The Sun News

Lagos beggars: Old trade, new tricks

•In defiance of state anti-begging laws, alms-seekers take over Lagos roads, constituting nuisance to law-abiding residents

Job Osazuwa

A man who appeared to be in his early 40s ran after a yellow commercial bus, popularly known as danfo, that was in moving traffic at Anthony Bus Stop, Lagos. He showed a sense of urgency as he increased his pace to catch up with the bus to quickly sell his message to the commuters.

Flaunting a photograph of a young lady he claimed to be his younger sister and a note that he said contained the list of drugs prescribed by the Lagos State University Teaching Hospital (LASUTH), he beseeched the passengers to assist him and the patient, so that his only surviving sister would not die. He said he had already raised N6,000 out of N17,500, the cost of the purported recommended drugs needed to treat his sister, who had been on admission for two weeks.

As the man continued running after the moving vehicle, there was a sudden twist to the story. A passenger in the bus that the reporter boarded raised the alarm, telling others on board that he saw the same man telling the same story a few months ago at Ikeja Along Bus Stop. The alarmist confronted the beggar with a reminder of how a Good Samaritan in the bus that fateful day gave him the N6,500 he claimed was needed to treat his sister. He further narrated how the commuters fell for his concocted story, pitied him, and donated generously to his cause.

Without a word from the accused, the solicitor quickly zoomed off to save his face. He was later seen trying his luck on passengers in other vehicles.      

Despite the existing law against street begging in Lagos State and the restated commitment of the Governor Akinwunmi Ambode administration to ending the social menace, people from different parts of the country continue to troop to Lagos. They leverage on the population and kind-heartedness of residents. Most of the beggars have adjudged the state to be the most fertile destination for alms-seeking. The practice is, however, contrary to Section 166, sub-section 1 (b) of the Lagos State Criminal Code, which prohibits street begging, with penalties for offenders.

Everywhere you go in Lagos, beggars await you; using different strategies, they beckon on you for one favour or the other. In some areas, you might be tempted to conclude that it is the only lucrative “business” in town.

From the mainland to the island, they are on the streets, at every corner, on the major roads, under the flyovers, swarming around vehicles in traffic, and you can hardly miss them as they call on passersby to take pity on them.

Begging for alms has been an age-long practice in many parts of the world. But in Lagos, the number of people in the trade keeps rising on a daily basis.

In the business are children, adults, female, males, the sick and the healthy. Some are really sick but many of them pretend to be suffering from one problem or the other, preying on the emotions of people to get them to part with their hard-earned money.

However, this practice is anti-social, especially among the Yoruba, Igbo and some other ethnic groups, who see a beggar as a lazy person. These sets of people believe that any of their tribesmen who has hands, legs and his whole mind and body intact but refuses to work is a disgrace. It is actually seen as a taboo in some parts of Nigeria.

The act of begging is not only indecorous, but has become a nuisance to society, especially with the influx of professional beggars from other states of the federation to Lagos, bringing dynamism and smartness to the illicit practise.

At Ile-Epo Market in Agbado Oke-Odo Local Council Development Area (LCDA) of Lagos, begging takes place in different shades and forms. Three particular young men usually drop sick people, including the old and handicapped, in the middle of the busy Lagos-Abeokuta Expressway. They use the sick people to attract the attention of passersby while soliciting alms.

But one thing that puts people off, according to residents, is how they display these sick people with nauseating wounds. Many of them are simply an eyesore. Diseases such as elephantiasis, prostate cancer, even severe burns and many other disgusting conditions and malodorous wounds are displayed to appeal to people and torment the emotions of passersby. Such scenes are common features at busy bus stops and other places across the state.

A student of public administration at the Yaba College of Technology, Lagos, Makinwa Olugbile, told Daily Sun that his friend does not take a particular route to the campus because of a certain woman begging with a decaying sore stationed along the way.

