10 begging tricks Nigerians use to survive

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It was an early Friday evening and the sky was overcast. Mrs Bukola Mohammed, an administrator in a public institution in Lagos, had just left her office. She hurried down the road to make the short distance to the nearest bus-stop in time before the gathering clouds could form raindrops. Mohammed was also in a hurry to get home in good time to make dinner for her family. Corporate begging But out of nowhere, a calm voice from behind her called out: “Excuse me, ma. Sorry to bother you this evening. I need your assistance.” She turned towards its direction but before she had the chance to reply, a well dressed stranger narrated to her how he had mistakenly locked up his car key, wallet and mobile phones in his car. The middle-aged man said, luckily for him, he had a spare key at home. All that he needed was N200 to get him home and back. “He was pointing to where he said his car was, but I couldn’t even see any car there,” she said. “He said he needed the money to get home to get his car’s spare key and come back for his car. But I told him I didn’t have money because I knew he was lying.” Mohammed has lived in Lagos for more than five years and has been familiar with some of the various tricks being used by people to extort money in the metropolis. Mohammed recalled how a week earlier, her friend, Folake Lawson, was tricked by a young man at a Bus Rapid Transit park in Ketu, Lagos, where she was boarding a bus to CMS on the Lagos Island. Lawson had just settled inside a BRT bus when the man whispered to her from the window to assist him with N80, so he could also get a N120 ticket needed for the trip. He claimed he only had N40 with him. Out of pity, Lawson gave the man the money and expected him to join the bus. But the stranger reportedly ran away after collecting the money, to search for another victim. “My friend expected the guy to buy a ticket and join the bus but instead, he ran away the moment he collected the money,” Mohammed said. “Some passengers in the bus who knew the guy told my friend that she had been scammed. They said it’s what the guy does and that he would return to try the trick on another passenger.” Surely, many Nigerians have stories of encounters with various forms of beggars to share if asked to do so. Gone are the days when only the physically disadvantaged persons begged for money. Today; the trade boasts of people who are well dressed and with good diction, hence the name corporate begging or fine ‘bara.’ Invariably, the art of begging has transformed beyond its traditional form to include lying and extortion. Findings show that many beggars also feign all kinds of illnesses, with some of them going as far as deceiving people with the use of make-up to win public sympathy. Even some fuel station attendants, government workers, attendants at eateries, and law enforcement officers on the roads, airports and sea ports have latched on to the trend, openly begging for money from people while on duty. A World Bank report in 2013 said about 100 million Nigerians were living in destitution, which public analysts in the country considered alarming. A year earlier, the National Bureau of Statistics had painted a starker picture of the situation, saying 112 million Nigerians were living in relative poverty condition, which was considered staggering when compared with the country’s estimated population of 163 million as of the time of the report. President, Muslim Rights Concern, an Islamic body, Prof. Ishaq Akintola, who attributed the problem to the high level of poverty in the country, confirmed that a large number of Nigerians live in abject poverty. “What do you expect when more than 70 per cent of the population is hungry?” he asked. “For every Nigerian who is working, whether as a teacher, carpenter, painter, you will find out that his or her friends, family members or neighbours live on them. There is no Nigerian who has not been approached by his siblings or neighbours for assistance; it tells you the level of poverty in the land. “The United Nations rated Nigeria the 20th hungriest nation about a year ago. The average Nigerian lives on less than $1 (N199) a day and our per capita income is less than $300 (N59,700). The level of unemployment is also very high. “Ninety-five per cent of the graduates of the last 10 years have yet to get jobs, so what else do you expect?” Other tricks in the book For instance, one hot afternoon in April, a civil servant in Lagos, Bimbola Fayemi, was approached by a ‘corporate beggar’ around his office area in Ikeja. By Fayemi’s account, the man was impeccably dressed and spoke good English, which made him initially appear like a stranger who had lost his way and needed directions. But Fayemi was wrong. Rather, the stranger reeled out his academic qualifications which according to him, include a first degree in Biochemistry and a Master’s Degree in a related field. He spoke of how the country had been harsh to graduates before demanding for financial assistance. “’Please, help, my brother, I need some money,’ the guy told me,” Fayemi said. “Obviously, he was using his education profile to let me know that he was pushed to begging by the economic situation in the country. He was putting on a suit and a tie and I kept wondering how such a person ended up begging for money.” Interestingly, the well dressed beggars have taste and would not accept just any alms from people, at least, not anymore as Mr. Kewe Abenabe’s experience suggests. When