By Ishola Balogun,BY CHIDI NKWOPARA & OLAYINKA AJAYI
Fisebillilah….Babi-Alla, Allah, Allla…Babi-Alla, Akoba Adaba….Babi-Alla Abamu sadaqa….Babi-Alla
The rhythmic lyrics are captivating; they come in different tunes and renditions depending on the background and area the beggar is operating. Sometimes with sonorous voice that makes you have a second gaze at the team of beggars and part with some notes.
Their tatty dresses, physical challenges, and unkempt looks are enough to elicit pity and money from many well-meaning passers-by. It is a daily business and as long as there is life, they have found a means of livelihood and they wouldn’t want to quit the business for more dignified means of livelihood even when the chances are there.
Among others types of beggars are those who flaunt the ailing (as they seem to be) parts of their bodies, claiming they need money for healthcare in order to stay alive. Whether real or misleading, the generosity and philanthropic nature of most Nigerians have added up in making the business to thrive.
Ironically, investigations reveal that many of these professional beggars may be richer than some of their generous givers, yet, they remain beggars on the streets. This is because many of such beggars apparently found begging to be very profitable, even more than some jobs and as a result, making it difficult to quit even after gathering enough resources to start some trades even if petty trading.
In the name of almajiri, some people take children away from their parents into major towns and cities and turn them into almajiri. So, instead of education, they are made to beg for money on the streets and perform menial jobs for the sake of money from dawn to dusk.
We gathered that some of these children and adult beggars are brought from the northern part of the country to Lagos and other major cities to beg while their mentors get a daily cut of the money they make on a daily basis.
Recently, at CMS, Lagos Island, it was a bubble bust as Adio Olorungbebe, a beggar in the area was identified by a passer-by as a landlord. The revelation which attracted a crowd of people immediately was saved by a military officer who pleaded they should allow the embarrassed beggar to live his life.
“I know him, he is a landlord in Ibarapa in Ogun State, My friend lives just beside his house and I often visit the area .”
Olorungbebe is not only in this business, there are many others who take advantage of the situation and play on people’s sentiments. They fake ailment and pull a fast one on people with all sorts of stories with no reservations. They usually flaunt a bandaged arm, leg, or stomach claiming they need money for for surgery. But surprisingly, you see them several months even years after, yet with the same story.
A few years ago, Rashidi, in his late 30s was notorious in Ikorodu axis on this enterprise. At the major Ikorodu garage, he usually joined the Oshodi bound bus telling a story of how he survived a auto-crash that resulted into a surgery on his stomach.
According to him, (displaying his stomach to prove his point) the surgery had to be repeated lest he died. Generous Nigerians responded to his antics until recently when he was bashed by an agbero (a tout), who claimed that Rashidi owned a bungalow with other properties in nearby villages and barred from coming to beg in that area. Rashidi may have found a more friendly environment to operate.
Aluko, a middle-aged man in the area remarked that beggary has gone hey wire, as some people are in the business using one form of decoy or another. “Everyday you see and hear different stories of beggars. We don’t know which is true any more. It is hard to gauge who is sincere and who isn’t. It is nice to help people but people are getting discouraged by some of the cheats among the beggars.”
“You will see some people looking very pitiful, some knocking their heads on the ground and crying out in such grief and indignation, but you can’t believe all stories and you don’t even know which one to believe,” he said.
Segun Joseph was our Aviation Correspondent before he left for the United States. Once, he recounted his experience at Agege Train Station. Segun said that about 10 pm a supposedly blind beggar was scolding a little boy, his escort.
The quarrel was over money. The boy did not know that the man was mentally recording the money people gave to him. When the boy rendered account of their collections during the day the beggar told the boy that the money was not complete.
A quarrel ensued and when the beggar was about jabbing him the little boy took to his heels and the beggar, apparently forgot that he was supposed to be blind and, instinctively, gave the boy a hot chase, grabbed him by the neck and pummeled him before letting him go. People screamed in shock but the said blind man never gave a hoot. He left the area.
Some beggars have been known to grease their eyelids during the day and pretend to be blind.
On another occasion, a boy, about 25, simply called DanFulani at Iddo Market had been ostracized at Iddo Market for disappearing with a full load of what somebody bought and which he was conveying to the owner’s car.
The market union sent him packing lest such theft chased away customers. Few months later Danfulani was seen at Orile Bus Stop distributing cards to passengers in a bus, begging for alms and claiming to deaf and dumb. A man who knew him at Iddo shouted and told him that if he did not get down the bus before the next bus stop he would call police to arrest him. Danfulani did not wait till the next bus stop and dropped in a traffic jam.
