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  Table of Contents 
Year : 2014  |  Volume : 17  |  Issue : 5  |  Page : 637-640

Exploring the options for alternative means of livelihood for blind street beggars in Sokoto, Nigeria

1 Department of Ophthalmology, Federal Medical Centre, Birnin Kebbi, Nigeria
2 Department of Ophthalmology, University of Ilorin Teaching Hospital, Ilorin, Nigeria
3 Department of Ophthalmology, Federal Medical Centre, Owo, Nigeria
4 Department of Ophthalmology, Usmanu Danfodiyo University, Sokoto, Nigeria

Date of Acceptance26-Mar-2014
Date of Web Publication22-Sep-2014

Correspondence Address:
Aliyu H Balarabe
Department of Ophthalmology, Federal Medical Centre, Birnin Kebbi, P.M.B 1126, Birnin Kebbi, Kebbi State
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Source of Support: None, Conflict of Interest: None

DOI: 10.4103/1119-3077.141433

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Aim: To explore the readiness of and the options for alternative means of livelihood for Blind Street beggars in Sokoto, Nigeria, with a view to achieving the millennium development goals.
Materials and Methods: A cross-sectional study was conducted in a Local Government Area (LGA), in Sokoto State over a 6 weeks period (May/June, 2009). Ethical clearance was obtained from the Ethical Committee of University of Ilorin Teaching Hospital. A list of blind persons in these areas was obtained from the local traditional head of the blind (Sarkin Makafi) who gave the general consent for the study and also assisted in mobilizing the subjects. Blind subjects who consented were examined and included in the study. Data were collected with a semistructured questionnaire. The desire for occupational change and the preferred alternative means of sustenance were explored. Data obtained were coded, analyzed, and summarized in form of frequency tables.
Results: A total of 216 (94.7%) subjects were examined out of the 228 subjects that were enumerated. However, only 202 of the registered persons that were actually found to be blind on ophthalmic examination were included in the analysis. Majority of the subjects, 201 (99.5%), wanted alternative means of livelihood. About half of the subjects, 100 (49.8%), wanted to be established in farming or trading.
Conclusion: Most respondents expressed readiness for alternative means of livelihood.

Keywords: Blind beggars, millennium development goals, Nigeria, occupational change, poverty alleviation

How to cite this article:
Balarabe AH, Mahmoud AO, Omolase CO, Nasiru M. Exploring the options for alternative means of livelihood for blind street beggars in Sokoto, Nigeria. Niger J Clin Pract 2014;17:637-40

How to cite this URL:
Balarabe AH, Mahmoud AO, Omolase CO, Nasiru M. Exploring the options for alternative means of livelihood for blind street beggars in Sokoto, Nigeria. Niger J Clin Pract [serial online] 2014 [cited 2023 Jan 26];17:637-40. Available from:

   Introduction Top

Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) were set around the year 2000. The United Nations UN and affiliated organizations, heads of Governments and Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) put these goals together. The MDG commits the international community to an expanded vision of development. [1] It vigorously promotes human development as the key to sustaining social and economic progress in all countries. There is a good measure of awareness of MDGs and an optimism of the attainability of the goals among some Nigerian health workers; however, the situation is not the same in Northern Nigeria. [2],[3] There is little progress made in the northern part of Nigeria with majority of people living in abject poverty. This is particularly so among the blind beggars who represent the poorest of the poor among our society. Poverty is worse among the blind persons in Nigeria due to a combination of factors including lower income, fewer employment opportunities, and additional cost to their disability. [2] Blind people have lower work force participation rates and are more likely to be unemployed than many other groups in the population.

Blindness still remains a major public health, social and economic problem especially in the developing world, where more than three-quarters of the world's blind people live. [4] Poor living conditions, poverty, ignorance, and lack of health services all impact negatively on vision in these parts of the world. [5]

Blindness has considerable negative economic implications for the individual and the community. [5],[6] These implications range from loss of productivity and income to social dependence requiring rehabilitative and supportive services which are scarcely available in developing countries like Nigeria. [7],[8],[9],[10] Hence, some blind individuals have to resort to street begging in order to earn a living or else die slowly of hunger. [11]

Street begging is a social problem and a menace that is rampant in Northern Nigeria. [11] Some poor individuals resort to street begging to sustain their families. This is more pronounced among people living with disabilities, particularly the blind persons. In view of the fact that poverty and blindness are linked in a cycle in developing countries: [5] poverty is a cause and a consequence of visual disability, a study among blind beggars might be revealing. This study is aimed at determining the readiness of blind beggars in a cross section of northern Nigerian population to embrace other means of livelihood for poverty reduction in line with the millennium development goals.

