By Stanley Onyekwere
By most account, several attempts at enforcing the ban on street hawking and begging within the Federal Capital City (FCC) seemed not to be yielding the desired effect, as it is not uncommon to be accosted by many street traders and beggars roaming the city.
Overtime, many petty street traders and beggars have continued invading major bust stops, interjections, road corridors and pedestrian crossings or over-head bridges located within the heart of Abuja, the Federal Capital Territory (FCT).
Checks reveal that despite the untiring attempts by the FCT Administration through the Abuja Environmental Protection Board (AEPB) to rid Abuja of the menace, those involved in the trade are bent on out their activities, even around government office areas.
For as keen observer, the menace no doubts has remained one of the many very long time struggle areas for the FCT administration especially the AEPB.
The AEPB, which is saddled with the responsibility of making sure the goal of having a beautiful city, free from hawking and begging has been battling with delivering on this mandate amongst others, by mounting pressures on perpetrators of this menace.
Basically, the Board is charged with ensuring a sustainable development and proper management of the nation’s capital environment for an optimal health of the people, in line with Abuja master plan.
However, obviously it appears that AEPB’s efforts toward achieving a sustainable environment in the city especially relating to cracking down activities of hawkers and beggars in the city, as part of its quest to clean up Abuja, have continued to be a pipe dream.
Recently, during Sallah celebration last year, the AEPB said it arrested over 56 beggars and hawkers operating in the nation’s capital city.
According to the Board, the destitute and street traders were arrested along AYA round-about, Central Business District (CBD) and Central Mosque area.
Head, Media Liaison of the Board, Samuel Musa, who made disclosure in a in a statement, said the exercise was led by the new acting Director of the Board, Baba Shehu Lawan.
“The beggars arrested will be handed over to the Social Development Secretariat of the Federal Capital Territory Administration (FCTA), for rehabilitation and repatriation to their various states of origin, while the hawkers will be prosecuted in court accordingly.
“This goes to show that the Board will not relent in its effort towards sanitising the city,” he disclosed.
Also, sometimes last year, AEPB in collaboration with the Abuja Metropolitan Management Council (AMMC) carried out major raids on some street hawkers operating around Barnex Plaza and some streets in Wuse 2, as well as other environs of Abuja.
The exercise, which was part of the Board’s monthly sanitation programme, initiated as part of its efforts towards to promoting a sustainable environment and city management, specifically targeted , at ridding the FCT of illegal traders and food vendors operating in restricted areas in the city.
Expectedly, the exercise was a horrible and very brutal day for illegal traders and beggars within the axis of Banex plaza and other malls in Wuse 2, including those at the popular Jabi Motor park, in Utako district of the FCT.
Interestingly, for the affected street traders, the timing of the exercise was wrong, as they were taken unaware by the AEPB officials, who stormed the area; indeed, it was horrible day and very brutal for some of the traders.
To escape arrest by the AEBP task force, many of the petty street traders took to their heels as if it was a rat race competition they were involved in. While some abandoned their wares and ran, wishing they had wings to fly, a few looked for places to hide their wares before running for cover.
According to one Aminu Suleiman, a petty trader, who is selling Dobino along the corridors of Banex plaza, said when he noticed the arrival of the AEPB task force, he had to abandon his goods and ran for safety, to avoid being caught and taken to court, for prosecution.
Suleiman, an indigene of Katsina state, said he came to Abuja, because of the hardship he was passing through in his state, feeding his wife and 12children was a great challenge.
“The only problem in achieving my plan is the AEPB task force; they are very brutal when discharging their duties.
“They do not give breathing spaces at all to sell anything, so am very careful, as I don’t want them to take me to their court,” Suleiman expressed.
Another, hawker, Miss Nneka Ejike, selling banana along the street of Wuse 2 , who expressed her anger and frustration over her predicament, decried that the constant pressures being exerted on her and others by the Board is too much to bear, as they keep recording huge loss in their business.
