The Business Of Begging In Lagos: From A Giver’s Eye
The people of Anambra state particularly and Igbo people in general were miffed at the deadly precision with which the Lagos state government officials rounded up beggars of Igbo extraction and dumped them under the Upper Iweka Bridge in the dead of the night last year. We are all witnesses to the reaction of the Anambra state government under the leadership of Mr. Peter Obi, the former governor of the state. And also how much this infraction on the part of the Lagos state government cost Dr. Chris Ngige who was the APC gubernatorial candidate in the last election. Even when the Lagos state governor realized his misgivings and tendered somewhat unreserved apologies, the deed was already done and casualty figures were properly collated and documented for future strategic involvement in our electoral process viz-a-viz what not to dare during an election year as a tool of party social responsibility and while on a campaign train.
Believe you me; this is not about the shot-in-the-leg approach that cost APC dearly in Anambra electoral battles over who controls the executive arm of the government but an attempt to point out the power in the curse of the beggars. Begging in Lagos is a veritable source of income to a teeming number of Lagosians and others who visit Lagos on daily basis to eke out their livelihoods through the means and tool of begging. So when this channel of hanging by their lives thread above the sea level of hunger and deprivation is threatened, beggars are known to betray such brazen spitefulness towards anybody who wouldn’t let them suffer in the silence of their deprivation of human rights and rights to existence. So the story went that the repatriated beggars from Lagos placed a curse on the fortunes of the APC anywhere in Igboland. This same curse has already traversed the length of Igboland and has ported few weeks ago in Ekiti state where a hardworking governor was shown the way out.
This brings me to my choice of writing about beggars as an inspiration for this article. I was heading to Oshodi from Ikeja to keep to an appointment when I ran into a crowd of people who were descending on a hapless victim of jungle justice with clubs and the ends of their boots. What was his offense? He tried to rob one of the beggars. I had to change my position to enable me sight properly the unfolding scenario. When I felt I had an eye view of the stage and with the actors under the spotlight, I noticed to my chagrin that the unlucky person at the mercy of his judges who had passed enough judgment on him before the arrival of the police who helped save his poor life was a young man of about twenty-two. His handsome facial features had been battered that he was looking gross with mounds of swells and bruises with trim lines of blood running down his eyebrow down into his eyes. He just got served!
Poor boy! Then my neck craned to catch the sight of his beggar victim from another angle. Lo and behold, it was one of those boy-beggars who crawl on all fours. My reaction went out of me in an instinct.
“Why would anyone in their right sense try such meanness on a beggar?”
“I wonder.ooo!” A fellow observer-passerby had interjected.
Then I looked at him and asked him how the development unfolded.
He told me that because the beggar who could be in his teens was a bit far removed from his polythene bag for collection of alms from kind-hearted Lagosians, this dude walked up to him and they had a little conversation and the next thing the thieving young man did was to drop a note of N200 and took a balance of N450. It was said that he was looking for change to enable him join a bus going to Oshodi hence his approach to the beggar for a change. And you know it is common practice to see Lagosians negotiate with beggars for such help ever since lower denominations fled our shores. But this unlucky young man wanted to take advantage of the poorly-clad and helpless beggar who moves on his belly and hands. It was pathetic that anybody could try to be this wicked. Unknown to this victim, he never bargained with the business savvy nature of Lagosians who suffer the indignity of putting up their family members to stay under the sun and suffer from the cruelty of other elements from morning till night begging for alms in a country where such picture has no reason to exist. The beggar’s family members happened to be nearby while pretending to be busy with other concerns, but witnessed the dumb smartness of the robber of their cash cow. They waited till he had perfected his poaching on the beggar’s day’s collection before they zeroed-in on him. They started with the harmless question of, “How much did you drop inside the bag and how much balance did you take?”
