By Rotimi Ojomoyela

Begging which used to be a discreet  trade in Yoruba land has been elevated to an art and a norm. Some years before now, you must not be caught napping in such an act which was regarded back then as an anti-social behaviour, classified as the exclusive preserve of the lazy and the mentally deranged.

But with the advent of strange politics as practiced in this part of the world and recent economic recession which have made nonsense of our values, a new breed of aggressive army of beggars have been unleashed on the society. You would find them in elaborate ceremonies such as baby christening, burial ceremonies, weddings and birthday celebrations, political gatherings among others, where the rich, wealthy and influential people are sure to be present. They come in all forms and shades, such as dancers, drummers, magicians and other clownish characters, they reminds the wealthy and powerful and everyone at such events, the ugliness of a poverty stricken lot.

What they told Vanguard

Saheed Omodunni, (not real name) a 14-year old boy who is one of those ‘inventors’ of the makeshift fans, radios and cell phones that fanned guests at a recent burial ceremony of an aged, late parent of a senior colleague held in the premises of a public school in Ado-Ekiti, said: “Although, if anyone gives me money for fanning him with this fan, I will collect it and bless the person, but my main motive of doing this and why many of my mates you see here today, do this is to advertise our talents in electronics and electrical things. We are from very poor families and many of us have to even cater for our parents who are jobless, or have one terminal diseases or the other and cannot fend for themselves let alone feeding us. We hope that beyond receiving stipends from our influential targets, they can also ask us what they can do for us to change our situation and lift us from poverty to become empowered, “ Saheed said in emotion laden voice.

For Tosin Amodu, (not real name) a 13-year old boy who was also fanning guests in order to get some ‘tips’, said he simply needed to pay his school fees so he could sit for the forthcoming promotion exams to primary four in a public school in the state capital: “My poor parents cannot afford to pay for my school fees. They could only pay for my younger ones, three of them, but as the eldest, I was expected to not only fend for myself but also work for my school fees. I use to hawk pepper for my mother before but because she ran into a huge debts from some micro-finance bank due to delay in payment of the salary of my father who is a gateman (civil servant), she cannot afford to pay my own school fees. This is why I joined some of my friends who have been doing this for sometime now,” he said.

How profitable can the trade be?

Adio Mukaila, 41, shocked the reporter when he confessed to having once rejected a local government appointment offered by an influential political office holder which would have got him out of the trade but which he had rejected without a second thought with a reason that it is more profitable begging in his clownish guise than working honourably as a low class civil servant with the local government council!.

“Truth is that apart from meeting people who can assist you in other ways, I can make about N5,000 in a day when luck comes my way in this trade. So, why would I leave such sometimes juicy trade for a poorly salaried civil service job that you may sometimes not receive your remuneration for months while your family perish in hunger?, “ he explained.

Anti-social behaviour

Meanwhile, a guest who was visibly angry with the attitude of the ‘uninvited guests’ and frowned at the alarming rate at which they are calling at prestigious social events and ‘harassing’ eminent guests who usually feel embarrassed with their conduct, said: “Many of these boys are school drop-outs, lazy and stubborn kids who ran away from being properly disciplined at home and flood the streets to fend for themselves by harassing people at social events. I think the government must ensure something is done to get rid of them and stop this charade once and for all, “ he said.

A Probe: An investigation into why the characters engage in their trade revealed interesting tales. Muiyideen Adio, one of those with bogus make-ups and costumes, told the Reporter that a most pressing need to beat widespread poverty  draw many of the clowns into the trade but there are indeed more shocking reasons behind it.

“Personally I am gifted in acting and entertaining people. But because I’m from a poor background, I cannot go to school to improve on my skills and become relevant in society. I have learnt a trade and can sew. But that doesn’t pay in most cases. One does this thing to get to know influential people and also earn some money, “ he said.

A common phenomenon: In Ekiti State, particularly in the capital city, Ado-Ekiti, hardly would you not find such characters in any social or political gatherings held in the open and featuring the high and mighty from far and near: Politicians who fail in their usual promises, dubious professionals and business moguls whose sudden wealth does not reflect the realities our time.

Funny Costume and persuasive eulogy

The clowns come in varying appearances and guises: you have the minors who invented makeshift fans, radios, and cell phones, powered with small batteries and use these to attract the attention of their targets by fanning him for a while and later whisper into his ears: “Baba mi, e ban wa nkan” (My father, pls find something for your son).

There are those who wear clownish apparels of chalking themselves all over their bodies and looking weird and funny, and use the appearance to draw the attention of their targets who they praise to high heavens in local language once his attention is secured, all in a bid to get him to part with a few Naira notes!.

Yet, others wear bogus costumes and make-ups reminiscent of the exaggerated comic characters of the Italian Comedian de’ arte of the 16th-18th century Europe. Also done to seek the attention of eminent and well-dressed guests whose eulogies they sing excessively in order to extract a few Naira notes.

There are as well as those who do not pretend, disguise or wear bogus costumes, make-ups to impress their targets, but equally beg for alms!

Although, not deformed or disabled in anyway, they simply look pathetic and carry little sign boards or pamphlets on their chests which announce that they are deaf, dumb or both and need financial help.

Some of the persuasive eulogies employed by these characters to get their target part with tokens include: “Baba mi o! Eyato siwon joo”, “ eyato sawon honourable mari o” (My father, you are not like them, you are not like the honourables who deceives with empty promises”), and the likes.

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Comments expressed here do not reflect the opinions of vanguard newspapers or any employee thereof.