Residents of Arepo have lamented the security threat posed by the influx of child beggars around the Arepo Bridge, in the Obafemi Owode Local Government Area of Ogun State.
PUNCH Metro gathered that the children and their family members usually begged for alms from motorists and residents navigating the area to various destinations.
During a recent visit to the community, our correspondent observed that the beggars were children, adults and physically challenged persons, some of whom had been living in shanties created around and beneath the bridge for over 10 years.
The beggars were said to have mostly migrated to the community from Jigawa, Katsina, Nasarawa, Kwara and Kano states due to insurgency, poverty and a search for better means of livelihood.
They were seen cooking and eating in their shade, as our correspondent also observed that the beggars lacked toilet facilities and reportedly bathed and defecated in the open.
A member of the Oodua People’s Congress in the community, Ogunsola Olayiwola, said the beggars also sometimes got married under the Arepo Bridge.
He said, “The beggars have been here for a long time; we try to warn them to appear clean to look pleasant for almsgiving, but they are deviant. I drove them away from a point beneath the bridge because they made it dirty.
“Officials of the Ministry of Environment came last year to observe the place and gave them a notice to clean the place where they live or it will be demolished, but they are not obeying. If the government can drive them away, the place will look better.
“We installed halogen lights for security so that anyone in danger can be rescued as we have observed that some of the beggars commit atrocities, including robbery.
“I want the government to take the beggars to a virgin land in Kara where they can get shelter.”
A resident, who identified herself as Mrs Subomi, called on the government to provide education to the children of the beggars, adding that the presence of the beggars was risky to residents and business owners in the vicinity.
A businesswoman, Sherifah Tobiloye, noted that the child beggars harassed residents as she appealed to the government to relocate them to a home built for beggars in the Ebute Metta area of Lagos State.
She said, “The beggars harass people to give them money and when you do, they are not satisfied. Just recently, I gave some of them corn instead of money, but they abused me.”
Traders in the area also noted that the child beggars ran after vehicles and passersby in desperate bids to get money.
One of the beggars, Hassan Abdullahi, said his family migrated to Arepo from a community in Kano State in 2014 to seek a better life.
Another beggar, Hassan Shaibu, said he had been living around the bridge since he came from Jigawa State seven months ago.
“I came to Ogun State because I did not have any source of livelihood in Jigawa. I have been begging for alms so I can gather cash and deliver it to my family. I live under Arepo Bridge,” he said.
The Leader of the Hausa community in Mowe-Ibafo, Shehu Usman, sought the understanding of residents, adding that most of the beggars relied on charity to survive.
“Can’t we provide shelter and social amenities for them to survive? Live and let live. You cannot condemn these people without reporting the crimes they commit.
“There is no section of the constitution where begging is a crime; if there are bad eggs among them, fish them out, prosecute them and leave the innocent ones alone,” he added.
The Ogun State Commissioner for Information, Waheed Odusile, said there was no law in the state permitting the destitute to live under a bridge.
He said, “I am not aware that there are beggars living at Arepo and if it is so, the government will look into it and take appropriate measures.”
However, the state Police Public Relations Officer, Abimbola Oyeyemi, said the beggars had the right to live wherever they chose.
He said, “The beggars are citizens of Nigeria and they have the right to live anywhere they want. If they are committing atrocities, people should report the cases to the nearest police station.”
PUNCH Metro reported in February 2022 that the Ogun State Government served a notice to quit to mendicants under the bridge, saying the site was to be redesigned as a recreational centre.