ones is nauseating.
To survive, many of them pilfer from pockets of unsuspecting members of the public and some are used as reservoir by criminals to stockpile arms and ammunition as well as ritual activities.
“Destitutes cause untold embarrassment to the society, at times, when you want to board a bus or taxi, you see some foreign destitutes pulling your shirt to crave your attention; at traffic hold-ups, you are easily harrassed by destitutes,” stated a consultant and social welfare practitioner, Mr Kehinde Akinyemi on a radio programme.
Instruments of violence
Although many cases of destitution are a result of the use and abuse of hard substances, the continuation of the use of the same by this set of people pushes them into violence against people in their environment.
Besides, these people are victims of hunger and can easily go berserk, thereby putting in danger lives and property. It is common to see some with stones on their head and other dangerous weapons.
In the north, the almajiri culture has been there for ages with politicians refusing to empower them in order to continue to have them used as weapons of violence when political calculations do not favour them. Most of the violence in the north are perpetrated by able-bodied destitutes who are always at the mercy of their feudal lords.
Albatross to the society
Most destitutes, especially the mentally-deranged, are exposed to danger as most of them live on highways and are often knocked down by hit-and-run vehicles. Little wonder fresh and decomposing corpses of human beings, more often of destitutes, litter highways and sometimes streets of major cities. It is an ominious sign of a failed system. If the government finds it difficult fixing the lives of the sane, how much less that of the insane? Their presence on the streets humiliates our sense of dignity, delineating the nation as uncivilised, uncaring and backward.
Could discourage foreign investment
The increasing number of destitutes can discourage foreign investors from coming to invest in Nigeria. This may sound funny, but it is a fact that must be taken seriously. This is because they pose a great security threat and a sign of bad governance!
Proliferation of illegitimate children
Female destitutes are prone to rapists. They are easily taken advantaged of by money ritualists and depraved men. At times, one finds mentally-deranged pregnant women on the streets. In no time, they deliver babies. The number of street urchins increases as a result. It affects the social image of the country. The male ones can also rape female colleagues and even the sane, while some are believed to have led thieves to people’s homes at night.
While one would not want to discriminate against destitutes, it is, however, pertinent to note that the well-being of this set of individuals demands some urgent attention from all stakeholders because of the enormous effects on the society. The problem must be tackled from the basics, experts say. According to the social welfare activist, Mr. Akinyemi, the problem deserves multifarious solutions from all stakeholders. Non-governmental organisations, civil societies and individuals must wake up to the call.
For Dr. Ayangunna, the government is not ready to find a lasting solution to the menace because he believes that all remedies being applied so far cannot work. Government, according to him, would not want to put in its money where there would be no profit. So, they are hardly interested in social welfare services.
“When the family structure was on ground in those days, social welfare services had a lot of budget taking care of them. Today, government prefers to tar roads that people can see and not in social welfare service which may not be visible to the people. The issue of poverty must be addressed. Families should be empowered to take care of their problems and the government should busy itself with policy formulation while NGOs and the rest will be doing the job of social welfare services. The government is to set up the institutions while others would begin to implement the policies,” Dr. Ayangunna opined.
Mr. Akinyemi believes that everything cannot be left to the government alone. But it has to start tackling the menace by coming up with legislations that will frown on destitution in the society. According to him, a mechanism should be adopted to evacuate them to assylums where they can be taken care of and from there, their families can be located and they are resettled. But as of today, many states in Nigeria do not have a single assylum where destititutes are rehabilitated.
He also advocated that the legislation should include certain punishment for families that isolate any deranged member of their family. According to him, family members of destitutes should be made to take an undertaking to be held responsible if their wards are found wandering the streets.
NGOs should also be financially helped in carrying out their social services.
While the Rescue and Repatriation Team in Lagos inaugurated to evacuate destitutes from the state has been described as the best of social network in the country, the idea of picking destitutes up and taking them to Majidun near Ikorodu and from there to their various states and dumped on streets, leaves much to be desired.
“The approach of evacuation in Lagos is guerrilla-like. They just take the destitutes to their various states, dump them on the street in the midnight and zoom back to Lagos, only for the destitutes to take another ‘flight’ back to where they had been evacuated,” Dr Ayangunna stated.
Mr. Akinyemi also suggested that the government should bring together professionals in social work and all stakeholders to deliberate and find a lasting solution to the menace.Share