By Justice Nwafor
He is Clad in oversized, black worn-out trouser and faint blue T-shirt; armed with a blue plastic bowl on his left arm and a grey coloured locally crafted flute. He effortlessly unleashes melodious tunes from his flute.
He is assisted by a 10 year old child who skillfully beats a small sized local drum clutched to the left side of his ribs to accentuate and compliment the sound of the flute.
As the Man unleashes the tunes, his feeble arm marked by well stretched out veins, evidently as a result of old age, in consonance with his head. He was enjoying the tunes. His right arm is stretched out to the shoulder of the young boy.
He then moves from one door of the vehicles impatiently waiting for the green light of the traffic light to signal them to move. With an emotion laden voice he pleads, "brother, sister, please help the blind, God will bless you."
The picture painted above illustrates the new tactical approach to begging, employed by the growing number of beggars who have flooded the major roads and streets of Owerri, Imo state capital. From the ever busy Assumpta road to Bank road, Weatherall road to Egbu road and the ever bubbling Douglas road, these beggars are seen pleading for alms from any well dressed human being they set their eyes on.
"THEY ARE CONSTITUTING NUISANCE"
The activities of these beggars have been described to be "nuisance", as they embarrassingly bump into people after gauging their physical appearance or set their eyes on any Naira notes or wallets held by any person.
Speaking to this correspondent, a resident of Owerri and mobile phone engineer at the popular shopping plaza at Douglas road, who identified himself as Evangelist Michael, decried the high number of beggars in Owerri, stating that he has severally been embarrassed by the beggars who bump into him suddenly with their" annoying pleas" In his words, "the issue of begging in Owerri is a serious one.
These people embarrass many people everyday. " They would look at you, if you dress well or they see you bring out your wallet or any money, you will see them draw closer to you, pleading brother please help me biko nu.
"It happened to me one day and I wanted to slap one of them. Imagine begging me to give her the last money I had on me." Mr Michael went ahead to complain bitterly that, "the most annoying thing is that most of them are healthy yet they chose to beg."
Another resident and seller at Eke Ukwu Owerri market, Mr Prince Adezue, corroborated what Michael said, averring that "the activities of these beggars are embarrassing.
Sincerely, I don't think they are welcomed at all. Most of them are very well but prefer to beg. They should go and work and stop begging.
"WE BEG BECAUSE OF LACK OF FOOD"
The part of Owerri that is worst hit by the activities of these beggars is the St Paul's catholic church Axis of Douglas road. The beggars hang around the gate hoping to get alms from not just people moving to and fro the church but from passer-byes.
Initial efforts to get the beggars to speak with our correspondent proved difficult as the sight of a jotter, pen and a mobile phone pushed them aback, having recognised that he is a journalist.
But the sight of a fresh #200 note put smile on the face of one of them. Now happy to our correspondent, the crippled man visibly in his late 50s, identified himself as Mr Okafor, attributed his resorting to begging as a result of his physical disability and lack of support from the government.
He said "I don't like begging, but what can I do. I have to eat. My wife and children have to eat too. " My condition made me to start begging. I don't have money and the government has not helped us.
As he paused, a woman in her late 40's reared up her head behind him and quipped, "Please tell the government to help us." It was later learnt that she is Mr Okafor's wife. She told our correspondent that she wants to start a business and help her husband but there is no money.
She said," I want to start my own business but there is no money. We are here because there is no money. "If the government can assist us, I will start my own business and my husband will stop begging."
The man, his face wreaked with wrinkles which have drawn shapeless map on his face, nodded in agreement saying, "If we get the money, we will stop."
"GOVERNMENT HAS HELPED THEM BUT THE DON'T WANT TO HELP THEMSELVES"
The sight of able-bodied young men and women begging on the streets and roads brings up the question of the motive behind their actions. Is it lack of job or sheer laziness?
Mr Michael while speaking to our correspondent opined that most of the beggars are able-bodied. He stated that most of them are simply lazy also revealing that the government of Imo state has done a lot to keep them out of the streets.
According to him, "When you go there you will see that one or two of them are disabled while the rest of them are healthy. It is total laziness. They now take it as their occupation. "
They can't say the government has not helped them. We are in this Douglas, everybody knows that the government has done a lot to keep them out of the streets."
He however suggested that "the government should call them and ask them what they want so as to find a lasting solution to their problems." Mr Adezue, in the same vein, called on the government to help the beggars establish themselves and save the public the embarrassment they cause them.
Efforts to get the ministry of women affairs and social development to comment on the issue proved futile as calls to the official telephone number of the commissioner did not go through as at the time of filling this report.
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