Encounter with Corporate beggars
Adesola Adetoun, a client service office in a outdoor advertising firm in Lagos narrates his experience with a corporate beggar
“On my way to Ijora, just as I walked across the pedestrian bridge in Palmgroove to catch the next bus to Costain, a guy called out,”excuse me sir”. I stopped and turned to behold a young man of about 30, properly dressed. He looked worried as he greeted.
“Good afternoon sir, please don’t be annoyed Sir, I just lost my wallet to pick pockets here now. I’m going to my office in Victoria Island, could you help me with some money for my fare? I was touched looking at a gentleman in this mess. I did not wait for him to continue his story, I just handed him a N200 note and walked away.
About three days later at Orile, I saw the same guy this time with the same story begging for money. It was then I realized that I had given my hard earned money to one of the lazy Nigerians.
At first I felt like grabbing him and throwing a punch at him, but I realised he was even looking heavier than me. So, I asked him: “can you recognise me at Palmgroove three days ago? You were wearing a pink shirt on a black pant. I gave you N200 note.” He looked down, saying: ‘sorry’ and walked away fast through another street.
Kelechi, a business woman narrated: “Last month, I went to shoprite in Alausa, Ikeja, and just by the ATM machine, a man in his 40s, accosted me as said the ATM machine seized his card and he had no money on him and no fuel in his car. He was soft-spoken and looked corporate.
I had to give him a N1000 note. But surprisingly, I was there again, with my husband and we met this same man who beckoned on my husband telling the same story again. I recognised him immediately and I told my husband to ignore him. As we walked past him, I told my husband the story I told him about this man.”
But why do they hang on to the illicit business even after getting reasonable measure of what is needed to start a normal life? Kolawole Arasi, a Sociologist, told Saturday Vanguard that while many of them may be ‘forced’ to go into begging because of their conditions, and not out of habit, they, along the line make it a profession just because they often make money out of it even more than some who have regular jobs.
He added that since it is also less tedious, they don’t have the urge to quit especially when they are not sure of any business or trade to go into.
“Most professional beggars never started with the aim of taking it as a career. However, some of them found that begging can be very profitable, even more so than some jobs.
“Begging is also not a difficult job. You just stand on the street and ask people if they have spare change. Imagine if a beggar makes about N2000 per hour, he can therefore make about N20,000 per day under eight hours if he at a busy walkway just by standing on the street.”
Begging not an element of Islamic culture?
Most people believe that Islam is not only associated with begging, but appears to encourage it. Investigation shows that Islam abhors the adoption of any form of begging as a profession.
Some Islamic scholars who spoke on the issue stated that it was outright misconception of what the teachings of Islam is all about. Sheikh Abdul Ganiy Bello said:
Others however were of the opinion that beyond what the Quran says against begging as a profession, most Muslims particularly the northern Malams encourage it and provide a fertile ground for it to thrive. “The culture of almajiri is not Islamic.
How can you have a child and you subject him to street begging, when Islam indicates how you can train your child properly giving him or her adequate education? It is unacceptable,” he said.
He therefore urged Government to spare no effort in eradicating the root of the almajiri system and put in place a robust educational and skill acquisition system that will provide food for the teeming youths in the region.
In the same vein, the President of Nasrul-Lahi-il-Fatih Society of Nigeria, NASFAT, Alhaji Sheriff Yusuff while fielding question from newsmen at an iftar (breaking of fast) with journalist recently said begging is not part of Islam, adding that although he said that destitution was societal problem he maintained that the association through its new Zakaat and Sadaqah system would offer skill acquisition programme for the less privileged Muslims in order to put food on their table and discourage them from begging.
Another form of begging is done by those who usually deck in white garment. They are found mostly in Lagos and other parts of the South-West. A form of ritual, culture and tradition are attached to this form of begging. They are usually cluster in in one position. They mute some prayers to passer-by and ask for money.
Why begging thrives
Beyound the factor of poverty as a reason for begging; the attitude of Nigerians toward beggary has helped the business to thrive considerably. Sometimes people give money, food, clothing and materials to beggars for individual reasons. While some give to show philanthropic gesture just as the Bible says: ‘He that hath pity upon the poor lendeth unto the LORD; and that which he hath given will he pay him again.” (Proverbs 19:17)
Others give because it is a form of sacrifice and ward off one evil or the other, or to attract more blessings; to be freed from suffering including cases of illness.
There are those who believe that giving money to beggars could protect them from evil. The process usually involves given alms to beggars. As a result, for many reasons the act continues.
Professional Beggars and those that may be called corporate beggars have become a sort of irritation to a lot of people with their antics and sometimes blackmails in getting money out of the pockets of passers-by, commuters and other Nigerians although there are many genuine cases of hopelessness following ilness or some kind of incapacitation. . Government, individuals and religious bodies have a lot to do to check the nuisance that is fast turning into an obnoxious part of our culture.