© 2019 - International Centre for Investigative Reporting
Ayaga: The story of a child beggar at Usmanu Danfodio University
By: Emelife Uchenna (Student Journalist)
THE SAPPHIRE eyes of Ahmad Yusuf who is a second-year student of Literature were completely dimmed the minute they beheld the questions for an examination, held at PTF Hall sometimes ago. The horror the questions commanded was a general tragedy because the faces he saw around — those of his course mates — bore the near snarl that summarised his expression. Ahmad kept looking at his answer booklet as though the answers would magically appear. Even the invigilators were strangely quiet. If it were night, he would’ve heard the eerily sounds of crickets.
Then, without anyone noticing, Ayaga walked into the class. “Ayaga yaga!” he cried, causing the entire hall, students and lecturers alike, to erupt in laughter.
“It didn’t change the difficulty of the questions that were before me, but that laugh Ayaga caused reduced the tension and made me feel more relaxed,” Ahmad later confessed.
“Ayaga” as he is fondly called is actually Mubarak Kasimu, the most popular beggar at Usmanu Danfodio University, Sokoto (UDUS). His popularity can be credited to his distinct begging style. Ayaga is relentless. He doesn’t take no for an answer. He would trail students, limping with his bent left arm outstretched holding a plate, or “Kokum bara” — as it is called in Sokoto parlance — screaming at the top of his voice, “Ayaga!”. Other times, he cries “yaga ya ga!” with the spontaneity of the articulation depending on his level of familiarity with the student(s). Ayaga would only stop when such students point at others for him to solicit from after he must have ascertained that they truly have nothing to offer.
This strategy works for him because, at the close of each day, Ayaga takes out all the money he has made and arranges them according to different denominations like a regular businessman.
Ayaga is from “Angwa le le Mai Daji”, a hamlet in the Local Government Area of Wamakko, Sokoto state. His father is a farmer who shuttles between Lagos, where he also works as a menial labourer, and his home town, where he only returns to during the rainy season to farm. His mother, like most women in that community, is a housewife, and solely depends on the little income her husband makes from his labour in Lagos and from the farm to take care of the family. As a result, there is a relative absence of decent living for Ayaga and his family members.
To fend for himself and others, Ayaga chose the closest profession his uneducated mind could think of and that which his health condition could bear especially in Northern Nigeria: begging.
“What is a more convenient environment for my business than a school where thousands live in?” he must have thought, especially since the university is just a few kilometres away from his village.
So, every day, Ayaga would limp through the nooks and crannies of the university and would return home after sundown.
When the school isn’t in session, he would extend his begging to areas around the bus stop of the university and greet the residents of the homes around there with his mantra: ” Ayaga”.
“I give it to mama to cook”
Mubarak earned the Ayaga nickname because of his speech defect. He can only accurately articulate ‘ah’, ‘ya’, and ‘ga’, with the remaining sounds resembling a mumble. As a result, he shies away from conversations and would rather use gestures in answering inquiries.
This reporter, however, forced a conversation with Mubarak on a sunny afternoon, after seeing him dipping money he had made from his latest benefactors into his breast pocket. He eventually learns from the bumpy conversation that Mubarak’s family also survives on the proceeds of his begging sessions.
Mubarak simply replied ‘yes’ to questions such as how he intended to get home. When the reporter asked in Hausa how much transportation back home costs him, he reacted by bringing a N100 note from his pocket.
“Can I follow you to your house?” the reporter asked.
“Yes!” he answered cheerfully.
“What will you give me if I do?”
“Food? Is there food at home now? Who made it?”
“Mama na [my mother].”
“Is that who you take your money to?”
“Yes. I give it to her to cook for us.”
Possible cerebral palsy
Mubarak exhibits symptoms of a neurological disorder called “cerebral palsy”. Simply called ‘CP’, it is a common neurological disorder with over 100 thousand cases per year in Nigeria and which often affects people aged below 40.
It is a disorder of movement, muscle tone or posture that is caused by damage that occurs to immature, developing brain, most often before birth.
Yusuf Ayama, a 400 Level student in Medicine, Usmanu Danfodio University, Sokoto who has a keen interest in neurosurgery, in a conversation with this reporter, narrowed down physical features of Mubarak to symptoms of this neurological disorder. These features include baring of teeth, bloated lips and drool expulsion he described as upper motor neuron lesion (cranial nerves), his bent left toe that causes him to limp, and a spinal cord compression or injury. He also suggested that his speech defect and lack of muscle coordination is as a result of ataxia.
Kenechukwu Che Ibeneme, a Private Psychologist, also posits that, based on the symptoms, cerebral palsy is his educated guess. He, however, added that since Mubarak can move on his own without a wheelchair or support, he must have a mild form of the disorder.
“If I become the governor, I will open 1000 schools”
It wasn’t the regular Wednesday for Mubarak, and the early sunrise had nothing to do with it. Like every other day, he left the supposed comfort of his home, donned a fading brown sleeveless kaftan on a cheque blue long sleeve shirt and an ash pair of trousers with black stripes all over it. His plate was loosely held by his contorted right fingers, as he limped to the park to board a car headed for the university which he has ironically turned a working place.
Mubarak arrived at the university many hours into the afternoon of that Wednesday, but instead of resuming work immediately, he chose to pay a visit to his friend: Prof. Abdulateef Femi Usman, a Professor in Social History, Usmanu Danfodiyo University, Sokoto. Mubarak had overtime become greatly acquainted with this Professor that he calls him “Baba” which means “Father” in Hausa.
“He is such a positive and cheerful child,” Prof. Usman said in an interview when this reporter asked him why he had taken a liking for Mubarak.
Mubarak in his swagger limped all the way to the Department of History refusing to stop to greet/beg anyone on the way. He carried an unusual serious mien even though his baring teeth attempted to give it away. He would only stop when he got to the door of Prof. Usman’s office.
Once the professor heard the familiar footsteps of his friend, he readied himself to receive him. He checked his pockets to confirm if he had something to offer, partly because his wife who is also a lecturer insists so.
“She likes him too. She would insist I give him more money, even after I have earlier done that.”
“Come in,” Prof. Usman said in Hausa to Mubarak who was courteous enough to wait for an invitation. When he entered, Mubarak didn’t greet or ask about the professor’s family like he usually does. He instead threw a question that completely caught the Social History professor off guard.
“He asked me if he goes to school, can he become a governor?” he recalled.
“Then he says if he becomes a governor, he would build 1000 schools. This shows that the poor boy has a passion for education.”
Mubarak would later go back home and gleefully share his dream with his father, like all he needed was the professor’s assurance to actualise his dream of not just getting an education, but creating more schools (1000) for others to do so too.
Unfortunately for Mubarak, to keep his passion from fading, he would require more than just support from his parents. His health condition calls for medical attention, which he needs to get regularly.
“What the poor boy lacks is adequate medical attention. If he can be given that, I tell you he will do so well,” Prof. Usman remarked.
If indeed it is Cerebral Palsy, like most neurological disorders, it has no cure but it can be managed.
“First, they need daily care and assistance,” observed Kenechukwu Che Ibeneme.
“They may not be able to feed themselves and/or perform other self-keeping practices properly, and as such requires assistance. Sharp objects or anything that could cause injury should be kept far away from them for obvious reasons.”
“Cerebral Palsy doesn’t worsen. It is not degenerative,” he added. “It can last for an entire lifetime. If you have noticed marked changes in the disability then it is not cerebral palsy.”