Inside the world of beggars



Every morning Cynthia set out for work, dressed neatly in jackets and matching skirts/trousers and shoes, she painted the picture of a working-class lady. Indeed, her neighbours held her in high esteem, thinking that she was working in a white-collar firm, probably a bank or finance house. But that was far from the truth. She was only garbed in borrowed robes, as she was really a beggar at bus stops in Lagos.

Her mode of operation was to tell passersby that she lost her purse containing her transport fare. Her tale was believable because of her corporate attire. So, people gave her money to continue her journey. But rather than board a vehicle to her supposed destination, she usually looked for other unsuspecting ‘clients’ to tell the same story and separate them from their money.

Not too long ago, she approached one of our reporters twice in two days at the popular Cele bus stop along the Apapa-Oshodi expressway. On those two occasions, she told her well-rehearsed story. When the reporter asked her if she was in the habit of losing her purse every day, she took off from the spot, but the reporter went after her.

While the reporter was reprimanding her, one of her neighbours happened by and was shocked to her marrow to learn that Cynthia was a beggar. According to her, “no one could have imagined that this is what she does for a living.”

Cynthia is not alone in this ‘trade.’ The number of people engaged in begging is on the upswing, and it is the same story all over the country. Beggars have emerged even in places where begging was hitherto regarded as taboo. Moreover, the beggars devise new strategies all the time, with fantastical stories that pull the heartstrings of their audience. Usually, beggars pretend to suffer one ailment or another.

There are also ‘corporate beggars’ around places like banks, eateries, supermarkets and hotels. Whenever you are leaving such places, they throw greetings at you, bowing in a manner that leaves no doubt about their intensions.

Recently, Mrs. Blessing Ubom was arrested in Onitsha, Anambra State, for allegedly begging with a borrowed baby. It was alleged that the suspect borrowed a baby from someone in addition to her own and put them on show at a pedestrian bridge to solicit for alms. The essence of going with two kids was to attract sympathy and more money from kindhearted Nigerians. Meanwhile the mother of the borrowed baby got N1,500 whenever he was taken out for ‘work.’

Similarly, Mrs. Chinagoro Uwenke was nabbed at Oshodi, Lagos, recently for using her son to con residents. It was gathered that the woman “confirmed that she bandaged her son’s leg with rolls of white bandage and poured gentian violet ink on the leg every day to deceive the public to give alms to the innocent boy.”

Some days ago, a number of ‘blind’ beggars fought dirty in Nnewi, Anambra State, as they accused one another of being fake. The chairman of the association for disabled people, Mr. Chisom Nwachukwu, alleged that a woman beggar was fake: “She claims that she is blind but that is not true. We know her very well. She pretends to be blind. We have an association and she does not belong to our association.”

The woman countered by saying: “They say they are blind, why did Clifford call me by my name, Nwakaego, when he ‘saw’ me?”

Investigations further revealed that there are businessmen who bring beggars from certain parts of the country to areas where they believe business will boom. A source said: “There is a cartel that brings beggars from a certain part of the country to Lagos. The beggars are subsequently distributed to various places in Lagos and they are accountable to their owns. That is to say, at the end of business every day, they render account to the people who brought them and they do that until they have paid the agreed sum.

“While on duty, the beggars are usually monitored to ensure that they do not play smart and anyone caught shortchanging the boss pays dearly for it. Every morning, they are brought to their business centres and taken back at night. It is like those girls taken abroad for prostitution, who are given targets to meet before regaining their freedom.”

There are also ‘businessmen’ who go about looking for people with serious ailments with which to beg. Gift Udeme, a trader, told our reporter: “I know one Abubakar from Kogi whose business is to source for people with bad medical cases, like cancer in the eyes, mouth, nose and head. Or people with protruding tummy, twisted limps or other grotesque features. In fact, the more ugly the victim’s case the better for him. He recruits young men and women who take the victims to beg for alms. Usually, they pretend as if they are looking for money to treat the victim. But it is just business. At the end of the day, they share what they earned and hit the beer parlours to enjoy themselves. Of course, the victim and/or his parents get a piece of the action. They go to churches, mosques, markets and bus stops to beg.”

It was also gathered that some of the women who beg with ‘twins’ or ‘triplets’ are not the biological mothers of the children they parade. An impeccable source stated that some of the children are usually rented from day care and crèches.

Spiritual perspective

Expressing his thoughts on the rising trend of begging and the practise of hiring babies to use in begging, Pastor Richard Minet of the Redeemed Christian Church of God, Praise Tabernacle Area Headquarters, Festac Town, Lagos, said: “First and foremost, the Bible tells us that the poor will never cease to be in the land. So, we will always have the poor among us. The Bible also gives a very clear injunction as to how beggars should be treated, when it said he who gives to the poor lends to the Lord and that whatever such a person has given to the poor would be given back to him by God. There are passages in the Bible, which are like injunctions that God gave, to force the rich to open their arms to the poor. Somewhere in Leviticus, the Bible says that when you are harvesting your crops from your farm, all the crops that fall on the ground should not be picked; you are to leave them for the poor in the land to come and pick and use for themselves. God just wants us to be mindful of those who are less privileged among us.”

He noted that giving alms to the poor was one of the preconditions for making heaven as stipulated in the Bible. “In fact, one of the prerequisites for making heaven is feeding the poor. Jesus said, on that day, he would say he was hungry and you did not feed him and somebody would ask, when did we see you hungry and didn’t feed you or naked and didn’t clothe you? But, he said that as much as you didn’t do it to these little ones who are hungry, you did not do it to me.”