   Materials and Methods Top

A cross-sectional study was conducted in Sokoto North Local Government Area (LGA), which constitutes a segment of the Sokoto metropolitan area and has a population of 226, 397. [12] Ethical clearance was obtained from the Ethical Committee of University of Ilorin Teaching Hospital. The study was conducted over a period of 6 weeks in (May/June) 2009.

The blind street beggars were noticed to congregate around eight major streets of the local government area to beg. A list of blind persons in these areas was obtained from the traditional head of the blind (Sarkin Makafi) who gave the general consent for the study after approval from the local authority and also assisted in mobilizing the subjects. Blind subjects who consented were included in the study.

Data were collected by interviewing the subjects who met the inclusion criteria (Blind street beggars who consented) using a semistructured questionnaire that captured the demographic data that included name, age, sex, and educational attainment of the subjects. Detailed occupational history including reasons for street begging, duration of street begging, number of hours spent begging in a day, additional vocation, requirement for an escort, the age of the escort and the relationship if any, were obtained. The desire for occupational change and the preferred alternative means of sustenance were also explored. The questionnaire was administered in Hausa by AHB (one of the authors) who was fluent in Hausa language.

The questionnaire was pretested on blind subjects begging in a nearby LGA and modifications made as required. Ophthalmic clinical examination was conducted with the aid of a pen torch and a 2.5 × magnifying loupe, Snellen E chart and direct ophthalmoscope where appropriate. The detailed findings of the ocular examination among the subjects has been accepted for publication by the Middle East Africa Journal of Ophthalmology (MEAJO), as the study formed part of a large survey conducted to determine the causes of blindness among beggars in the study area.

Data obtained were coded, analysed and summarized in form of frequency tables using Epi-info 2000 statistical software package.

   Results Top

Age and sex distribution

The age and sex distribution of the study sample is shown in [Table 1]. The age range was from 8 years to 78 years. The mean age was 49 years +12.2 (SD). Persons ranging from 46-60 years of age constituted the highest percentage (44.6%), followed by those in the age group 31 to 45 years (33.7%). Those between 16-30 years of age group accounted for 5.9% as shown in [Table 1]. One hundred and seven (53.0%) subjects were males while 95 (47.0%) were females. This gives a male: female ratio of 1.1:1.
Table 1: Age distribution, sex distribution, Educational status, additional vocation, and preferred alternative job among blind beggars in Sokoto North LGA

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Educational status

One hundred and ninety one subjects (94.6%) had non-formal education (Quranic education) while eight (4.0%) had no form of education, two (1.0%) had primary education and only one (0.5%) had secondary education. None of the blind beggars had been to a tertiary institution. The result is shown in [Table 1].

Occupational details

The subjects engaged in street begging to earn their living and poverty was the major reason for street begging. One hundred and ninety subjects (94%) had been begging on the streets for more than 5 years and 88% spent 8 h or more on the streets each day. About 92% of the beggars were led by children less than 16 years of age. Apart from street begging which was a source of income for all the subjects, 18 subjects (8.9%) had an additional vocation. The occupational distribution is shown in [Table 1], with trading and farming constituting the majority, 44.4% each, while teaching and trading accounted for 5.6% each.

Characteristics of the blindness

The principal cause of blindness was corneal opacity with measles, malnutrition, neonatal conjunctivitis, and trachoma as the underlying causes.

Preferred alternative source of sustenance

When asked, whether with alternative source of sustenance the subjects would be willing to stop street begging, two hundred and one subjects (99.5%) answered 'Yes'. Only one respondent said 'No'. He cited traditional belief that a blind person is a disabled and so he should beg for assistance as his reason for not willing to stop street begging.

Participants were asked for their preferred alternative source of sustenance. Majority (100, 49.8%) wanted 'Establishment in a trade or farming'. Fifty two respondents (25.9%) wanted financial support for basic necessities of life while the remaining subjects (39, 24.4%) preferred vocational training as shown in [Table 1].

