Survival: Citizens alarmed as beggars take over streets nationwide

Economic hardship has forced many Nigerians to take to begging as a means of survival, even as the Lagos state government has banned it; PAUL OKAH reports.

Begging has become a means of survival for the less privileged Nigerians, who must eat, dress responsibly and provide for themselves. While many Nigerians blame the harsh economic hardship for taking to begging, others are said to see it is a way of getting the needed resources to marry more than one wife and build houses for lease.

FCT

These days beggars are seen in different parts of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), including major bus stops and street corners, oftentimes with amputated body parts and bowls to attract the attention of passersby.

Interestingly, despite state governments waging a war against street-begging, the undesirable elements always find their ways back to the streets, especially with open wounds requiring medical attention and amputated body parts ostensibly to pity.

As the seat of power, the FCT has become very fertile such that almost at all pedestrian walkways, bus stops, motor parks, markets, street corners, up and under the bridges within the metropolis have been overtaken by beggars.

There are still the ones referred to as “corporate beggars,” who are always neatly dressed like civil servants or those working in big offices, who see no reason to pretend to be physically challenged, but would device cunning ways to ‘extort’ unsuspecting members of the public at the Berger Roundabout, Area 1, Utako, Wuse, Banex, Federal Secretariat, and other busy areas.

They would concoct stories of being short of cash to attract pity from passersby, who are often moved with sad tales to part with their money, only to realise they have been conned when they see the beggars in others locations telling the same made-up stories of hard luck.

Speaking with Blueprint Weekend, a beggar in Dutsen-Alhaji, who is physically challenged and who identified himself as Yusuf Bello, from Katsina state, reluctantly said through an interpreter that he has been in the business of begging for five years now and makes more than N5, 000 a day, with the help of his children, who are also beggars.

 “I have three wives and 15 children; so I send money back home. Some of my children are also into the business; so they bring money they get from different locations. I use the money take care of my family back in Katsina. Though some refuse to help and often chase my children away, others don’t hesitate to drop N50, N100 or N200 depending on the denomination they have,” he said.

Lagos

On November 17, the Lagos state Commissioner for Youth and Social Development, Mr. Mobolaji Ogunlende, while leading “Special Rescue Operations,” launched by the ministry, with a mission to sanitise the state of beggars in Lekki, observed that after concerted efforts made by the state government to sanitise most parts of Lagos, beggars were still in the streets.

“Street-begging has been banned in Kano, Kaduna, and other states in Nigeria; so, why not Lagos state? We advise those who want to help the less privileged to take their gift items, be it cash or materials, to our Homes or Centres designated to help the needy,” he said.

Kwara

As if taking a cue from Lagos, on November 30, the Kwara state Commissioner for Social Development, Mrs. Opeyemi Afolashade, told newsmen that the ministry, between November 24 and 30, evacuated 88 mentally challenged people and beggars from the streets of Ilorin.

Lamentations

Speaking with this reporter, an ICT consultant, Prince Ohejam, said he once rescued a middle aged woman from street-begging in Abuja, only for the woman to abandon the house he rented for her to return to street-begging.

He said: “Begging is a big industry. I can recall how I came upon a supposedly homeless woman in Jabi with a five-year-old girl she said was her daughter. Out of pity, I went out of my way to lodge her in a hotel for five days before securing a self-contained apartment for her and her daughter. I asked her what her plan was. I stocked the apartment with food items for her, and made plans to establish a business for her. I gave her N100, 000 to start a foodstuff business she said she had in mind.

“The attitude she expressed was as a result of her not expecting that such help would come her way. I ‘ruined’ her business for her without even knowing. She never wanted any real help. She wanted money just like every other beggar out there. She handed over keys to a neighbour and also sent a message to me that she had left Abuja for Warri. Neighbours said she bought a new android phone and brought a big bag and carried some belongings and left the compound after handing over the keys to them.”

Also, speaking with Blueprint Weekend, a medical doctor, Kelechi Okoro, said begging is psychological as many people would prefer to beg for a living than be helped out of poverty.

She said: “My experience over the years trying to help people has aided me to come to a conclusion. You can try to take people out of poverty, but you cannot take the poverty mentality away from them. Some people don’t want a better life; they just want to live the horrible life they have chosen for themselves.

“For example, some beggars and homeless people will rather keep begging and being homeless because it pays them more than what you think you are doing for them. They actually earn more. Some are even working for syndicates.

“It is better to help people who already have something going for them. For instance, if money is given to someone who has a small akara business, that person will scale up their business and become bigger and more profitable. Mental re-orientation is key. If you don’t change their minds, you can’t change their life. Poverty mentality is even worse than poverty.”

A civil servant, Mrs. Fatima Haruna, told this reporter that she had had disturbing encounters with beggars who were never willing to be taken away from their ‘lucrative’ profession.

She said: “Most of these beggars have turned it into a business that no matter how you help them, you will see them in the street the next day. Some people are comfortable begging. I have seen a woman with her few months old baby begging in traffic, exposed to the hot sun. I gave her some money and an umbrella to cover herself and the new baby. She appreciated it and used the umbrella with excitement, only for me to meet her on the other lane a few hours later without the umbrella. She was shocked to see me. If not for the traffic, I would have asked her to return the umbrella. It was annoying.

“Also, a man came to my husband’s shop one day and was begging him for money to buy a wheelchair. My husband took him to the market and bought one for him and gave him some money. My husband also took him to a place where he would learn shoe-making. My husband registered him and collected his number, also giving him his number to call if he needed anything else. The shop owner gave my husband a list of items needed to start a shoe-making business after a period of apprenticeship and my husband paid for them. Do you believe that after two months, had gone to collect something from his friend’s shop and met that same man begging for a wheelchair again.”

Also, a car dealer in Abuja, Mr. Nathaniel Obong, said he has had a lot of regrettable experiences with beggars, adding that many of them see it as an enterprising venture.

He said: “I have had quite a lot of experiences with beggars and I can only conclude that they love begging. It’s in their DNAs. There is nothing you can do to change them. Poverty is a mind-set. Giving them money won’t change anything; they have to be educated out of poverty before they can accept good things.

“I once helped one beggar with capital to start his own business; instead he married another wife and returned to begging. That’s their business. Come to think of it, do you know how much these people make from begging? In fact, one beggar once told me that he has more than 50 cattle in his village and three wives. So, tell me how will this type of person stop begging? Give him N1 million, the next time you will see him in the street.”