“If you see the sore, you will not be able to eat for some time. This woman has been there for many weeks. She doesn’t cover the wound with anything. You see flies feeding on it. People who are easily irritated can easily throw up at such sights,” he said.

At Oshodi, Ketu and some other parts of the city, it is common to see women with babies, twins or triplets, in the scorching sun pleading for alms. It has been discovered that many of these beggars rent the children or smartly take them out for “business” without their parents’ knowledge. They expose the innocent kids to all kinds of health dangers and emotional fractures. There are heart-rending stories of how some of these children have been knocked down by hit-and-run drivers. Moreover, majority of the kids dragged into begging are denied the right to education and a good life.

On the other hand, it was gathered that some parents actually take their children to the streets to beg. The children are tutored to run after well-dressed men and women for money while their benefactors lurk around, waiting to collect the harvest. They have become an eyesore, creating an impression of an unkempt society.

A human rights activist, Edwin Ugo Edwin, said it was not only morally unjustifiable but criminal for any adult to exploit the innocence of children and the weak for personal monetary gains. He blamed the continued rise of the practise on government’s seeming laxity in going after the defaulters.

“If Lagos is truly looking forward to becoming a mega city, the government needs to get rid of these people dragging its name in the mud. People now bring sick and healthy people to seek alms from unsuspecting Good Samaritans. I am not against giving but you must not manipulate people or become a nuisance in the name of seeking financial help.

“The law is already there but enforcement is usually the problem. The problem is not peculiar to anti-begging law and government’s failure to fully implement it. Any government that is serious should be able to monitor strict adherence to laws. Laws become useless when they are not obeyed. Except offenders are punished, people will always break the law; it is the same thing across the globe. I don’t blame the offenders; they are still begging because the law is relaxed,” he said.

But in a renewed effort to tame the rampaging beggars and curtail the social menace, the Lagos State Commissioner for Youth and Social Development, Princess Uzamat Akinbile-Yussuf, recently appealed to members of the public to cooperate with the state government to only give alms to the less privileged in the society through registered charity homes and other socially- responsible organisations.

It was gathered that, already, some  beggars and their sponsors have been prosecuted and convicted for various offences, in line with the provisions of Section 168(1)(b) of the Criminal Law of Lagos State, 2011 (as amended).

She vowed that the state would continue its clampdown on perpetrators of the social menace, noting that, beyond prosecution, the government has provided rehabilitation and training centres where those rescued from the streets would be engaged in mental re-orientation and vocational skills training.

Similarly, Ambode, after one of the state executive council meetings in mid-2017, condemned the prevalence of street begging, saying that some unscrupulous persons hide under the guise of seeking alms to rob members of the public.

“We have had security reports on the activities of persons who pose as beggars, especially in traffic, but their sole aim is to perpetrate evil. We are putting a searchlight on this trend and one way to do that is to ensure that we take pre-emptive measures to forestall this development,” the governor said.

Sadly, street begging has reached an alarming level in spite of operations being carried out by the rescue team of the  Rehabilitation Department of the Lagos State Ministry of Youth and Social Development.

A security officer at one of the new generation banks located on Allen Avenue, Ikeja, Lagos, state, Mr. Abiodun Ekundayo, told the reporter that professional beggars have honed their act so well that unsuspecting members of the public can’t but part with some money in their pockets.

“As a security person, I have been at this Allen branch of our bank for over five years and I see these different tricks that beggars use to solicit alms. Sometimes, they feign fainting spells, cardiac attacks, asthmatic attacks and the like to simply get the attention of passersby and eventually get them to part with some change.

“Some of them have been doing it, moving from one place to another, for many years. There is a particular woman who will always say she is stranded and needs N100 as transport fare to get home. In the last three years or so that I have been seeing her, always neatly dressed and carrying a black polythene bag, she is still asking for N100 from people. We drive some of them away once they come near the bank premises because we know their tricks,” he said.

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