Sunday, 16 October 2016

Agony of the cripples

The male cripples sit in small groups in the expansive frontage of
the palace, a few of them repairing bicycles, making sandals and
doing other menial trades. A sizeable crowd of their wives gather
within a nearby canopy, apparently learning some skills.

In a notable contrast, however, over a hundred of their children are
in a few classrooms of the primary school directly facing the
palace of the Sarkin Guragun Abuja (FCT Chief of the Cripples).
Majority of the cripples are, however, idling in their barely
constructed housing accommodations surrounding the palace.

The Colony of the Disabled at Karmajiji, a satellite town of the
Federal Capital Territory (FCT), is soaked in distress, with majority
of the cripples locked up in a rather brutal confusion over how they
can survive and get some sense of belonging in the FCT.

They can neither beg nor trade on the streets of the main bowl of
Abuja city. If they are caught doing any of these, they will be
arrested, and their wares seized. They are in deep dilemma over
how they can eke out survival, and continue to live in the Abuja as
they have chosen to, like all other able-bodied Nigerians.

The deep effort he exerted with some royal tone of voice and
comportment as the FCT Chief of the Disabled, fails to suppress
his grief over the distress his subjects have now been plunged

Alhaji Sulaiman Muhammed Katsina, who is also the Sarkin
Gajiyayyun Abuja (FCT Chief of all the Disabled, comprising the
cripples, the lepers and the blind), however, controls his temper
well enough to narrate the pathetic situation of his subjects.

“Even before any ban on street begging was imposed, we have
been preaching to our subjects against it. We have been
encouraging them to learn skills and engage in trading to live as
honorable citizens of Nigeria,” the chief recounted, saying, “about
four or five years ago, my crippled members would be seen
everywhere, in the markets and along the streets, trading; they
were in all the Abuja markets, like Wuse and Utako, doing

“At that time, we were comfortable like all other citizens and
residents of the FCT, so much so that even our able-bodied fellow
Nigerians were benefitting from us, because whenever an able-
bodied street trader was pursued he would flee to safety behind a
crippled trader. Such was how honored and pitied we were. This is
not the case now,” he said

Alhaji Sulaiman noted : “At that time, my trading subjects were
allowed to display their wares in  the open market place and on
the road pavements. I was able to discourage them from begging,
in compliance with the government ban, and they heeded by
engaging in trading. They began to live a fine life. Large
populations were leaving street begging.

“Not so is the case now. You now regularly hear of the arrest of
crippled traders. The traders and their wares are all bundled into
the Abuja Environmental Protection Board (AEPB) vehicles to be
locked up in cells, and most of the seized wares lost forever.

Many a crippled trader only receives the wares from wealthier traders to sell for the little gain he can survive on, in order to avoid reverting
to begging. Such a trader gets into very deep trouble when he is
arrested, because he has to pay for the wares he has collected on
one hand; and the wares are lost forever, while he, himself,
struggles, first and foremost, to get bail, on the other.
“So, now, our situation is so terrible. No begging; no trading,” he

“The market allocated to us by government at Wuse Zone 3 was
completely demolished recently by the government itself. It was
allocated to us, the disabled, specifically. Crippled traders were
already flooding back there, constructing their shops. You would
find in the market cripples making various kinds of footwear and
selling various types of commodities. Now the market has been
demolished, along with majority of the wares,” Alhaji Sulaiman
explained further.

“My subjects and I are now converge on the colony, folding our
arms and waiting for whatever God has destined to happen to us.

Government has said that it doesn’t want to see us begging; and
we have been struggling to avoid doing what the government
doesn’t want, so that we live as peaceful and law-abiding
citizens. Right now, in this colony alone, apart from other satellite
towns, I have over 70 trading cripples. When the disabled were
trading peacefully, we witnessed a lot of development. Because
the market has been demolished, and they would be arrested if
caught begging or trading along the roads, they are now idling
away, distressed in the colony.

“About 10 years ago, whenever the AEPB or the Social Welfare
Department planned any outing for street arrests, I would be
notified a day before, to warn all beggars to remain at home for the
length of time the outing would last; all I needed do then was just
to send a town crier to warn accordingly, and they would all
comply,” the chief recalled, complaining, “nothing of that sort
happens now. What happens now is that I would only receive
reports that this number of the disabled have   been arrested either
begging or trading. I now have to wait for permission to bail out
whoever deserves it, leaving the others to remain in anguish,” he

“Even our skilled wives, who sew clothes, make soap, insecticides
and detergents, have stopped doing anything now, because they
have nowhere to take the cartons of items for sale; and nobody
comes here to buy them. If they take the items to the markets, they
will be arrested. Presently, we have cartons of such consumer
items which we made ourselves, but we cannot sell them.

Sometimes I have to send my chairman of the disabled traders,
Ibrahim Sagir, to go and make attempts at bailing out the arrested
and retrieving the seized wares. Why can’t legal and legitimate
trading protect us from arrest? Why are we anathematized in our
own country?

“This is our complaint to the Federal Government. The government
should know that we are no more interested in begging. We have
stopped it for good, and we wish that we have departed from it

“As the way out, the government should make it easier for us to
trade, to help us avoid reverting to begging. If you are not allowed
to beg, you should be allowed to trade. If you are not allowed to
trade, you will revert to begging as a last resort, because one must
survive. We loathe begging, because we want to live honourable
lives. For example, on trading we should be exempted from some
of the laws enforced on our able-bodied fellow Nigerians.

Whenever the arresters see a trading cripple selling some wares
on his tricycle, they should remember: ‘we know his reason for
doing so,’ and, therefore, allow him to go on,” Alhaji Sulaiman

“I wish to passionately appeal to government to allocate another
place to us for a market where I can resettle my trading subjects,”
he concluded.

Ibrahim Sagir is the FCT Chairman of the People with Disability
Traders Union.

“Begging is an embarrassment; we detest doing it. That is why we
converged in Wuse Zone 3 to trade. The eight-year  old market
was demolished last Friday (23rd Sept. 2016) by the Development
Control Department. Some of  us took loans from banks, others
contributed money among themselves. We spent about N6 million
to erect about 80 shops in the market. All these were demolished
at once. I have been consoling my members to stay calm until we
think of the next step to take.

“We have been at home for five days; not begging, not trading, just
idling away. While we wait for the next thing to happen to us, we
appeal to government to look into our plight and help us settle
back to trading, because we loathe reverting to begging,” he said.

“I have 98 women traders all over the FCT, and these comprise
seamstresses, weavers, grinding machine owners and makers of
liquid soap and detergent, insecticides and germicides,” Rahina
Haruna, the Women Leader of the FCT People with Disability,

The seamstress complained: “Many of them have, however,
reverted to begging, because they have nowhere to take the items
they make for sale, and nobody comes here to buy. They have
children to cater for.”

The crippled women leader recalled: “A lady was arrested while
begging somewhere in town, and she was thrown, along with her
tricycle, into the bus like a sack of grains. It took a lot of efforts
before she was released. Whenever my members are caught
begging, they are often thrown off their tricycles, and left there to
crawl to whatever distance they can before some good Samaritans
help them home, while the tricycles are seized. As I am talking to
you now, there are no fewer than 100 seized tricycles belonging to
my members rusting away at the premises of the Zone 3 AEPB.”

The Public Relations Officer of the FCT Development Control
Department, Mr. James Afu, said the market was built on the Abuja
rail line, and the plot of land on which it was built belonged to the
FCT Transport Department. He advised the cripples to apply to the
FCT Minister for relocation.

Culled-daily trust

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