Lagos Beggars and the Dilemma of a Good Samaritan
One of the contradictions for which Lagos is second to none is its inevitable traffic congestion. In fact, a friend once asserted that if you can consistently maintain your cool in Lagos Traffic, then you can successfully manage marriage or relationships. Beyond the traffic, Lagos now features something more irksome – the proliferation, institutionalisation, corporatisation and expansion of begging.
Back then, the situation used to be tagged street begging but such terms do not seem to properly capture what currently transpires; maybe highway begging, junction begging, interstate begging, mobile begging, regional begging or some more encompassing terms would suit.
I reiterate that the act of begging in Lagos has now turned an art, institutionalised, corporatized and expanding. This may sound weird if you travel the Lagos road on your private vehicles and you may in fact need more than a piece of write up to be convinced. However, for those of us who jump from one commercial bus to another, cross streets and junctions and queue at bus stops, it does not take a native doctor to realise the trueness of this claim.
While attempting to put up this piece, I tried to typify the various kinds of such begging and having identified eight categories, it still did not look like the whole typologies have been captured.
First in my categorisation are the ‘corporate situationists’: Corporate because they often appear well packaged and I call them situationists because they are skilled at painting you the picture of their situation of need, one that would definitely stimulate your emotion of pity.
Gentlemanly, they ask for your attention like one who missed road, then they start like “I’m not a riffraff, My car suddenly developed some faults and I had to leave it in the office, on getting to the ATM to withdraw some money for transportation, the machine has also just swallowed my card, right now I’m confused I don’t even know what to do, all I need is just 200naira to get home...” One of them was only unlucky when he met me two times in three days to beg for money while painting the same situation.
Another amazing group are the ‘roadside prayer warriors’: these category have at least a part of their body incapacitated, maybe one eye or one hand or one leg. They gently invite you to their sit, they ask you to either bow your head, or to knee or to open your palm. In a manner that seem like they have seen a vision, they tell you that they have a special prayer for you, and you know what follows such prayers – offering! And I bet you would not want to offer little money for such heavenly supplication. The trick is simple: they creatively use their situation to weaken your defence.
One of the most saddening groups is the ‘self-appointed Iya Osuns’: This group consist entirely of women and each of the individuals in this category parade herself as Iya Osun (The Priestess of the Osun deity). To them, all it takes to be an Osun priestess is white attire, an ‘irukere’ and a ‘shekere’ and as such, they consider any spiritual requisite as irrelevant.
Apparently, most of them appear like expired sex workers with their bleached-to-the-limits skins and stretch marks looking like fresh wounds; you see their horror faces in white cloths similar to those of risen dead while radiating some stinking odours, perhaps takeaways from their commercial sex days. On sight of any potential giver, they start fighting over the customer, apportioning you to themselves even without your knowledge.
It appears madly incomprehensible to see able-bodied women of probably mid-thirties begging for alms, sad enough as a routine means of livelihood; I’m sure even the gods of Osun is currently raining some special curses on them for their blasphemous acts.
Closely related to the last group is the ‘Eba mi ke Ibeji’ (Bless the Twin) category: Entirely women, these people go about with twin that they in most cases, apparently did not give birth to. Their slogan is ‘Ebami ke Ibejo o’, that is, please bless the twin. Let nobody affiliate this to any culture because there is no aspect of the Yoruba culture that encourages indolence. There may be an aspect of the culture which encourages dancing around town in celebration of twin babies which is often seen as some form of rites for the twins, but certainly not begging in the names of those innocent children.
Then you have the ‘teenage aspirer’: These are the throng of young people especially teenagers who have now also taken to street begging, bus begging, highway begging, junction begging and all sorts of begging in different forms. Like the corporate situationists, they weaken your defence by appealing to pity; and like roadside prayer warriors they creatively exploit you by capitalising on their being popularly seen as vulnerable and naive. But it is often amazingly amusing to later find out that the stories, the shaky voices and even the cries are often fake and untrue. Only God knows where the parents of such children are; although some of those kids have mentors who encourage them on this act and some of those mentors also usually turn out to be their parents, guardians or relatives.
The dilemma of a Good Samaritan in all of these is that, most times, you really don’t know who to help and no matter how careful you try to be, once you have that natural inclination to help, often times it turned out that your limited resource has barely been used to help not the needy as you would have intended but instead, the lazy.
Make no mistake, the goal of this piece is not to discourage alms-giving. Hence the reason I chose not to discuss the ‘traditional beggars’ who resort to begging because they lack the capacity to make a living for themselves, perhaps due to accidents in life or some other challenges and coupled with the incapacitating socio-economic conditions; for this same reason I also chose not to discuss the ‘proxy beggars’ on behalf of whom people beg for alms in most cases to carryout surgeries and some other treatments.
In a state where young and old people walk miles, hawk in the hottest of suns, wake up very early and sleep very late, all just to earn a living, why then should we encourage that those hard earned monies be given to some lazy greedy thieves who only want to look good without having to work well.
Those who speak Yoruba have a way of describing anything that accommodates just about anything. The Yorubas would for instance in such expressions describe Lagos as a place that accommodates all including rogues, the indolent and whores. The English way to put that is to say Lagos accommodates every tom, dick and harry.
While this wide accommodation is not a bad thing and is in fact something to be encouraged because extreme sanity devoid of any form of folly and overwhelming saintliness without any spice of sacrilege is what makes the holy minster an enclave of pretence; everybody, whether considered sane or otherwise, has a natural right to live in the society. However, because the society also has a natural goal to progress and develop, there should and would always be a standard of living and progress.
The hobessian state of nature was brutish, nasty and short, not because there were bad people in the society but because the society failed to set standards of conduct. Hence, even if Lagos is considered free for all persons, this should not be interpreted to mean free for all actions. Thus, the expanding army of beggars in Lagos require humourless attention.
If we continue to encourage such attitudes by allowing the scammers, often called beggars to continuously play on our general godliness, generosity and tendencies to help, then we would be launching a full scale moral decadence where hard work is discouraged and indolence is rewarded, and as you will agree, we already have enough of such.
For the general Lagosians and everybody alike, this is a call to consciousness; for the perpetrators, the skilful beggars, this is a call to honour; and for the Government of Lagos, it is a call to action.
I often heard a saying from Professor Abubakar Momoh that “Hard work does not kill...”
Ridwan A. Sulaimon
Writer and Research Consultant;
Media Rights Agenda,
Ikeja - Lagos.
Twitter handle: @SulaimonRidwan