By Olakunle Bamisile
As is customary in every day life, people go about their day in search of greener pastures, making an honest living through hard work and gainful toil. On the flip side, some would rather opt for begging pastures, making a living through the hard work and benevolence of others. Soft work, eh?
When the government move to eject these street beggars from their little colonies on the streets, they are now and then accused of manhandling the panhandlers. Recent efforts of the government and NGOs in curbing street begging are unfortunately ineffectual. Sometimes, people mull over the shamelessness of those in the begging venture, and examine the social and psychological problems posed. Street begging however also begs the question of law. Yes, Law! The ensuing content of this piece will therefore attempt to probe into the legality or otherwise of street begging in Nigeria.
Street begging has received legal disapproval by the criminal code — which is applicable only in Southern Nigeria — as, in condemning idle and disorderly persons, Section 249 (b) thereof provides that every person wandering or placing himself in any public place to beg or gather alms, or causing or procuring or encouraging any child or children so to do shall be deemed idle and disorderly persons and may be arrested without warrant, and are guilty of a simple offence and liable to imprisonment for one month.
Apparently, even the Nigerian law frowns at idleness and disorderliness, and wandering or placing oneself in a public place to beg or gather alms constitutes acts of idleness and disorderliness. Nigerians are generally known for diligence — even those who beg do so so diligently as though begging is a job. It is not! It is an act of idleness — business of idleness!
It is not even strange that children are being employed into this appalling business as most of the persons seen begging for alms on the streets today are children. The Criminal code in section 249 (a) has however criminalized causing, procuring or encouraging children to beg. Similarly, and quite imperatively, the Child Rights Act in Section 30 (2) (a) thereof firmly condemns using children to beg as it provides that a child shall not be used for the purpose of begging for alms or guiding beggars. As people rush to their various places of work, men and women, alongside their children, are already gathered to beg for alms. These men and women usually make their children chase after commuters to beg for alms by rambling between vehicles, knocking on windscreens and stretching hands into them. This is totally unacceptable; the law says so!
In further forbiddance of street begging, Section 250 of the criminal code, in condemning rogues and vagabonds, provides that every person wandering abroad and endeavouring by the exposure of wounds or deformation to obtain or gather alms and every person going about as a gatherer or collector of alms, or endeavouring to procure charitable contributions of any nature or kind, under any false or fraudulent pretence, shall be deemed to be a rogue and vagabond and is guilty of a misdemeanor and is liable on summary conviction for the first offence to imprisonment for three months and for every subsequent offence to imprisonment for one year.
It is not uncommon to see physically impaired persons parading the streets, injuring the conscience of innocent passersby in order to induce them to cough out their hard-earned monies. In an attempt to appeal to the emotions of these emotionally vulnerable passersby, they even resort to the use of loud gospel music to advertise their business — business of begging! Unfortunately, the story is touching, but the law kala (frowns at it).
The causes of street begging is not unconnected with ravaging poverty, social stratification of disabled persons, expanding unemployment, growing illiteracy and homelessness. Hence, the government must swing into action — not just by law — to abate street begging by providing basic social amenities pursuant to the mandate of ensuring the welfare of the people as provided for by Section 14 (2) (b) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. Salus populi suprema lex esto (Let the welfare of the people be the supreme law)!
Street begging however indubitably causes public nuisance and disorderliness just as, on the part of the beggars it increases the mindset of poverty, inferiority complex and loss of self-esteem and dignity.
No matter how profitable the business of begging is and how pathetic the plight of beggars is, as long as the law is against it, it is unacceptable!
Stop street begging, the law begs you. To all intents and purposes unfortunately, unlike panhandlers, the law does not beg. Stop street begging, the law compels you!
Olakunle Emmanuel Bamisile is a law student at the Lagos State University and can be reached on: firstname.lastname@example.org