they come begging for ‘assistance’, they do not expect you to give them anything less than N100. Findings show that they often assess their target’s disposition and dressing before their approach to plead for financial assistance. Therefore, when they approach a passerby to beg for financial assistance, the target should know that he or she is not a random choice. Abenabe, a post graduate student of the University of Ibadan, said he was shocked when a ‘corporate beggar’ recently rejected N20 from him. He described the saying ‘Beggars have no choice’ as outdated, saying he has been made to realise that beggars now give themselves a choice. He said, “There was a day a corporate beggar came to ask me for money. He said he had lost his wallet and needed some money to get to where he was going. I explained to him that I was broke myself and then offered him a N20 note I found in my pocket. “He looked at me as if I was mad and then hissed to show his displeasure. He then walked away angrily. Normally, it’s the beggar who is supposed to be in an embarrassing situation, but on that day, I was the one who really felt embarrassed.” At another time, Abenabe was stopped by another corporate beggar, who did not like to take no for an answer. Abenabe said the beggar looked “so corporate”. He continued: “Immediately he came to ask for money, I told him that I was in a hurry and couldn’t give him any money at that time. But he got annoyed and started raining abuses on me, saying ‘how much do you think you have? You don’t have anything.’ “I was shocked; I just stood there looking at him. It was very strange to me that a beggar could be abusing someone he wanted money from.” Also, the sight of ill beggars and those claiming to be ill has increasingly become common in many major cities in the country. For instance, George Oluade used to know a beggar in a pitiable state who was always going about with a catheter, a polythene bag filled with urine, suspected to be his. Oluade had given the beggar money on several occasions, thinking he had difficulty urinating and therefore needed to always have his disgusting bag around to urinate each time the need arose. But one late evening, Oluade watched as the beggar entered a secluded area in his neighbourhood, threw away his sack of urine, changed to a better set of clothes and walked off briskly like a healthy man. “I felt very disappointed,” he told our correspondent. “I regretted ever giving the man money.” A retiree, Mrs. Abidemi Ayangbayi, shared the story of a large-breasted beggar who used to be popular at Academy market in Ibadan, Oyo State capital. At the time, everyone in the market thought she had cancer until it was discovered that she had been lying about the ailment all along. “Someone who knew her had told the marketers that the beggar was only feigning the illness and the marketers decided to investigate it,” Ayangbayi said. “After their investigation, which meant feeling her breasts, the marketers discovered that they were actually healthy and that she had only applied palm oil and put some cotton wools on them to give the impression that they were cancerous. She had to leave the market after her trick was discovered.” Ayangbayi also knew a partially blind man, who used to travel to Ibadan from Ogbomoso to beg for alms, even though, he was also into the business of using woven canes to make furniture, baskets and other household items. She said, “He would beg for alms at parties and churches in Ibadan from Thursdays to Sundays, purchase canes on Mondays in the city to use for his business and travel back to Ogbomoso on Monday evenings. “When he’s in Ibadan begging for alms, he would be sleeping at bus-stops and stalls while his wives and children tended to his cane business in Ogbomoso. Meanwhile at that time, he already had two houses in Ogbomoso but people giving him alms in Ibadan didn’t know that.” According to Ayangbayi, the man’s defence was that his legitimate business did not give him the kind of income begging did. In Ikeja, around the Lagos State University Teaching Hospital, some beggars hang around with medical reports, claiming to need as little as N100 to buy drugs. Their targets are motorists held by traffic lights. Mr. Tayo Oluwaseun, who works in Ikeja, expressed surprise that the same set of people show up in the area every day, with different story lines. “Today, one will say he has appendicitis; tomorrow, he will say it is another ailment he has,” Oluwaseun said. But religion is also not left out as some people have devised ways to use their faith for quick financial gains. Good examples are the barefooted followers of Obatala deity, who are always dressed in white with similar accessories to match. These religious followers are usually with hand bells, calling out to people on the streets to give them alms in exchange for their god’s blessings. In commercial buses too, preachers of the Gospel of Christ are a familiar sight and their sermons are usually not concluded without the distribution of envelopes to passengers willing to help the ‘holy crusade.’ There have also been a few cases in churches, where some people go about begging other members of the congregation for money, saying the church pastor had assured them that their needs would be met once. With the current trend, some Nigerians already predict that at this rate, Nigeria will soon witness a more sophisticated set of beggars who will go about with Point of Sale devices that will give benefactors the option of cashless handouts. “We may soon get to a stage where a beggar will say ‘Oh! You don’t have cash, I have POS if your ATM card is with you,’” Ayangbayi said. Meanwhile, cross sections of Nigerians who spoke with Saturday PUNCH said they are only obliged to give alms to beggars they know are physically challenged or really poor. Many also fear that some beggars use monies collected for ritual purposes or to sustain their drug addiction. “I have to see that there is something wrong with the beggar that would prevent him from getting a meaningful job before I can give alms,” said Ms. Abibat Musa, a polytechnic student, who has been approached by all kinds of beggars. “And besides, I’m also scared of giving people money anyhow because we hear that some of them are fetish.” Ironically, both Christian and Islamic clerics encouraged the act of giving even though both faiths frown on begging and laziness. Clerics speak Pastor Seyi Adeyemi of The Worship Centre encouraged givers to make a distinction between those who are poor as a result of laziness and those who find themselves in challenging positions due to circumstances beyond their control. Still, Adeyemi encouraged anyone who suddenly finds himself out of job to look for any work to do irrespective of the income it generates, saying it has more dignity than begging for alms. He said, “Sometimes, poverty is a choice because it may be as a result of laziness or lack of diligence. But it can also be circumstantial. It could be that the person is medically unfit and doesn’t have enough support from the family. “From that point of view, the Bible supports that we should give to the poor. It talks about alms giving and not forgetting the needy. “But those who are poor by virtue of laziness are the ones that the Bible does not support. The Bible says he that does not work should not eat. If you lost your job, you should find something to do, however menial it is, it will keep your dignity. “We have a situation where people now take advantage of the situation to become professional beggars, who will lie and come up with cock and bull stories to extort money from people. Some of them are well dressed and they will tell you all manners of stories. Now, you can’t even tell the difference between the genuine people that need help and the fake ones.” Ishaq also said the Quran condemns laziness, even though it is filled with Allah’s promises of rewards for people who give to the poor. He said, “Islam does not encourage begging; it frowns upon it. The Quran says all of you must work. When you work, Allah will reward you for your work because he sees your work. It’s a pity some people misunderstand Islam because it encourages hard work.” However, both Ishaq and Adeyemi urged the government to improve on infrastructure that will encourage job creation. Ishaq said, “Government should forget about the idea of stopping beggars from begging because it can’t stop them. “What of the corporate beggars? How do you stop them? What government should do is provide jobs. Let us restore electricity, let the factories start working, fix the roads and you will see that people will come out to work. Who wants to be a beggar? “Were Nigerians like this 20 or 40 years ago? They were not like this. But when there are no jobs, what should graduates do? “We find ourselves in a socioeconomic situation where some people want to work but there is no work; some who were working lost their jobs,” Adeyemi added. “Governments, nongovernmental organisations and religious organisations should do whatever they can to create jobs. In a situation where the case of the person begging is genuine, you can help, but it’s best to help people to be self dependent by teaching them how to fish rather than be giving them fish every time.” However, a lawyer and social commentator, Mr. Liborous Oshoma, attributed part of the problem to religion, which he said some of the beggars have taken advantage of. He also said that the situation has continued to put pressure on political office holders to put the needs of beggars above the provision of lasting infrastructure for the people. In the north, it has become a trade where people use the opportunity to fulfill their religious policies by giving alms,” he said. “There is also the case of government sharing peanuts to these beggars. Some graduates now take to begging; it is not dignifying but because of the religious angle, nobody wants to work. We have people losing jobs every day; a lot of businesses are cutting costs to remain afloat. “And it is not until you stand on the streets that you become a beggar, there are different types of begging. Even in the office, a friend can come to you and ask that you buy him lunch because the economic situation has got to him, some always beg for transport fare because their salaries can’t take them home. “It puts pressure on those employed and political office holders because rather than providing the facilities, they would rather steal because they know people will want to beg. And once you are given, you will not have the right to demand for your right. “If not checked, the system might eventually collapse when you have a very few people controlling the resources of an entire nation. It will get to a point where the people will not want to beg again and it will lead to a revolution. “So the onus is on the government to begin to empower people and put infrastructure in place so that people will be empowered.” - See more at: http://www.esabod.info/2015/08/10-begging-tricks-nigerians-use-to.html#sthash.kbhsar6J.dpuf
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