Generally, the menace of social miscreants, particularly in developing economies, has continued to elicit concerns in view of the risks this army of socially depraved people constitute to their societies. One obvious manifestation of these problems, especially in Nigeria, is begging. That is, the art of asking people for money, food, and clothing. It is against the backdrop of the multi-faceted problems begging constitute to the socio-economic environment that Jide Ajia, in this analysis takes a critical look at the menace with a view to drawing governments’ attention to their needs and how best to address them.
In Nigeria where majority of the citizens have to contend with sundry challenges in order to eke out a living, desperation has become the character traits as millions of people continue to brace all odds for survival. Expectedly, some sacrifice their dignity and respect on the altar of survivalist urges.
The desperation for survival in Nigeria at all cost today has turned what ordinarily should not have mattered to say, a sociologist to become a subject of rigorous researches in an effort to understand the underlying factors responsible for the socially growing nuisance in many cities across the country.
While it is a historical fact that begging has been part of the social life in most urban cities, its recent manifestations have continued to call for serious attention. Today, we have the traditional begging, corporate begging and the new invention in the art of begging now, known as fraudulent begging. However, the model which is the focus of this analysis is ‘Beggarly Parasites’.
This model describes a situation where chronically sick persons, such as those infected with cancer, diabetes, hernia and other disabled persons, are being ‘managed’ by three or four able-bodied persons, who invariably become the beggars’ dependants. This army of able-bodied ‘escorts’ take their ‘victims’, the physically challenged usually along highways, urging people to help the handicap financially.
In many instances, they use something like offering baskets and spread across their patients. In some cases, the sick or disabled persons speak through megaphones, appealing for alms and offering prayers for potential alms givers while the able-bodied men working with them collect the alms on their behalf.
For an ordinary passer-by who may not take special interest in the menace of ubiquitous beggars, their location in strategic junctions and bus stops may not make any meaning. But investigations by The Kernel on this ‘special business’ indicate that these human parasites even earn more than the physically challenged persons they use as baits, in their deprecatory ‘business’ adventures.
Apart from their depraved life styles, these hordes of human parasites also pose other risks to the society as investigations confirm that many of them are vendors of communicable diseases. It is observed that those who offer to assist their ‘victims’, the physically challenged are usually exposed to the risk of being infected with these ailments if they stay a little bit to ask questions about the causal factors of the disabilities.
While governments appear not to appreciate the enormity of the risks posed by the beggars and their aiding parasites, health experts believe that the increasing risks of communicable diseases they suffer from to urban dwellers in Lagos, Ibadan, Port Harcourt, Abuja, Kano, Owerri, Onitsha and Benin, among other cities cannot be under-estimated.
Similarly, the surging population of beggars in most cities now constitutes some form of economic risks or environmental nuisance. Begging has serious implication for the cities’ and national economy as beggars are not economically productive in any way since they contribute nothing to the economy. Beggars also portray the country in a bad light to outsiders or strangers. Some criminals hide under the guise of beggars to perpetuate their evil deeds.
They are at times used as instruments by mischief makers, who use them to vandalize public properties and utilities built with nation’s resources. The nefarious activities of those fake beggars such as criminals, area boys and thugs constitute one of the sources of civil unrest to the city dwellers.
Further investigations by The Kernel show that there are some ‘parasites’ in the begging ‘job’ that are richer than their arms-givers.
At Ikeja, there are also categories of beggars that are the perpetually sick ones. These ones always suffer from diseases, like cancerous growths on visible parts of their bodies, which they showcase like ‘a badge of honour’ in order to elicit sympathy from passers-by and be helped’. For instance, there is an old man who begs for money because he had elephantiasis. He is seen around quite a lot and many are feeling if he has gone to a hospital to have his swollen leg examined, he would probably have been operated on and the ailment healed. He drags it around like a luggage and the sheer size of it intimidates people into giving him money.
Along some other strategic locations, especially at Ikeja by the rail-sideways and Agege (Pen-Cinema) in Lagos, where our correspondent interacted with many some form of diseases are carried and put at the center of the road with men and women with bows in their hands soliciting for help. The bowls are carefully designed with cloth that stretches down like offering basket of old.
Findings around them (parasites), indicate that they are controlled by godfathers who are entitled to a ‘cut’ or ‘share’ of their money in return for ‘protection’. The godfathers are also responsible for costuming i.e. fake wounds on appropriate parts of their bodies. For the lame, they provide them the wheelchairs, wheelbarrows or skateboards; and for the blind, the young boys and girls leading them through the roads are also kitted.
