A foreign culture of begging for survival is silently spreading among the Yoruba. Old and young able bodied are finding a goldmine in the trade. TUNDE BUSARI writes on circumstances implications and possible ways out of the menace. Additional reports by Akin Adewakun, Yinka Olukoya and Oluwole Ige.
One of the often said prayers among the Yoruba of the South-western Nigeria is a plea to their creator not to reduce them to a beggar.
In their belief system, a beggar is a nonentity and indeed a dreg of the society deserving no honour.
Against this backdrop, parents make it an obligation to their children to insist on hard work as only road to success.
To them, there is dignity in labour rather than wearing a weak face and prostrate about for money or food.
Even Islamic adherents among them whose faith encourage alms giving to the poor as one of the five pillars of their religion, don’t always adhere to the law unless they are sure the recipient is physically challenged.
Begging, as a trade, is, over the years, said to be associated with physically challenged groups of people from a section of the country. These people are most often visible at public places such as markets, mosques and other high density areas where they sit and chorus ‘please, give me for the sake of God’.
They are also said to have constituted a burden to the aesthetic feature of the public. However, as undignified as many regard the beggars act, the Yoruba appear to have been infected, also making ends meet in the trade.
Nigerian Tribune gathered that some able bodied persons are already in what looks like a race to match and rather outdo their counterparts notorious for the acts.
At social gatherings where no restriction is imposed on free movement, these people are often seen at every available space harassing the guests with plea for money.
The modus operandi of some of them is an appeal to the guests’ emotion with spurious claim of in need of a lifeline to settle hospital bill of children or relation.
The young among them of school age usually come up with tales of being stranded after their money had been lost to either armed robber or pickpocket.
It was also learnt that some beggars trek from streets to streets on daily basis selling dummy to unsuspecting kind hearted ones.
In Ibadan, the Oyo State capital, the salary situation is the reason some of them claim to have turned to beggars.
“I cannot on a good day descend this low if the government has not denied us our salary. In fact, I am not comfortable approaching you for money but I have my children back home who are not sure of where breakfast would come this morning,” a woman told this reporter in front of a popular bus stop near challenge axis of Ibadan.
Another category of the new generation beggars are so daring that they appear in good dress and go after important personalities of the society. They keep a close watch at their target as if they were paid security agents. The embarrassment they cause their target force them to throw some mints at them to have peace and enjoy the gathering.
Chairman of Oyo State Chapter of League of Veteran Journalists, Alhaji Wale Adele, recalled his encounter with a woman outside a bank.
According to Adele, the woman gently walked up to him and pleaded for money after an explanation that she had sent all she had to her daughter in school. Truth or otherwise of the claim was not important to Adele as he parted with some amount.
“I think state of the economy is responsible for this ugly trend. You know poverty knows no boundary and the way people react to it varies. But this is not saying such act should be encouraged. It tells of the integrity of the people involved,” he said.
While Ikeja prides itself as the heart of Lagos State, nothing in it suggests that individuals, who make their money through begging, are in a hurry to obey the state government’s directive not to engage in such act.
For instance, the Lagos State University Teaching Hospital (LASUTH) axis is fast becoming a beehive for this class of people. They always claim they are doing this to save ‘relations’, purportedly down with some form of ailments at the nearby teaching hospital.
To this set of people, the teaching hospital has become the honey pot, a potent tool to ensnare the unsuspecting Lagosians, who, out of pity, would want to lend a helping hand in saving a soul.
“I’ve been trying to raise a sum of N25, 000 to buy some pints of blood for my wife, lying critically ill after a surgery operation in this hospital,” said Anthony, a middle-aged man, who had approached the reporter for alms.
When queried further on the details of the ailment as a way of ascertaining the veracity of the claim, he drew out a very dirty hospital card, purportedly signed by a medical doctor, recommending some form of drugs, for a certain ailment the reporter would not be able to understand.
But on discovering that the person talking to him was a reporter, he simply disappeared into the thin air, asking to be left alone; since the reporter was not ready to ‘do something’ that would ameliorate his plight.
In Osun State, the population of Yorubas, begging for alms is relatively low. Some of them are elderly persons, looking frail and unkempt, while few are young and agile individuals, who have the capacity to work, but resorted to begging out of laziness.
The young ones come up with stories of personal problems or presenting plights of relatives, in dire need of medical attention in hospitals, with a view to eliciting sympathy from the people.
At times, they were armed with medical x-rays to convince the people of the need to give them money to assess medical services for their so-called relations in hospitals.
It was learnt that some of Yoruba beggars have chosen begging as a profession, using the proceeds to cater for their family needs.
Our correspondent also learnt that despite portraying themselves as wretched in outlook, few of them have acquired valuable properties, hidden from the glare of the unsuspecting public.
According to a 30-year-old beggar Azeez Ilesanmi, “I have to survive since I cannot get any job to do, I am begging for money. I use the money people give me to feed and take care of other things that I need.
Pressed further on what he could do to earn a decent living, Ilesanmi took to his heels, saying “if you cannot give me money, stop asking me unnecessary questions”.
A Psychologist, Funsho Ojewoye, argued that begging is an attitudinal problem determined by individuals. He stressed that one may find him or herself in a recession and still maintain his or her integrity; adding that begging should not be an option in such circumstance.
“For me, all these are just excuses by these people to engage in this demeaning business. We have individuals, in worse situations that would not even contemplate taking to begging,” he said.
Chief Fakayode Faluade could not hide his aversion for Yoruba beggars saying there are so many implications attached to it, including giving money to beggars for evil intention.
“Some give alms to beggars to acquire more wealth, while some use it to transfer their problems to another fellow,” he said.
The Araba Awo of Osogbo, Chief Ifayemi Elebubon also frowned at begging but called on government to set up rehabilitation centres where beggars would be taken care of and put smile on their faces.
Alhaji Adele also appealed to government at all levels to be more purposeful in terms of creating a conducive atmosphere for working population to thrive. Under such circumstance, he said, no able bodied would have any excuse to turn to beggar.
“As I have said, we react to problems different ways but I will not encourage anyone to go into it because our culture is not in support of it. Yoruba people have pride when it comes to preserving family name. A beggar has no honour whatsoever in Yoruba land,” he said.