   Discussion Top

Blindness is not just a health issue but also an issue of poverty, the interrelationship between blindness and poverty has been well documented in a study among blind persons in North eastern Nigeria. [2] Our study was conducted in northwestern Nigeria which borders the North eastern Nigeria. These zones share similar geographical and cultural factors that contribute to greater prevalence of blindness in Nigeria. [13] High levels of poverty and illiteracy are other associated factors. Poor access to eye care services, misconception on traditional beliefs, and higher uptake of couching as alternative to cataract surgical intervention, all contribute negatively to the greater prevalence of blindness in the zones. [13],[14],[15]

The subjects in this study earned their living on the streets through begging with poverty as the major underlying factor for indulging in street begging. Majority of the subjects spent more than 8 h begging on the streets and yet were unable to meet up with their daily needs. Previous studies in northern Nigeria revealed that despite the time spent on the streets the beggars lived on less than 1 dollar a day. [2],[16] Poverty is not only adjudged in terms of income but also in terms of poor access to health care services, education, poverty alleviation programmes, and literacy programmes. Poverty is thought to be an absence of the opportunity to live a life of dignity and respect which is what the blind beggars' represent. [2] Eradicating extreme poverty and hunger would require addressing the menace of street begging by the blind persons through provision and embracing of alternative means of livelihood. Blind people have higher costs of living associated with their disabilities. These may include high cost of medication, purchase of special equipment or aids, access to appropriate transport and services related to personal care. The combination of higher cost of living along with low income leads to a correlation between blindness and poverty. [2]

Majority of our subjects had not accessed formal education and this is likely to have a relationship to their blindness. More than 90% of visually impaired people in low income countries do not go to schools due to factors such as lack of awareness on the part of the parents on the availability of schools for the blind or as a result of poor infrastructure, lack of suitable educational materials, unqualified teachers, poverty, or due to the distance between homes and the schools. [17],[18] Since our subjects had lost the opportunity of formal education, the appropriate rehabilitation would be access to vocational training and poverty alleviation programmes that would enable them to live a life of dignity and respect. Proper rehabilitation of street beggars might also possibly disengage the children that escort them. Achieving universal basic education would only be attainable if these street children have access to formal education as more than 90% of our subjects were led about by children less than 16 years of age.

The finding of corneal opacity as the major cause of blindness in this study is not only a pointer to poverty but also to poor access to maternal and child health. The underlying factors to corneal blindness in this study were malnutrition, diarrhoeal diseases, infections such as neonatal conjunctivitis and trachoma. Achieving health related MDGs would lead to a significant reduction in the number of blind persons from these avoidable causes of blindness.

People that roam the streets begging are more likely to be abused and are at a risk of acquiring many diseases. Our subjects had been begging on the streets for more than 5 years and they spent a significant amount of time on the streets with resultant increase in the risks of road traffic accidents and increase mortality as a consequence. Studies had revealed that blindness is a significant contributor to suffering and premature death. [19],[20]

A strong partnership between government, NGOs, families, and the society is required to fully rehabilitate the blind beggars. It is gratifying to note that our subjects were willing to change their occupation to other alternatives means of livelihood through vocational training and poverty alleviation programs. Participants are willing to be established in trade and farming through training and provision of basic requirements that would support their businesses. Some of the blind beggars engage in these activities at a smaller scale to support their families. Their educational status may not constitute a barrier to trading and farming. The existing welfare support system in the LGA may be modified to accommodate their desires rather than monthly stipend issued to some of the registered blind beggars that is grossly inadequate to cater for their needs.

A strong commitment on the part of government and other partners through funding is required to achieve occupational change for street beggars and there by contributing to achieving the MDGs particularly the MDG 1 and 2 that deals with the eradication of extreme poverty and hunger as well as provision of universal basic education. [1] There is the need for the intensification and modification of the welfare scheme that is targeted at people leaving with disabilities. The required modification is to equip them with the necessary skills and resources to live an independent life through proper economic empowerment by establishing the beggars in trading and farming as well as vocational training. Adequate investment by government, development agencies and other funding bodies are required to achieve the MDGs in this part of the country.

   Acknowledgement Top

Our appreciation to the Authority of Local Government Area and our Research assistants.