An encounter between our correspondent and one of the beggarly parasites, who simply identified herself as Bintu, reflected that most of them that were barely literate and did not appreciate that engaging in productive activities is more socially edifying than aiding their physically challenged sisters, brothers, mothers and fathers to beg.
Bintu, who is a secondary school drop-out explained: “My sister brought me from Katsina to Lagos to assist her. I didn’t know she was begging then. But since I joined her, I have been assisting her because she is sick and needs help. I am not ashamed to assist her but I have not searched for any job since I came to Lagos.”
Peter Oladele, who is from Ekpoma, Edo State, is the new coordinator of Agege (Pen Cinema) axis beggars. He started managing the area three years ago after he was forced out of tricycle parking and offloading job in the same Agege by his superiors in the business.
He recounted his ordeal: “I think misunderstanding ensued while I asked who is handling the local government money and I was fired for that reason. The reason I wanted to know who is handling local government share of the market is because I’m generating revenue for the local government and think I should be entitled a share from it. Instead of continued with them, I was fired and that is how I got to be coordinating beggars by the rail side-ways.”
Responding to how much will he be generating to the government from his new business (alms collection), Oladele, who is popularly known as ‘Baba Nyaara’ said: “I’m just mobilizing them to be relevant in generating funds to the government coffers. For now, we just started and we are looking at what we can do. Right now, I cannot do anything without government because the Lagos state government has embarked on massive construction.
“The ongoing fly-over at Oke-Koto area has scattered the people and their business until after the project is completed before we can call everybody to see how we can bring it to the government attention. We don’t want to see beggars, especially the northerners flooding our streets again. That is why we need certain areas where these beggars can be domiciled for care and attention.
“I wish that the state government create sites for my people (beggars) and no one would be seen begging on the main road again. We also need the government to regulate our activities by issuing tickets to us and with that, we have targets and work with the target.
“I was forced out to come and manage this place. There were several cases of phone snatching by some hoodlums in the area from Thursdays, Fridays and Sundays when people from different places come to share alms with beggars here. But that menace has ended these days”, Oladele added.
On how he has been dealing with Lagos State Sanitation Force, the beggars’ coordinator said that the state government was concerned more of the dirty environment and the environment is clean.
He said: “I went to Ijora, Lagos Island and I realized that those beggars were evacuated because they loiter the street and far from personal hygiene. As a result, I ensure that all beggars including the blinds involve in cleaning exercise and whoever refused that order will be deported to his/her state to continue the dirty attitude if permitted there.
“The rail-line is congested already. If the ticket is there, that means only those sitting by the rail-lines are those recognized by the government to be there. Some of them have turned this place to a normal place where you can come and do anything you feel like”, Oladele stressed.
Although some of those aiding the beggars in Lagos are young boys and girls who could not respond to questions on why they decided to be following their physically challenged relations in the begging business, those that are old failed to answer questions put to them, ostensibly from fear of being raided by government officials and deported to them home states.
However, most of the beggars justified why they continue to solicit financial assistance from people publicly on health grounds.
Hauwa Garba, a 42 years old beggar from Jigawa State, is hypertensive for about three years. She has visited the hospital and diagnosed for ulcer. She was billed to pay N5,000 out of which she had N2,000.
She claimed that she “was given reliving tablets” before entering the street to start begging to raise money for proper treatment over the past three years.
Another beggar, Haruna Datti, 30, claimed he was possessed with unknown sprit from Bauchi State since 2014 and that whenever the sprit descends on him, he usually falls down.
According to him, he has not visited any hospital since the spirit took over his life and has been begging to raise fund since then. When asked about how much he has been able to save for his medication, he refused to disclose amount saved but said he wanted to go to Jigawa state hospital for treatment.
Lami Hassan, 54, Kano state citizen has been in Lagos since 1977 till date. She lives between Lagos and Kano until she got affected with arthritis and later sustained deep cut in an accident from Kano to Lagos last two years.
“I am also an asthma and ulcer patient before I was involved in a ghastly motor accident on my way to Lagos from Kano about two years ago. I want to raise money to go to the hospital so that test would be conducted on me in view of some symptoms. I have spent a lot of money to buy Ampiclox to treat my legs before I go for proper hospital check.
Commenting on socio-economic impact of beggars on the street of Lagos, Yayi Timothy Opeyemi, a lecturer in the Department of Social Sciences Education, University of Ilorin, said the beggars without any iota of doubt constituted a nuisance.