“Environmental people usually mount pressure on us, as if people working in the organization don’t have human sympathy for the poor, just trying to cater for themselves.
“They are very wicked, as they destroy people’s items that some of them bought on credit; so, when we see the task force na so I run; but what do they want us to do when have to eat,” she said.
Similarly, one Sandra Jacob, insisted that she sells ground nut on the street, to earn money, in order for her to pay her school fees.
“I know is wrong hawking things along within the city centre , but because my major source of income is realised from on what I’m selling , I find it difficult to stop.
“AEPB agents always chase us from selling on the streets, and most often we abandoned our goods, which they take and pour all on the ground or into a refuse dump, because if caught, we will be prosecuted before returning the products,” she noted.
“I’ m afraid of environmental officials, because when they come, they will collect what one is selling and the end of day, you look for money to pay them before they could release you, that’s is why when I saw them from far, I went into hiding,” says one of the lucky traders, who manage escaped arrest during the exercise, Usman Kashim.”
However, to reverse the trend, some residents opined that for AEPB to effectively tackle the menace of hawkers and beggars in Abuja, the Board not only needs to double its raids on the perpetrators, but to equally adopt new measures, to achieve the desired goal.
According to a resident in Wuse ,Mr. Ohinoyi Yubuka, if the hawkers are adamant to leave the streets the raiding should be more often, more anti-hawking posters should be placed along the streets, boldly in the three major languages in Nigeria.
This, he said would enable the beggars and hawkers to understand the message very clearly, which hitherto they seemed not to be doing.
“The raid exercise should no longer be an interval campaign that will start this week and in the next 6 weeks, it ends there. Then, the hawkers will reinforce and come back on the street again.
“One common thing about this hawkers and beggars is that they too know that the Task force are just intimating them and vandalizing their properties for a while and after some time the tempo is not sustained and the continuity is not there by their different administrations of the Board.
“If you come to Banex Junction, you will see these taunts and miscreants smoking hemp with some of the Task force workers, so how can they crack down on the same hawkers and beggars when there is no discipline among them who they are recruiting for such jobs,” he stressed.
” For AEPB to curb this unending menace of hawkers and beggars in the FCT, all hands must be on deck, in collaboration with traders unions in the FCT to have a workshop for the hawkers telling them the dangers that comes with street hawking, as this will go way to reduce the menace.
“But not that the board will be chasing them hawkers in Utako today the next day they will be seen in Area 1, the real problem is not maintaining the tempo.
” But the board cannot be everywhere at the same time, because they are not invisible ,building discipline minded workers that will not collect bribe ,even when there are no supervisors monitoring them, they will only focus on doing a good job ,because the spirit have been instilled in them,” another resident, Dahiru Alkail, said.
For a resident, in Durumi , Apo, who simply gave her name as Magdalene; “although the beggars in the FCT slow down traffic on the roads, taking them to orphanages and social development does not making sense to me, because they would escaped again and return back to the street and continue their activities.
“Does government help those orphanages with funding to take of those destitute that AEPB usually said they should take them there. How much capacity do those social institutions have to sustain those destitute roaming the streets?
“They should give them vocational skills, and thereafter equipped them, and returned them to their various states and link them up with social welfares offices for monitoring.
“We see some hawkers hiding their products in shopping malls close to them, but if checked and cross checked over and over again, this will stop.”
Another resident, Helen Ibrahim, who noted that there should be intensive monitoring in district by district , said “for instance Wuse is big ,you will see task force in only one vehicles moving around ,it is not effective at all ,there should be more logistics for the staff to deliver while on duty.”
She added that the Board should map up areas where hawkers normally stand even before the resume and flood the streets with their activities.
“They (AEPB) should position its staff and police men around every districts in the FCT, the hawkers will be afraid, this will also be an effective method, while mapping out new areas and creating market for them in areas within the FCT that are dormant, because they too have to survive by making life meaningful and also taxing them small amount of money,” she added.