Twenty-nine-year-old Biliki Atoyebi is an Osun State-born female cripple who has two healthy sons who are now in school. She has been begging for alms to support herself and her sons, but now wants to have a 180-degree change by starting opening a shop where she would rather sell groceries and other items to help her children and herself. Atoyebi’s ardent desire is that somehow, her plight would get to the knowledge of Senator Remi Tinubu or other public spirited persons, who could be used by God to give her children and herself a new lease on life and change their lot for good. Atoyebi is determined to see her sons achieve great heights in life. Just like every other mother, her passion for her children’s education and wellbeing is unwavering. She is ever ready to go the extra mile to support them not minding her physical challenge.
From early in the day, neat and decently dressed, she positions herself near a busy junction in the Victoria Island area of Lagos, where she seeks alms from motorists caught in slow traffic. In this interview, Atoyebi gives a chilling account of how she lost her legs when she was three years old as result of diabolic attack following a quarrel between her mum and another woman. She also pulls back the curtain to reveal how her mother abandoned her and the tryst that led to the birth of her first son and many more.
How did you find yourself in this situation?
Based on what my father told me, he said that my mother was a harsh woman who fought frequently with her neighbours. At the time, we lived in Abeokuta, Ogun State. My father told me that one of the women my mother fought with said that she would deal with her, while they were abusing themselves. No one knew the literal meaning of the threat, “I will deal with you.” I was already three years old then, but suddenly, my leg could not carry me again. That was how I started crawling with my chest from that age. Due to incessant quarrels between my parents, they parted ways; and my mother abandoned us and remarried. After she followed her new husband, my father who was already aged began to take care of my only elder brother and I. While still in Abeokuta, I was able to finish primary school and was interested in going to secondary school but could not. My father wanted me to go to school but how to attend school with ease was a major challenge. He did not leave me alone at home but took me wherever he went to until we relocated to Lagos.
So, what happened when you came to Lagos?
My brother and I came to Lagos on our own but he later left me because I did not want to go to Osun State again to be a burden to my aged father. I felt I had already stressed him enough for his age. He was aged, yet struggling to fend for us. It was while we were staying in Ketu, after we came to Lagos, that I met my boyfriend who impregnated me and I gave birth to my first baby boy nine years ago. Today, I cannot recognise his father if I see him. He used to come around to visit and play with me. When I got pregnant, I could not abort the child because of my physical challenge. I did not know how to commit abortion and was still crawling with my stomach when I became pregnant.
Please tell us about your sons
My second son is six years old. Both attend a government primary school where fees are not paid; but I buy every other thing they need like books, school bags, stationery, shoes and socks with what I get from begging for alms. When they eat breakfast and go to school, they come here to meet with me and collect money for their afternoon meal. I bought a small piece of land where I built shanty structure; that is where we live on the island. We operate from there though I do not come out on daily basis to beg. Any day I come out, whatever I make is what I take home. It puts food on the table and takes care of our little expenses. My prayer is that God would miraculously use people to assist me to send my children to train my children overseas. I want them to study abroad, not here in Nigeria because people from abroad look different. From this my begging spot, I see White people (oyinbo) with their children regularly; that is what I wish for my two sons. You saw me and stopped, so also do other people see me and ask me questions. I know that God will do it for me one day.
Considering your condition, did you deliver them through Caesarean section?
No, I had normal delivery at home. I gave birth to the first one at Ketu while the second baby was born in Victoria Island. When I gave birth to my second son at home on the island, another woman helped me to cut the placenta, clean my baby and I stood up. She also helped me to bathe him for just one week and I took over. I would put him in the big bowl and bathe them. I breastfed for the first few months and weaned them with semovita. I would mix the semovita with cowbell milk and feed them. That was what they ate until they started eating solid food.
Who assisted you when the children were toddlers?
Nobody really. Back then when we got back home, I would keep my wheelchair at a corner and crawl to do my chores. We managed ourselves like that until they started walking. I would ask my big son to fetch water from the well, which he did gladly. I would send him to the market with a list of all that we need at home; he would buy everything and bring them home. Since he was seven and half years, he has been of tremendous help to his brother and me and. My second son is not like his older brother, that one is aje butter boy, who likes to play. My first son is God-sent honestly; he does every chore with happiness. The father of my second son died when my second boy was two years old. With the two of them, I do not need any man in my life again.
Looking at your condition, are your pregnancies the result of rape? Or did they come about as a result of the men’s attempt at for ritual purposes?
No, God forbid. I was not raped neither was it for ritual purposes. They were all normal pregnancies because I met with the two men in the house. I told you the father of my first son was my boyfriend, he was my first man. He used to come around to play with me when people had gone out in the neighbourhood. The father of my second son was a bus conductor, but he is dead now. When he was alive, we lived together and he was the one that helped me do things.
How do you go to the hospital when you or your children fall sick?
I am blessed with children who are not sickly. When they complain about anything, the best I can give is a simple analgesic like paracetamol, which takes care of them. We do not go to the hospital like that. The last time we went to Macy Children’s Hospital (MCH), Lagos, was when one of them was diagnosed of asthmatic condition and could not talk, cough and breathe very well. We first went the health centre and we were referred MCH. At the end of the treatment, we were asked to go home without paying. Since then, he has been very okay. That was the only major illness that took us to the hospital. We are healthy by the grace of God.
What is the relationship between you and your mother now?
My biological mother is alive but does not ask after the children and I; meanwhile I am her only daughter and my sons are her grandchildren, but she does not ask after us. At times, when my brother calls me, I will ask him after my mother to know why she cannot inquire about our welfare. He would ask me rhetorically, why don’t you call her? The last time we spoke years ago, I requested her to assist me, to take care of my boys since she is physically stronger, but she turned it down and I simply understand that she is not interested in our affairs and that is why she does not bother about us at all.
How did you become a professional beggar?
My father introduced me to begging. When we relocated from Ogun State to Osun State where I finished primary school, it was a very challenging period; it got so bad that we could not feed. One woman accepted us in her home and gave my father this advice: “As far as you have this kind of daughter that is physically challenged, why can’t you take her to the market square, because she will yield money for you. I was 11 to 12 years old then when my daddy started taking me to the market, to beg for alms. I didn’t have wheel chair then, I would be dropped at a place where passersby would see me and I would ask them for alms. Some dropped N10, 20 or 50. That was how begging became part of me till date. But whatever proceeds I come back with, my children and I use it to take care of ourselves.
I want Senator Remi Tinubu to me help start something worthwhile. Begging for alms does not make me happy again because my children are growing. They are in school already and when other children talk about their parent’s profession or when asked in class what their mother does for a living, it will be very shameful to announce in class that their mother is a beggar. I do not like it. I do not want them to be ashamed of me when they become men.
What profession interests you?
I know how to make hair on my own but it strains my back terribly. The pain was dreadful on my back the day I tried it. Even with an elevated comfortable chair, it was not easy. So I do not want to make hair. I rather want to sell articles or own a provision store but my challenge is how to get a space and stock it. I can run around on my wheel chair and sell my market. That will make me happier as a woman with children.