He clarified: “Not derailing to religious talk, their prevalence is alarming and seriously calls for attention. It is worthy to note that there are various categories of beggars with varying reasons. Whether temporary or permanent, part-time or full time, this nefarious act is condemnable as they always turn out to be vagabonds. However lucrative as the business may be, it impacts negatively on all spheres of human endeavor.
“One very important impact of begging is what could be referred to as “labour flight”. It is not only capital flight that we have. Labour, skills and mental cognition that could have been useful to the society is left to fallow when able-bodied individuals resort to begging. Ultimately, their action will be hinged to religion; stressing giving of alms. This later transcends to congestion, pick-pocketing to mention a few.
“In Lagos, the biblical saying that “can anything good come out of Nazareth”, is more applicable to the beggars because they are unproductive and can only contribute to the spread of disease and infections”, Opeyemi added.
An official of the Lagos Environmental Sanitation Corps (LAGESC), formerly known as the Kick Against Indiscipline (KAI), who declined to give his name on the basis that he was not authorized to speak for the agency, said that beggars were arrested in the past, especially during former governor Babatunde Fashola, for constituting larger portion of dirt in the city.
The officer, during an interaction with our correspondent when he visited the office of the Executive Secretary of LAGESC, Idowu Mohammed, said that Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu was not interested in pursuing any beggar in Lagos Sate for now.
“The concern of this government is to ensure that everybody is well catered for especially by assigning rehabilitation centers for them”, he quipped.
He also talked about the raiding and subsequent deportation of beggars during former Governor Fashola, saying that those deported were due to lack of proper documentation since those with proofs of identity were not deported from Lagos state then.
He, however, appealed to members of the public to cooperate with the government by giving alms to the less privileged in the society only through registered charity homes and other such organizations in order to curtail and totally eradicate the social scourge.
The officer also explained that government will continue its rescue operations of innocent children being used by some beggars to perpetrate their illegal acts and to rehabilitate arrested beggars and destitutes at some of its training centres.
Public Service Parasites
More worrisome is the fact that the public service in the country is being debased on daily basis. Today, it is common that in every office you go to at federal, state or local government level, there are Nigerians who indulge in one form of begging or the other. It is fast becoming a culture in the civil service.
For instance, when approaching a supposed security officer, he may ask the vehicle owner: what have you for the boys? Or say your boys are here. This attitude is part of the corruption that has permeated almost all facets of national life.
At the nation’s entry points, either at the airports or seaports many of the immigration officers hold onto traveler’s passport asking for a gift before checking them out or in, depending on the travellers’ itinerary. A situation like this cannot bring the best out of these men on uniform or in sensitive position in the country. Every office you enter in the country today, someone somewhere will expect you to perform before you leave and if you fail to, they will boldly ask, ‘Ogah what do you have for the boys?’
At the airports, particularly the Murtala Mohammed International Airport in Lagos, both Nigerians and foreigners complain of unethical behaviour of some men of Immigration, Police and other agencies at all points of interaction with them. It does appear that they neither cared about impact of such attitude on the image of the country nor their integrity. Usually, caution is thrown to the winds. Sadly enough, those in authority also care less about such ugly developments.
Road Checkpoint Parasites
At most road check points across the country where policemen as well as other agencies are always ‘on duty’, some of these public officers are more interested in begging.
As the President Buhari-led administration continues its current war against graft in public places, analysts believe that one of the key areas that should be focused on is creating special intelligence units in the public service to deal frontally with the menace of corrupt beggars in the system.
While these hordes of ‘criminals’ may not be stealing millions, the fact remains that their despicable character traits bear directly on the country’s image with the attendant negative implications for foreign investments and sustainable growth of the economy.
Again, it is also being suggested in some quarters that the National Orientation Agency (NOA) in furtherance of its patriotic and moral campaigns targeted at decent behavior of millions of Nigerians should also find a way of collaborating with state governments in the task of re-orientating street beggars and their parasitic and able-bodied ‘aides’ on the benefits of being rehabilitated.
This stance aligns with the University of Ilorin lecturer’s call on the government to discourage the art of begging by rehabilitating both the beggars and the parasitic agents pretending to be managing them.
Opeyemi, who believes that corporate beggars as well as recidivists disguising as preachers should be handed over to the police for prosecution, recommended in particular that Lagos State Government should have a rehabilitative centre for beggars that arise as a result of sickness, unemployment, old age and other genuine reasons in order to meet their socio-economic needs.