   References Top

1.International Agency for Prevention of Blindness. Blindness, poverty and development - the impact of Vision 2020 on the Millenniun Development Goals. Available from: [Last accessed on 2007 Jul 12].  Back to cited text no. 1
2.Ribadu DY, Mahmoud AO. Assessment of interrelationship between poverty and blindness in Maiduguri, Nigeria. Niger Postgrad Med J 2010;13:308-12.  Back to cited text no. 2
3.Omolase CO, Mahmoud AO, Fadamiro CO, Omolase BO, Omolade EO. Millennium Development Goals: An assessment of awareness and perception of attainability by health workers in Owo, Nigeria. Niger J Clin Pract 2009;12:134-7.  Back to cited text no. 3
4.VISION 2020: The Right to Sight. Report on World Sight 2002. Executive document; 1:1-22.Accessed online at 2020. October 2002. p 1- 22.  Back to cited text no. 4
5.Faal H. National Postgraduate Medical College of Nigeria 8 th faculty of Ophthalmology lecture. Ibadan: The Economics of Sight and Vision loss; Source: NPMCN, Lagos, Nigeria 2005. p 1-28.  Back to cited text no. 5
6.Frick KD, Foster A. The magnitude and cost of global blindness. An increasing problem that can be alleviated. Am J Ophthalmol 2003;76:91-8.  Back to cited text no. 6
7.Mahmoud AO, Olatunji FO, Ayanniyi AA. Ophthalmologists' perceptions of the rehabilitation services for the irreversibly blind in Nigeria. Niger J Ophthalmol 2005;13:58-61.  Back to cited text no. 7
8.Olatunji FO, Mahmoud AO, Ayanniyi AA. What Nigerian Ophthalmologists do for their irreversibly blind patients? Trop J Health Sci 2006;13:36-41.  Back to cited text no. 8
9.Kana IA. Magnitude and causes of irreversible blindness and the assessment of needs for rehabilitation services in Chikun Local Government Area of Kaduna State: A dissertation for the award of Fellowship Diploma in Ophthalmology, National Postgraduate Medical College May, 2007.  Back to cited text no. 9
10.Dawodu OA, Ejegi FN. The problem of educating blind children in Benin City, Nigeria. Niger J Ophthalmol 2001;9:20-4.  Back to cited text no. 10
11.Mahmoud AO. The role of Muslim Health Workers in combating avoidable blindness in our society. At-tabib J 2006;1:26-8.  Back to cited text no. 11
12.National Population Commission Office Abuja, Nigeria. Projected 2005 Population Census based on 1991 census.  Back to cited text no. 12
13.Kyari F, Murthy VS, Gudvalletti G, Salvary S, Clare EG, Abdull M, et al; Nigeria National Blindness and Visual Impairment study group. Prevalence of blindness and visual impairment in Nigeria: The National Blindness and Visual Impairment Survey. Invest Ophthalmol Vis Sci 2009;50:2034-9.  Back to cited text no. 13
14.Abdu L. Prevalence and causes of blindness and low vision in Danbatta Local Government Area of Kano Sate Nigeria. Niger J Med 2002;11:108-12.  Back to cited text no. 14
15.Mahmoud AO. Traditional operative couching of the lens is not a safe alternative procedure for cataract surgery in Northern Nigeria. Sahel Med J 2005;8:32-5.  Back to cited text no. 15
16.Popoola DS, Ayinmode MF, Akande TM. Psychosocial characteristic of totally blind people in a Nigerian city. Middle East Afr J Ophthalmol 2010;17:335-42.  Back to cited text no. 16
17.Faal H, Gilbert C. Convincing government to act. Vision 2020 and millennium development goals. Community Eye Health 2007;20:62-4.  Back to cited text no. 17
18.Yeo R, Moore K. Including disabled people in poverty reduction work: Nothing about, without us. World Dev 2003;31:571-90.  Back to cited text no. 18
19.Frick KD, Foster A, Momodou B, Faal H. Analysis of costs and benefits of the Gambian eye care program. Arch Ophthalmol 2005;123:239-43.  Back to cited text no. 19
20.Taylor HR, Pezullo ML, Keeffe JE. The economic impact and cost of visual loss in Australia. Br J Ophthalmol 2006;90:272-5.  Back to cited text no. 20


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