Just as it is customary with people across the world to make New Year resolution and sets targets for themselves as the previous year rolls by, beggars in Lagos have stated categorically that if there is anything they really desire for themselves towards a better fortune in 2017, is for them to get bigger alms from givers throughout the New Year. Sunday Telegraph’s CHIJIOKE IREMEKA who visited the beggars’ colony reports
Hauwa Idris, a mother of six and a beggar at the Okokomaiko axis of Lagos State, told Sunday Telegraph that her New Year resolution and expectations for 2017 are to get bigger alms which she hopes to use in taking good care of her small family.
Hauwa, believes that her plans would be articulated when she introduces her six children to the business of begging at the same location she does her trade. “With more hands collecting alms for my family, the resources needed to train them to maturity won’t be a big problem.”
The middle-aged woman disclosed that her husband doesn’t have any regular means of livelihood and therefore, cannot afford to send the children to school.
“I know the importance of education, but we don’t have the means to do that,” Hauwa said. She stated that, the 42-year-old father of her children does have the means to support the family, as he work as a scavenger, scavenging for metals, buys used clothes and other waste materials to resell and in return, make his gains.
Wondering at the need for six children, considering their poverty level, Hauwa insisted that more children in the business of begging would yield bigger proceeds, enough to take care of the entire family. Hauwa finds consolations in gifts which alms givers bestow on them.
These gifts include cloths, food stuffs, cooked food and cash among others. She maintained that, begging is a lucrative trade in Nigeria. She claims to know some personalities in the northern part of the country, who amassed fortunes through begging.
Yaya Sule, another Lagos-based beggar, at the Okokomaiko U-Turn, adjacent the Okokomiko Divisional Police Headquarter, Area E Command, has been a regular face at the beggars colony in that part of the state for four years. His target for the year 2017 is to make more money than he did the previous year. “Something tells me that as the recession in Nigeria goes down, I will get more money.
The year 2016 wasn’t a good one for beggars here in Lagos, but I believe 2017 will be better.” To him, begging is the only way of survival for his family. Yaya’s younger brother is also in the business of alms begging. He was able to save enough money from begging to get married to his wife. Unlike Yaya, who lives with his family in Lagos, his brother also lives in Lagos, while his brother’s family lives in Keffi, Nassarawa State.
“Life was difficult in Keffi. There, I made next to nothing, but today I am making more money in Lagos from alms begging. In Nassarawa, I was involved in petty trading, buying condemned clothes from the owners at very cheap prices. I also scavenged, picking from bins. For me, life is better in Lagos than in Keffi, as I make three times what I used to make in Nassarawa, ” he quipped.
There is this traditional credence which says that, when you give alms, it brings good luck and kismet to the givers. Most religions consider it a form of obligation to their faith and also a catalyst to answered prayers. Over the years, there had been debates on the causes and effects of giving alms to beggars on the streets.
The key argument remains that giving alms to beggars on the street, endangers lives in many forms including hindering the government’s efforts to get the beggars off the streets. But in spite of the argument, alms giving still continued at a higher rate scale not only in Lagos, but across the country.
A visit to the Beggars’ Colony in Okokomaiko at the Ojo Local Government Area of the state witnessed huge activities of alms giving to beggars on the axis. The beggars in the colony joined in the celebration, racing after motorists for alms. And just as other Nigerians make their New Year resolution, beggars on the streets made theirs in their colony.
There is a great difference between the resolution of beggars on the streets.
Many of the beggars have no clue of what to expect in 2017 as their routine alms collection had imprisoned their sense of reasoning, much that all their expectations circled around getting more money from alms. Hammed Ishaya, father of an adolescent beggar, who was spotted chasing after a motorist in the hot afternoon on New Year Day, tugging passersby for alms, said life was good for him and his family in 2016, but he’s hoping to get bigger alms in 2017.
While a few numbers of the beggars crave for better life, others, who didn’t see anything wrong with the act, have been consumed as they move from one motorist to another. “What I need is a better means of survival in 2017. I’m tired of staying in the sun, begging for alms. If the government will give us jobs, I will leave this trade. I can work in any construction site. I didn’t go to school but I can sweep the street if government employs me,” another beggar, Ismaila said.
31 year-old Ismaila is ready and willing to work but cannot find one. He believes that some jobs should be left for illiterate Nigerians. He is of the opinion that when government provides illiterate Nigerians with jobs, it would save them the stress of building homes and feeding the destitute in the country.
During Sunday Telegraph’s visit to the Lagos beggars’ colony at Okokomaiko,’ the beggars were busy, clinging to the doors of vehicles caught in traffic caused by the poor state of the road. The adult beggars at the colony sat quietly under their umbrellas, taking shed from the hot sun.
The women among them were seen sleeping beside their newborn babies under the shade of the umbrella. Due to the holidays, the human and vehicular movements in the axis were very slow and scanty. Less people gave alms unlike in late December when the road was busy with people shopping for the Christmas.
It was also discovered that the most active beggars in the ‘colony’ are under- aged children. The under-aged beggars run after people, tugging at their cloths while they beg for alms. Usually, their parents sit at a near distance watching, while they go about the act. It’s hard to ignore them as their melodious chant has an appeal.
A little girl was seen chasing after a vehicle, shouting “Ogaa a! Ogaaa!” in a crying tone to get alms from the driver, who promptly handed out N200 to another beggar. She was determined to get alms from the motorist, who turned a deaf ear to the little girl’s plea.
