An evolving social problem takes a new form

I just discovered a new depth of illegality and human depravity in Lagos! I have been asking myself questions concerning a lot of things I see at play in Lagos. As I find answers, I’ll let you know. But there is one issue I can’t keep to myself any longer. We are all used to beggars in Lagos. By this I mean the conventionally dressed, street positioned beggars. While I’ll refer to them later on in this piece, my challenge and concern is the spate of begging amongst well dressed, well fed, even BlackBerry flaunting beggars.

For every ten people that holla “excuse me brother” at me, it has finally dawned on me that all ten have become beggars from zero just a few years back. Two years ago, that “excuse” was mostly for a road direction, now it’s a request for money. At first it looked normal to me as I obliged them with mostly N100 and N20 when really not in the mood to give, then one day I said “No please, I’m sorry” and then took a while to have a play back of previous occurrences.

The funniest was this beautifully dressed woman who had sat on the same seat I sat to register my SIM card. Just as I stood up, she caught up with me. As soon as I saw her, I thought “oh not again”, but she disappointed me or so I thought as she did not ask for “a little change, I lost my wallet, brother please.” This woman’s style was much more sophisticated. “Brother please sorry o, that your phone is it a BlackBerry?” I thought that was a stupid question but considering the white pouch and the white phone, I gave her the benefit of the doubt thinking she was one of those who probably thought all BlackBerry phones were black. I replied her in the affirmative and she acted awed! By now I was thinking “what the f***?” but I had a cosmetic smile on. She asked how much I got it, I told her the exact price and even told her the best place to get a good bargain. Look, this was a beautiful, well dressed and good speaking woman, so while I took slow, short strides, I offered my words as best as the gentleman man in me could. I was expecting her to say the real reason she walked up to me because I could see from her eyes she was weighing options as she spoke with me. A woman’s sincerity lies in her eyes. She said she’d get her sister to get her the phone, but I was like “so get the hell out” but obviously I didn’t say that to her. Then the moment we had both been waiting for; “brother please can I ask you for another favour please,” and as usual I said “of course you CAN ask.” And she started, “As I am standing here with you, I only have N20 left on me. I lost my money in transit.” I was first of all glad she didn’t delay me any further with her crappy attempt at making me feel cool with my phone which ordinarily should place me in a position to give. I gave her only what I wanted to give her, my gentle and kind words. “I have an ATM card here, but obviously you won’t tell me to follow you to a machine. I am sorry about your wallet. Good day!” Until recently, I’d have given that lady a little change without a blink but this was the me that was already conscious of a trend. I met a well dressed couple at Aja, I met a suit wearing bloke at Lekki Phase 1 gate and even a few hours ago, a young man with two big chinese looking phones still uttered that phrase I have come to expect whenever anyone, no matter how well addressed walks towards me in a way I have come to identify as “the trendy beggars’ stance.” If you have experienced these trends, please drop a comment as I keep thinking it’s my socio-political consciousness that is raising a small issue to the level of a social problem within me.

I have a submission on one of the major causes of this problem. Take it or leave it, but begging is one of the most lucrative middle-class level jobs in Lagos. Jobs because most of these beggars resume to a spot, in the morning just as most regular workers. I gave a normal beggar some money recently and as I made to walk away, a woman came to exchange her N1000 notes for small denominations from the said beggar. When the beggar brought out his earnings, I was shocked. This dude had cashed in a lot at just about 9am in the morning. I felt that was absolutely wrong! How can you have that much and still sit there begging? I thought beggars were only to collect enough to survive, but I have since realised Lagos beggars are literally rich. All of them, the usual disabled ones, the ones that come to your side while in the car to talk about phony operations, the ones that tell you they just lost their jobs forgetting they had just lost the same job the previous year, the latest “excuse me brother army,” the bambialla group, the master and the servant ones where able bodied men pushed seemingly disable bosses around and indeed all the beggars in Lagos. It is understandable, out of 5 million commuters, do the maths if just 200 thousand people oblige them.

I have since made up my mind not to give any beggar my money no matter how poorly or how well dressed – I broke this conviction several times after saying the same but I’ll just keep a mindset of “Sorry brother (or sister)”. Giving for some of us is a way of life but I have since realised that to live that way on the streets, you may one day find yourself on the street just like these desperate ones. As a beggar, once one or two folks have given you like N500, you should close for the day. Beggars are building houses in remote places on the kindness of Lagosians.

Whatever you do, never stop giving but please give people who are productive. Give the bottle water selling boy or a well behaved Okada man a tip for being good at his job, that for me is better than giving these horde of kleptomaniacs all around our city posing as beggars. It has become a crime to ask for and to give alms in Lagos. I want Fashola’s men to arrest me if I give any of these street criminals without arms.

You can follow the writer JJ.Omojuwa on twitter @omojuwa

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In the beginning...Let there be Light

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