The pastor said that much as God wants the poor to be catered for by the rich, God frowns at lazy people who would hide under that privilege to be parasites on others.

“The Bible also has an injunction for beggars so that they don’t take advantage of that privilege to become a thorn in the flesh of another person or parasites to other persons. The Bible makes it clear that if a man is too poor that he cannot take care of himself and his family, such a person should go to the priest.  In other words, if a person is disabled, he would go to the priests that existed at that time, and the priest would run a check on him and declare him truly disabled or unfit.

“Such a person would also be given a garment, which qualified him to beg. So, when he is seen in such a garment, people would know that he needs financial support and that was the garment that the blind Barthimus cast and ran to meet Jesus as recorded in the Bible. That was to ensure that everybody who was lazy would not suddenly want to become a beggar and a parasite to society. This is God’s position for the less privileged,” he said.

Decrying what has become of these biblical injunctions, Minet said, “like every other activity in our society, people will always like to take advantage of such privileges and that is what we have in Nigeria today. Everybody now is almost a beggar. They know that Nigerians are particularly religious and no matter how poor a Nigerian is he has this mentality that if he gives to the poor, God will remember him for good. So, some people are now taking advantage of that to even claim an ailment that does not exist.

“Some people even go as far as looking for disabled children for this act, not really for the good of these disabled children but just to enrich themselves. At the end of the day, they give peanuts to the children. Most of the ailments you see on the way are frauds. A lot of the motherless babies homes or organisations that appear to care for the less privileged are frauds and I think government should do something about it.”

Offering perspectives to the position of Islam on the issue, Alhaji Menay Haruna said: “Begging is prohibited in Islam. As a Muslim, you are not supposed to beg for a living. Instead, those who have plenty are expected to share with their neighbours that do not have at all. That way, the society becomes better off. There was an instance where a man came to the Prophet Muhammed SAW begging. The prophet gave him a job to do and paid him to the point that begging is not allowed.”

Haruna, who is a lawyer, added that, “Allah said in the Holy Quran that He made the day and night for different purposes. The day is for you to look for what to eat while the night is for you to rest and sleep. However, Allah says we should give to the poor and those in need. Those in need should not be construed to mean that begging is permissible.

“According to Prophet Muhammed (PBUH) reported by Abu Huraira (RA), ‘It is better for one among you to bring a load of firewood on his back and give charity out of it (and satisfy his own need) and be independent of people than that he should beg from people, whether they give him anything or refuse him. Verily the upper hand is better than the lower, and beg in (charity) with your dependants.”

Why they do it

Expressing his view on the matter, consultant psychologist, Lagos State University Teaching Hospital, Ikeja, Lagos, Dr. Leonard Okonkwo, tried to analyse the development from a psychological angle.

He stressed that most people beg because they are in need and because they hope to get reward from it.

He also agreed that the trend of begging was on the increase and as such players in the ‘industry’ are going the extra mile to remain afloat in the business, which they have discovered to be lucrative. That is why they are now ‘renting’ children to do the job.

“There is an increase in street begging because, first, people have found it lucrative and whatever is lucrative is bound to be reinforced just as whatever that is reinforced is going to increase in magnitude. It is natural that you will continue doing more of whatever that is lucrative for you because you don’t have to change a winning team. So, there is an increase in begging because people are responding and giving them money.

“Secondly, people beg most of the time because they are in need, but now that is not necessarily the case. People now beg because it has become an occupation. It is now their job and if the job is taking care of their daily bread, they are likely to continue in that line of trade because it is working and yielding the desired fruit.”

He also attributed the increase in begging to the increase in substance abuse and addiction: “There is also an increase in begging because there is a corresponding increase in substance abuse and addiction. Many of the people that go to the street to beg are mainly people who have no shame because they are drug addicts. Many of them go into begging because they have lost everything, they have lost their family and everything and it is hard to continue with the habit of their drug use, so they resort to begging.”

On what could be the mindset of people that hire children to beg, he said, “People are more prone to give alms to children than to adults. For instance, if a full-grown adult comes to you to beg for money, you would likely tell the person to go and work but if a child who appears to be helpless comes to you to ask for money to buy food, you would be more sympathetic and moved to empathise with the child and give him money. At least, most people are like that.

“Linking this with why more people go into begging, you find out that the use of children is a more sophisticated means of begging. So, because begging has increased, it has also become competitive and those who are engaged in it need to change their strategy to remain afloat in the game. If everybody on the street is begging, fewer people will go home with what they used to make before. So, the only way to ensure that your fortune does not dwindle, despite the influx in the business, is to use children to play the game. And the more children you use, the more money you make. If you can hire children like you hire labourers, you get more money.

“The only way out is for government to ban street begging. If government bans it and makes it illegal, then there will be a great reduction.

“Secondly, children should not be allowed to just be roaming around without care. Children should go to school and be monitored. They don’t know anything and if you expose them to making money at that tender age, they will deliberately stay away from school, just to go and beg to make money and buy biscuits and all that.”

Daily Sun also learnt that there are those who use alms received for diabolical purposes. “There are beggars who take the money given to them to shrines to exchange the destiny of those who gave them the money,” disclosed a traditionalist who did not want his name in print.