While the kid beggar paced up and down, chasing vehicles to get something, their parents control their activities as they sort out second hand clothes, mattresses, metals and aluminum wastes.
“Alms giving is not strange to Nigeria; in some cases it is cultural. Certain Nigerian traditional religion requires alms to be given at will. There is also the Al Majiris. This group of beggars are found basically in the Northern part of Nigeria.
They are exposed to hard life by parents who send them from afar to battle out their livelihoods in the name of searching for knowledge in Islamic religion.
The Almajiris beg even for cooked food,” said Ibrahim Bello, the father of a child beggar. Bello was found loading metal waste in a pushcart ready for transportation.
He blamed the large concentration of beggars in the axis on the country’s harsh economic climate and the very limited means of survival in Nigeria. He hopes that President Muhammadu Buhari would alleviate the sufferings of the masses in the year 2017. Paramount in his life and that of his children is the need to be alive without sickness. He had spent fortunes taking his children to the health Centre the previous year.
On the other hand, with the statement, “It is better to give than to receive,” many Nigerians share alms to these people, this also includes clothes and other material gifts.
A shabbily dressed woman with sunken eyes who expressed her dire state of helplessness, identified as Folake, sat holding two babies. She wailed continuously to draw attention and pity.
She told a sorrowful tale of how her husband abandoned her and the children after he lost his job. This beggar, who was hard to ignore, begged for food and alms from those who came her way. There was a rumour in town that some of these beggars actually borrowed these babies from other women.
They work as a group but this rumour is yet to be confirmed. Another group of beggars on the Okokomaiko axis are the ones with sores on their legs, seeking alms for hospital treatment.
One of them brandished a list of drugs to be purchased for treatment which he cannot afford. “This is the list of drugs doctor said I should buy but I don’t have money. That was why I came out to see if I could raise some money.
The doctor said I have kidney and liver infections,” said Jonas Ajiri, a commercial bus conductor, who lost his job three weeks ago due to his ill health. Ill stricken Isa Ibrahim is from Gusau in Zamfara State. He came to Badagary in Lagos to seek help for his swollen leg.
“I came to Lagos about five months ago to get treatment for my leg,” he said, pointing to his swollen right leg. Ibrahim’s new abode is the frontage of a roadside shop where he sleeps every night at Alaba Rago Goat Market, after the real shop owners must have closed for the day.
He confessed that he is in a tight corner since he neither has money for his treatment nor enough to return home. Ibrahim’s focus now is to beg for money enough to pay for his transport to return to his home in Zamfara as it is clear to him that there is no cure anywhere for his ailment.
“If I get enough money, I will go back home. It is better to die at home where my people will bury me well than to die on the street of Lagos.”
As the sun beats down on him, he would have loved to seek shelter because he wasn’t feeling too well, but the only place he calls home would only be free for him from 8pm, when the stall owners would have gone home.
The case of Mutiat Abdulatifu, who came to Lagos with the wrong notion that money comes easy in Lagos, said, “I was of the opinion that Lagos is a paradise. People in my village in the North used to talk about Lagos as if, when you get there you start making money.
So, I saved money to come down here. But business has not been moving. And when I exhausted all that I had, I resorted to begging, in a bid to get some money to go back to my village. What I want in year 2017 is to speedily get enough to go back home.”
Recently, the Lagos State Government launched a campaign to sensitise the public on its zero tolerance for begging and existence of destitute on the streets of the metropolis. This is contained in a statement by Mrs. Kemi lkotun-Adekusibe, Head, Public Affairs of the Ministry of Youth and Social Development.
The statement said: “The menace of beggars and destitute on our streets had reached an alarming rate. This is in spite of regular rescue operations carried out by our team in Rehabilitation Department.
“Beggars of different categories and destitute have become a usual sight on the streets of Lagos over the years with the resultant negative effects on traffic management and security along major roads. Some of the beggars have been found to be accomplices to certain crimes.
They sometimes hide weapons for criminals. Armed robbers believe unsuspecting beggars can help them keep guns. There are some who under the pretext of being beggars have dispossessed members of the public of their valuables on the roads.’’
The statement prohibits street begging, highlighting section 166 sub-section 1(b) of the Criminal Code, out laws street begging with stiff penalty for defaulters.
The statement implored residents to cooperate with the government in its mission to rid the streets of Lagos of the menace of beggars and destitute by desisting from giving alms to them.
“Instead, give the alms through faithbased organisations and recognised non-governmental bodies or recognised government homes that will handle such donations responsibly.“Also, jingles have been placed on media platforms in English, Yoruba, Igbo and Pidgin languages to educate members of the public on the need to partner with the government to fight the menace,’’ the statement added.
Sunday Telegraph’s investigations on beggars and destitute at the Okokomaiko axis of Lagos revealed a preponderance of male over female. Majority of the beggars were Hausas and are Muslims. Most of them attended Arabic Koranic schools only. To them, begging is a way of life.
There was significant difference between the educational attainment of males and females.
Child wastage was common among these children maybe because of their parents’ ignorance, poverty and disease; hence, urgent need for the establishment of an active National Rehabilitation Centre, among other measures, is recommended as a lasting solution to the problem of begging and destitution in Lagos and in Nigeria at large.