If you’ve read Aminata Sow Fall’s novel, The Beggars Strike, you will begin to understand the sense of entitlement most beggars have.
They know that we Africans are a very religious bunch who place the giving of alms as top priority on our religious commitments; in fact, our consciences won’t even let us be if we fail to give at least one beggar ‘something’ on our way; we just must!
It’s no surprise then when you squeeze a crumpled N20 note to a beggar and they give you the, ‘Oh so because I am a beggar you think I will take this shit from you?’ look.
Some beggars will simply stop the flow of prayers directed at you once they look down at their palms and see your miserable N20 note. They don’t understand that every little helps nor do they care if that is your last note.
Go to Agege by the railroad, it used to be a beggars’ enclave but perhaps, because of the construction going on, they’ve been dispersed. But back then, beggars who gathered there wouldn’t take just any kind of food offered by people. They would select what they will accept. Morsel foods were off, jollof rice and chicken would do just fine, thank you.
Same applied to beggars in Oyingbo, don’t bother taking your saara in the hope they’d scamble for it, nah. They’ll take a look first then decide whether it was worth eating.
So they thrive, the beggars and the big surprise is that many times too, they are able bodied men, women and children. They are people who find begging TOO convenient to do any other menial job.
The ones who roam the streets and knock on the windows of your car once you get snarled in traffic sing melodious tunes and can pray better than many pastors and Imams.
They tug at your heart strings with their songs, reminding you of your religious obligations, reminding you that you might be delaying your blessings if you don’t give what you have, much like the religious leaders of the day…and many of these people always have a story to tell.
‘Madam please help me, my daughter has been in the hospital for three months and we need just N2,000 to buy her the medicine that will help her recover. Please, anything you can afford, may the Lord never let you beg for your children. You will not bury them. May your husband never be bed ridden…’ and so on and on.
But the sad thing is that even when you know you are being conned, even when you remember that you had seen this same beggar with the same LASUTH prescription paper they thrust in your face as evidence of their need, even when you know they are lying through their crooked teeth and unwashed mouths, you part with more than a token, you give, just so they can leave you in peace to worry about the day.
Then they move to the next car, they tell the same story… and it continues and by the end of the day, the beggar, the one with the story, has accumulated a neat sum that often ranges between N7-15,000 per day depending on the generosity of fellow Nigerians.
Fact is, very few hardworking Nigerians earn that in a day.
There are stories of beggars who have houses they built from engaging in begging; there’s the story of a beggar in Lekki who has sent his kids to school from the proceeds of begging. Begging certainly pays better than any job and the indignity of the trade is NO longer something to be bothered about.
Who wouldn’t be moved when a mother brings her emaciated 3 year old to the tinted window of a saloon car crying: “help o. We have not eaten since yesterday. My son will die if I don’t give him anything to eat…”
Meanwhile the child is crying fit to burst, of course, from the fatigue of being dragged around the sun.
There is a video being shared on WhatsApp of a Nigerian woman begging in Canada. The person who recorded the video is very scathing and disparaging and can be heard calling the woman a bitch and generally insulting Africans in the diaspora.
Following after the video was shared, a screen shot of a social media post from a lady claiming to be the daughter of the woman in the video surfaced. This lady said her mother, who she says is a Master’s degree holder, is embarrassing the family with her begging and that there is absolutely no reason for the woman to beg.
Now, in this age of Fake news, we can’t verify whether indeed the post is from the woman’s daughter or not, what we can verify is that this woman is able-bodied and could have found work, even as a cleaner to keep body and soul together.
And this goes back to our society again, we are the ones enabling the beggars. Being a very religious people we think we must give to beggars as part of our religious duties in order to be blessed by Allah or God, depending on what name you call the Almighty. Alms giving is one of the pillars of Islam for instance. Christianity too encourages giving to the poor and needy.
It’s galling that most of these so called beggars really do not want to work especially when you offer them a chance to leave the streets for an honest day’s work and these offers are turned down. Ask any beggar to come work for a wage, they will shake their heads and simply move to the next man who will give them alms.
Take the woman in the video as a good example, if indeed she is a master’s degree holder, what stops her from cleaning, doing menial jobs to keep body and soul together?
Same goes for more than half of the beggars on our streets; they would rather beg for a living than be engaged in any kind of work. If you harrass them too much, they will change location to another spot to beg than leave the trade entirely.
Take the woman who lays her new born child on the side of the street, offer her a means of livelihood, at least to get her babies away from the harsh sun and dangers on the road. She would shake her head and probably curse you for such a suggestion.
True, the Bible says that the poor will always be with us but we must draw a clear line between the poor and the beggar; 80% of the beggars out there are not TECHNICALLY poor and so don’t deserve our sympathy.