They are on the streets, at every nooks and crannies, on the major roads, under the bridges, in shanties, in the traffic, you can’t miss them. They come in different faces, colour and caliber, age and sex is no barrier, and you see them with little children, twins and triplets. Many even pretend to be sick as they prey on the emotion of people in order to get them to part with their hard earned money.
While it is a historical fact that begging has been part of social life in most urban cities in Nigeria, 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 handicapped financially.
In many instances, they use something like offering baskets and spread same 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 BUSINESS EYE 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.
At Ijora area of Lagos State, one of the veterans in the art of begging people for alms giving, simply identified as Muhammed, in company of his guide-son, otherwise regarded as ‘parasite’ in this report, Idris, a sick-looking 14-year-old, heads out to beg for alms in different sections of the metropolis every morning, hoping to record enough returns capable of dwarfing the previous day’s ‘earnings’.
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
Mahammed and his ‘parasite’ have mastered the art and understood the terrain so much that he knows which day is best to visit which community. Even though he refused to disclose how much he realized to our correspondent, he revealed that he comes back with nothing less than N3, 500 daily on the average. When calculated, that is about N105, 000 in a month – more than five times the monthly N18, 000 minimum wage for skilled and able-bodied workers in many states of the federation.
“There are some days we make up to N5, 000 and even more, especially when some rich people sometimes come across us and ask that we pray for them. After such prayers, people like that give us special amounts enough to make us stop work for that day. It is not every day that we meet such people and that is why we have different days for visiting different places to beg for alms.
“Before my son became my guide (parasite), I used to pay the people that took me about a certain amount from the money we realise in a day. Even though the amount wasn’t fixed, the least they collected was N500. That price has gone up today, they collect between N800 and N1, 000 now,” he added.
Further investigations conducted by BUSINESS EYE revealed that the Lagos State Government is taking no chance for any beggar to remain on the streets.It was also confirmed that taking beggars away from major streets of Lagos could be linked to the government’s ongoing efforts towardsmaking the metropolis a Mega City.
On Monday, April 9, our correspondent exclusively gathered that the Lagos State Governor,AkinwumiAmbode, had ordered the removal of beggars from Alausa and its environs.
According to our correspondent, who was at the main gate of the Lagos State Secretariat, Alausa at Ikeja, the Lagos task force officials, fully kitted, alongside two police officers, were struggling with a beggar, who strapped a baby at her back and her daughter. The officials, with inscriptions on their van: ‘Rescue Operation, Office of Youth and Development, later drove off with the beggars to their office at Alausa for questioning and possible prosecution.
Meanwhile, as at the time of filing this report, no official statement was yet made by the Lagos State Government, as the Commissioner of Information, Mr. Kehinde Bamigbetan, earlier spoke with our correspondent through a phone conversation, and later requested him to forward enquiries through an sms, which was done, but with no responses, while efforts made to see the Commissioner for Environment were also unproductive.
However, the Nigerian government has stated that no one would be left out in the campaign to enlarge the tax revenue.
As a result, the Minister of Finance, KemiAdeosun, said some beggars were earning millions and that “proceeds from begging are taxable. You are supposed to pay taxes even if your means of income is begging”. Adeosun made the pronouncement in Lagos during PWC’s Business School, with the theme: ‘Voluntary Assets and Income Declaration Scheme (VAIDS) Interactive Session for Executives and Business Owners.’
Adeosun said: “We are trying to build an economy where we have oil and other things. It is going to be oil plus and wider economy”.
Nonetheless, panhandling in Nigeria appears to be caused by a host of reasons of which unemployment is the major one. But without accounting the panhandlers, Nigeria’s unemployment rate went up 18.8 percent in Q3 2017 from 13.9 percent recorded in Q3 of 2016, marking the highest jobless rate since 2009, according to the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS).
The NBS said in the third quarter of 2017, that 19.7 percent (15.9million people) of the Nigerian labour is underemployed. And with so many bachelors degree holders, doing unskilled jobs, “we can’t afford to give these jobs to those unwilling to work. Provided that over 60 percent of these panhandlers are unemployable, provision of jobs for them would not be feasible.
“Unemployment always increase whenever an economy experienced a recession, and in the case of Nigeria where the unemployment rate was already high and rising even when the economy was growing strongly, it implies a recession would lead to an even sharper rise in unemployment than would normally have been expected,” said NBS report.
Further investigations by BUSINESS EYE showed that there are some ‘parasites’ in the begging ‘vocation’ that are richer than their alms-givers.
At the Ikeja area of Lagos, there is also a category of beggars that are the terminally 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 believe if he had gone to a hospital to have his swollen leg examined, he would probably have been operated on and the ailment healed. Rather, 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 diseased persons are carried and put at the center of the road with men and women with bowls in their hands soliciting for help. The bowls are carefully designed with clothes that stretch down like offering baskets 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 with some form of identification as if from a foundation of sorts.
