Lagos, Nigeria’s commercial nerve centre brims with beggars of different age and style. While some took up begging because they are lazy, others beg because they could not find any job. Yet, there are the ones referred to as corporate beggars. In all, the professional beggars habitually take to begging as a way of life, writes, Isioma Madike
In this neighbourhood, an arms-seeking army of lame and fit scrapes life from the loath populace. The eyes will also find the hunchback and the blind among them. Besides, the deaf as well as the mute, wrinkle the sights for lure. The fly-over, under it, on the streets, the highways and the market welcome the entire guest with pleasure.
Lagos, the city noted for its commercial hum brims with beggars; young and the aged alongside their distant equivalent. Often, some tiny fingers of an Arab child suddenly lock the skirt hem. The kids need not do much; just latch on the person, cup your right hand and slowly bring it to its mouth. It speaks volume and sometimes melts a few hearts.
Sadiq Abdul, one of the foreign beggars in the mega city, is always under the bridge at Obalende in Lagos Island with his wife and children. He says he is a national of Chad Republic. Abdul, like many others has no travel papers. He is always in tattered clothes; his wife and three children are no better clad.
The family, according to him, left their country because his homeland was hauntingly occupied by hunger while survival took to its heels even as starvation and death wait for comfort. Employment, he tells this reporter, became an essential commodity that is everywhere in scarce.
When they first came to Lagos about five years ago, Abdul, through an interpreter, says, “people used to give us money a lot with other food items. They pitied us for a while but now they say we should go and work. The state government officials are also on our neck; they don’t want to see us on the streets again.”
However, when he perceived that people were no longer interested in giving them money, he came up with another strategy: sending his children to meet their prospective benefactors. This seems to have paid off a great deal as Abdul informs that such strategy is what has kept them alive till date.
At nightfall, Abdul and his fellow Arabs, including their wives and children assemble inside an abandoned house, a bus or under the bridge. Those are places where they laid their heads. Sometimes the young ones sleep while the grown-ups keep vigil fighting a territorial army of mosquitoes, cockroaches and ants.
This, tallies with the condition of many among the local beggars, who have stormed Lagos from all parts of the country. Some homeless beggars are said to pay for where they pass the night in the open, at times N200 per head. Majority of Lagos beggars, however, are drawn from the northern part of the country.
“My people did not care for me,” says Ikorodu-born Munsuratu Adedoyin, a crippled hunchback. “My father did not want to see me as if I were the cause of my deformity. I cannot go to school; I can’t even learn any trade with my condition. The last option for me is what I’m doing now,” she narrates in tears with the help of an interpreter how she was forced to accept her “destiny.” She has not been happy for one day in her life, she adds.
Although, some took up begging because they are lazy; others beg in the name of the Lord. There are also those who were forced into seeking arms because they could not find any job. Yet, there are the ones referred to as corporate beggars. While another group of net beggars have joined. In all, the professional beggars habitually take to begging as a way of life.
A modern technique in begging is also fast gaining ground in Lagos nowadays. It combines brain and effluent oratory. A young lady approaches and politely asks for a direction of a notable company. After what seems to be a fitting response, the visibly schooled lady says gently, “sir, please sorry to bother you once more; I’m just going for an interview in that company but do not have enough money to make copies of my credentials and to transport myself back afterwards. Any little thing could go a long way.”
Such soothing plea often does not go without a flash of some notes on her palm and she keeps a distant to wait for another prey.
Some others confront you, especially at night with the tales of how they had come to see their cousin, who neighbours just confirm had gone for a trip outside Lagos. Unlike the interview corporate ladies, however, these ones mostly in their 40s will demand for a specific amount that will take them home. And if you had reason to pass through that path a number of times, they stun you with a different version of a rehearsed story without realising you had been approached earlier.
Sometimes in August, 2003, Abioden Dina of the state ministry for youths, sports and social development put the number of Lagos beggars at over 10, 000. The state at that time set up a committee headed by the then Commissioner for Health, Dr. Segun Ogundimu, on rehabilitation of the destitute. On the recommendation of the committee, hundreds of beggars were taken back to their respective states at the expense of the government. Those who remained were taken to the destitute vocational training centre at Majidun near Ikorodu.
But, the result was short-lived because, according to Violet Nwafor, a social worker, “the beggars were abandoned at the centre. Go to that place today and you will only confront the ruins. It’s a shame,” Nwafor said.
A similar multi-million naira vocational training centre was built in 1977 at Owutu town, also in Ikorodu. The place was provided by the then family support programme. The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and International Labour Organisation (ILO) equipped it. The focus of the centre was to engage the impoverished and physically-challenge persons so they would be less dependent. “The target was to make them more of asserts than a liabilities to the society,” said Dina at that time.
The centre aimed at training those on the breadline on various vocations such as woodwork, tailoring and weaving. On graduation, they were to go and re-unite with their families. Ministry sources say, there were 12 of such centres in Lagos as at 2003, and the destitute were regularly rounded up by the agents of government and taken to the centre.
The young ones, who were of school age, according to the sources, were made to go to school while the state picked up the bill. Soon, those fine initiatives collapsed and the beggars returned to the streets of Lagos in their numbers.
Similar exercise like that of the 2003 was carried out in 2013 where many destitute were transported back to the eastern part of the country. Incidentally, it sparked off bitter war of words between Lagos and Anambra states, as political meanings were read into the exercise. The Lagos state governor, Babatunde Fashola, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), had to apologise to the Igbos afterwards.
It is estimated that an average of 1, 000 people entre Lagos on a daily basis without any means of livelihood. The reason for this, some say, is because the city, being the heart of industrial activities in Nigeria, provides for all manners of people. It is also gathered that modernisation and fading traditional African values as well as mismanagement of the nation’s resources combined to contribute to the increase in the number of beggars in Lagos in particular and the country as a whole.
Many also say that in the past, there was strong affinity based on the extended family structure, which made people their brother’s keeper. These structures, it seems, have almost totally arched today. Perhaps, it accounts for the equally soaring number of the abandoned in the society, mostly the aged.
The current upsurge of beggars in Lagos and other urban centres around Nigeria, is probably a pointer to the fact that the government, more than anything else, have failed to live up to its social responsibility. The much talked about poverty alleviation to many, has also failed to alleviate the poverty in the land.