To the above question, the thief could only say how much he dropped which was the sum of two hundred naira. They quickly but quietly frisked him having seen where he folded and squeezed his crumbled stolen loot into. On examination, he had taken more than good transaction permits. Before he could realize his predicament and without the benefit of explaining himself to the beggar’s family members, a thunder-like slap whipped out and landed across his face and blinded him momentarily. He was dazed too because he hit the ground and started asking for forgiveness. He bemoaned how it was the devil or the demon in him that led him to steal from a beggar. He could as well have been talking to the marines because his acceptance of guilt had enamoured his challengers to begin to use the crude ends of their booths on him while cursing him and shouting ‘oleh’ as the beating progressed. Within a twinkle of an eye, some other passersby had joined in the job of taking life if not for the arrival of the police. The thief continued to receive their thorough beatings from cudgels, and whatever weapon that came handy. His face got swollen and battered. His lips were torn when some sharp object used as a weapon connected to his lips. His head became broken in different places as blood continued to gush out.
A well-dressed young man was suddenly reduced to a worthless animal and stripped bare to his birthday clothes instead.
Whoever warned him his day could end up the way it did didn’t use the proper words of admonishment. He was begging for his dear life and then two policemen on another beat happened into the pathetic scene of jungle justice and saved the boy’s life.
A week later, I went back to the beggar that crawls on all fours. I greeted him politely and searched through my pockets and dropped N200 note into his collection bag. He was happy. His looks said it all. Then this little chat took place between us.
“My brother I always see you here and I always remember you in my prayers. I know it’s not easy.” I started.
“My oga, no be small. This is what polio reduced me to. I can’t walk but crawl on my belly.”
“I keep wondering, how do you get here every day?”
“Ah! One of my brothers always ‘back’ me from home to here.”
“On a good day, how much do you make?”
“My oga, this business na for God hand e dey. Sometimes I go home with three thousand and some change while at other times; I go home with less than a thousand naira.”
When I asked him for his name, he declined in a knowing smile. I didn’t press him, seeing that begging in some Nigerian cultures is seen as a taboo that earns the practitioner ostracized from his kith and kin.
Then again, Lagos is known for all shades of character and in the business of begging, there are the well-dressed and good looking beggars we term ‘corporate beggars’. Whenever you are waylaid by any of them, you’ll first be assaulted by the fact that they look better dressed than you appear. But because they have taken time to appraise your kind and soft looks and appearance of the presence of affluence about you, they will zero-in on you like a rampaging python and begin to asphyxiate you with their brazen demands on your lean pockets. Out of human compassion, and depending on how much you have left on you, you may decide to part with the amount they actually asked of you. They will come to you with the story of how they came into town from any of the surrounding states on a job interview and how they were robbed and how they needed the sum of five hundred naira to complete what they have raised from kind-hearted Nigerians for them to get home. As a human being with belief and trust in humanity, your milk of kindness is bound to overflow even if it means hurting yourself.
Then again, you have the beggars who live a lie in our midst. Theirs is so creative and full of dare-devilry. In this omnibus, women beggars are the worst offenders. They will administer on their breasts the wound-dressing content of Gentian violet and what have you and finished it off with baking streaks of darkening blood. This completes the picture of a woman with breast cancer. It is a perfect picture that elicits generous amount of pity and support from the womenfolk for one of their own. Even men are not left out in the business of reaching-out to this victim of a dreadful sickness like breast cancer. I have come across a woman whose begging business outfit was busted by concerned Nigerians who felt her sickness was a lie.
Then again, Lagos has a teeming number of beggars who use their children to enhance greater pity from Lagosians. The Fulani/Hausa beggars are the major culprits. Children that are still suckling their mothers’ breasts are made to come out under the scourge of unforgiving Lagos sun and persistent rain to enhance the family’s source of income. Right there, the children will defecate and still have their meals with the added appurtenances of flies daring to jump into either the food or the excreta.
But Lagosians are the best kinds of our Nigerianness. They are aware of the crude antics of the beggars but still go ahead in giving them the needed alms.
I spoke with Pastor Victor Eneberi of the Redeemed Church on this matter and he has this to say:
“Alms-giving is a virtue that every human should imbibe. Certain forces of life could make one lose his place of pride in life and you will need to beg for you to survive and come out of your predicament. That is why I do my utmost best to give even as I know that givers never lack, I give to those who beg knowing that the stories behind their immediate status as beggars could be genuine. I will not because of the excesses of the bad-minded beggars generalize that all beggars on the streets of Lagos are without genuine needs and hope for a better tomorrow.”
I agree with Pastor Eneberi in toto.
First Published in NaijaPeeps Magazine 2015