An encounter between our correspondent and one of the beggarly parasites, who simply identified herself as Bintu, reflected that most of them are barely literate and do 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 the tricycle parking and offloading job in the same Agege area by his superiors in the business.
He recounted his ordeal: “I think misunderstanding ensued when I enquired about who was handling the local government money, and I was fired for that reason. The reason I wanted to know who was handling the local government share of the market was because I was generating revenue for the local government and thought I should be entitled to a share from it. I was fired and couldn’t continue with them, and that is how I got to be coordinating beggars by the rail side-ways.”
Speaking on the possibility of generating funds for the government from his new business (alms collection), Oladele, who is popularly known as ‘Baba Nyaara’ said: “I’ve just started 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 with government because the Lagos State government has embarked on massive constructions, which have affected our business.
“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 the state government creates 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 will have targets and work with the targets.
“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 now,” Oladele added.
On how he had been dealing with the Lagos State Sanitation Force, the beggars’ coordinator said that the state government was concerned more about the dirty environment, insisting that their environment was clean.
He said: “I went to Ijora, Lagos Island and I realized that those beggars were evacuated because they loitered the street, and were far from being personally hygienic. As a result, I ensured that all beggars including the blind ones got involved in our cleaning exercises and whoever refused that order would 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 those sitting by the rail-lines would be only 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 follow their physically-challenged relations in the begging business, the old ones 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 their continued solicitation of financial assistance from people publicly on health grounds.
HauwaGarba, a 42-year-old beggar from Jigawa State, had been hypertensive for about three years. According to her, she had visited the hospital and had also been diagnosed for ulcer. She was billed N5,000 out of which she said 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, HarunaDatti, 30, claimed he was possessed with an unknown spirit from Bauchi State since 2014, and that whenever the spirit descended on him, he would fall and behave abnormally.
According to him, he had 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 had been able to save for his medication, he refused to disclose the amount, but said he wanted to go to a Jigawa State hospital for treatment.
Lami Hassan, 54, a Kano State citizen has been in Lagos since 1977. She was moving between Lagos and Kano until she got affected with arthritis and later sustained a 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 a 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 a proper hospital check.”
“I wish that the state government creates sites for my people (beggars) and no one would be seen begging on the main roads again
Commenting on the socio-economic impact of beggars on the streets 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, constitute 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 the business may be, it impacts negatively on all spheres of human endeavour.
“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 and pick-pocketing, to mention a few.
“In Lagos, the biblical sayings 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, especially during former Governor BabatundeFashola’s administration, for constituting a larger portion of dirt in the city.
The officer, during an interaction with our correspondent when the latter visited the office of the Executive Secretary of LAGESC, Idowu Mohammed, said that Governor Ambode, was not interested in pursuing any beggar within or out of Lagos State 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 the Fashola era, 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 of street begging.
The officer also explained that government would continue its rescue operations of innocent children being used by some beggars to perpetrate their illegal acts and rehabilitate arrested beggars and destitutes at some of its training centres.
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 implications for the cities’ and national economies, 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 tourists. Moreover, some criminals hide under the guise of begging to perpetuate their evil deeds.
They are also at times used as instruments by mischief makers, who use them to vandalize public properties and utilities built with the 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.
surging population of beggars in most cities now constitutes some form of economic risks or environmental nuisance, as beggars are not economically productive in any way. Beggars also portray the country in a bad light to visitors or tourists. Moreover, some criminals hide under the guise of begging to perpetuate their evil deeds
Public service parasites
Perhaps more worrisome is the fact that the parasite syndrome has also permeated many other sections of the Nigerian society. For instance, the public service is being debased on a daily basis. Today, it is common that, in every office you go to at the federal, state or local government level, there are Nigerians who indulge in one form of begging or the other. Unfortunately, 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 ‘Oga, your boys are here o’. 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 traveller’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 in uniform or in sensitive positions in the country. Nearly every office you go to in the country today, someone, somewhere will expect you to ‘perform’ before you leave and if you fail to, they will boldly ask, ‘Oga, what do you have for the boys?’
At the airports, particularly the Murtala Mohammed International Airport in Lagos, Nigerians as well as foreigners complain of unethical behaviour of some men of the Immigration, Police and other agencies at all points of interaction with them. It does appear that they neither care about their integrity and personal image nor the impact of such attitude on the image of the country. 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.
Apart from tackling the obvious menace of professional beggars and their parasites on our highways, the government does need to also look into the ongoings in the public service with regards to shameless solicitations for financial handouts that can only be termed begging.
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 among 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 recommends in particular that the 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 and rid the roads of the ugly and dangerous sight.