From Nyanya to Apo, down to Lugbe in the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), the streets were flat and deserted of their usual sights like traffic jam, hawkers and beggars that line the streets on both sides.
It was the eve of the 2019 presidential and National Assembly elections. There was a lot of expectation and trepidation on what would be the outcome. It was against this probability and fear that prompted the Federal Government to declare Friday, February 22, 2019 a work-free day.
This was also meant to douse the tension and aid voters to travel to their various locations to cast their votes.
Among those that obeyed the celebrative arrangement were the beggars who refused to beg for alms but chose to travel the hard way from Abuja to Karuwanamode, Zamfara to Borno to cast their votes.
Beggars had gone on strike and so the city was devoid of its signposts. They saw the election as an exercise that must be done. To this extent, they rejected food and money and travelled several kilometers to cast their votes. As they lay on the streets listening to their radios, an average beggar is better informed politically than most educated Nigerians.
However, after the presidential election, which is uppermost on their minds, most of them have been seen trickling into the city sometimes accompanied by family members.
The menace of beggars has been a source of concern to Abuja residents because of the security and other implications. Many of the major intersections of the traffic have been taken over by beggars who swoop on motorists any time the light turns red.
On Nyanya-Keffi Road where there is a constant traffic jam, the beggars line the streets with their wives and children and barge on unsuspecting road user like a swarming locust.
But with the temporary disappearance of the beggars, many Abuja residents have heaved a temporary sigh of relief.
A resident of Nyanya, Mr Donatus Anyamele, said: “Driving through is no more a Herculean task. Before now, apart from avoiding a crash with other vehicles, a driver is always conscious of the numerous beggars who criss-cross the roads at will. This causes a lot of traffic jams because you have to avoid hitting them.”
A woman at Nyanya Market, known as Mama Tiv, said: “Since the disappearance of the beggars, we can easily carry our wares across the road without obstruction. Before now you would try to avoid them as they lined the median wall. It is a big relief. I hope the situation will remain like this.”
A driver, Mr. Ochai Ujah, complained that it is embarrassing to see a swarm of heads with bowls approaching menacingly towards you to beg for alms: “The Federal Government should quickly do something about this because not only that it is an eyesore, it is embarrassing. This is why we are now the poverty capital of the world.”
But Abdulrashid Abdulraman was spiritual: “These people did not make themselves poor. It is Allah that made them poor and Allah can make anybody poor. So, it is not in your place to condemn or discountenance them. Help them if you can.”
One of the beggars, Abdulmajid Danladi, said he left Kano, five years ago, to Abuja to beg as a means of livelihood when he could no longer sustain himself and his family:
“My friend invited me to visit him and see what he was doing in Abuja. When I came, he told me that he had been begging on the streets of Abuja and, since I was partially crippled I would make a better beggar because people are bound to sympathise more with me. In my first outing, I made N10,000. I gave my friend who introduced me into the business N2,000. It was a huge success for me and my family of two wives and 10 children. We fed well for the first time.”