- How sponsors drop them off early in the morning at various begging points, come back later in the day to bring them food and in the evening to pick them up to render daily accounts
Go tell it on the mountain, over the seas and everywhere: begging is now a big-time business in Lagos. If Saturday Sun investigation is anything to go by, then don’t be surprised to see it morphing into some form of Plc (public liability company) very soon.
Beggars, mostly from the North or, as some people say, Niger Republic, have, for a long time, constituted common sight on the streets of Lagos and in most Nigerian cities.
But investigation by this correspondent who has been monitoring happenings in Alaba Rago, LASU/Iyana Iba axis, located on the Mile 2 – Badagry Expressway, as well as on Lekki Expressway by Jakande Junction, for sometime now, discovered that the beggars, mostly women and children, that you see milling around and tugging at your trousers or skirt or wrapper as you pass by, to give them something, have big-time sponsors who drop them off from an open-four wheel drives, very early in the morning, say around 5am, before driving off to go and prepare good meal for them.
Later, say around mid-day, the same sponsors would come back, park their vehicles somewhere and news would soon go round that it is time for breakfast or lunch and you would see the beggars rushing as if they are being pursued by demons, to go and receive their rations.
Much later in the evening, the same vehicles would come to pick them up for homeward journey to somewhere in Alaba Rago, popularly known in Lagos as a major living quarters for Hausa traders/businessmen. And, day after day, the cycle is repeated like a wheel of fortune fixed to a gyre.
Beggars and their customary locations
Although in Lagos, authorities have come to see beggars as social menace and therefore, are beginning to get rid of them, just as we find in the Senegalese writer, Aminata Sow Fall’s fictional novel, The Beggars’ Strike, where authorities felt that their presence discourage tourism and decided to rid the city of them – a policy which was implemented through police tactics of harassment, physical abuse, and imprisonment of them, officials hardly know this side of the Nigerian beggars.
In Lagos, whenever and wherever you see a beggar, running for dear life, and almost flying in the air as if they developed some wings overnight, take a careful look around: there is an environmental/sanitation officer lurking somewhere and looking for beggars to arrest.
But are you thinking that, at the end of the day, they may, probably, go on strike? Just like it happened in Fall’s novel where beggars organised a strike and refused to return to the city streets to receive donations?
Perish the thought. Such a scene is not likely to be re-enacted here either now or in the near future. Like we see in the book, where Mour Diaye, the Director of the Department of Public Health and Hygiene, who initially cleared the streets of beggars before he was instructed by a marabout to return to offer a sacrifice to them in their customary locations if he hopes to be promoted to vice-president of the nation. But by the time he gets there the beggars are all gone!
Not so in Lagos, the beggars are still in their customary locations, begging as an organised labour force, and in fact, making daily returns like the policemen, at the checkpoints or on patrol duty, allegedly do to their bosses at the end of each day’s duty, although some sources consulted are of the opinion that they may have come together to devise such ingenious method as a way of pooling their resources together to plug wasteful spending especially in the area of feeding, in the face of biting recession. Whichever is the case, someone, somewhere, is making a big living out of them.
Bringing beggars into Lagos
As a visible demonstration of this fact, everyday, train and truckloads of beggars are brought into Lagos from different parts of the North and discharged on the streets. One of such places is at Iyana Iba as well as Lekki Expressway by Jakande junction, where you encounter men, women and little children of between 4 and 10 years old, who seemed to have decided to live the rest of their lives by begging on the street. The children are uneducated, and the adult men and women among are not interested in learning any useful skill, although they are able-bodied.
The aggressiveness the children exhibit, in the course of begging is disturbing because they go all out to hold their victims by their clothes until they give them some amount of money. Otherwise, they might not allow them to go.
Some car owners complain that these children run after them to hit their bonnets or any part of their vehicles. Until the driver of the car releases some money to them, they would not allow him or her to go.
“Initially, I used to give them something until I began to notice that they hand over the money to their mother, who in turn would make daily returns of the amount collected to someone, at the end of the day,” a source said. “It was then that I stopped doing it. At Okokomiko, as you walk along the road, between 7 and 8 am you will see some persons coming out to deliver food to these children and the women and men whose duty it is to beg daily. Sometimes as early as 6 pm or thereabout you would see them walking along the road, an indication that they have closed their duty for the day and are on their way home.”
Meeting beggars in their abodes
Investigation showed that the beggars who operate in the Iyana-Iba axis of Lagos live in makeshift huts at Alaba-Rago market where Hausa traders/businessmen sell rams, cows, tomato, onions, potato, and other food products.
I visited the place one evening to know what is happening and met a woman who took me in when I told her that my purpose of the visit was to see how I could be of help to the beggars during the forthcoming Easter period as I intend to come and celebrate it with them in a big way.
She told me, in confidence that the beggars are usually brought down to Lagos from the North by one rich Hausa man whose name she refused to disclose. She disclosed that the man usually brings them in batches to avoid raising unnecessary eyebrow over the matter.
According to her, the man and the beggars usually agree on a particular amount to be paid before they accept to come down with him to Lagos. On their arrival, which usually takes place in the night, they are provided with makeshift accommodation from where they live and make their living.
People are not allowed to visit them in daytime because that’s when they do their business But if you wait, say, between 6 and 7pm, you would see them coming back. Although vehicles are asked to take the beggars to their various begging points early in the morning, I learnt that it is not every one of them that enjoy this privilege. Those whose begging points are not too far away sometimes trek to the place and go back in the evening. Others who may not want to wait for the vehicles also walk home with their little ones.
On this particular day, as I sat to watch them coming back, batch by batch, from their various points of begging, I discovered that they live and intermingle with such neighbors as prostitutes, wheel-barrow pushers, miscreants, and some homeless people. I noticed that they live close to two hotels located within the area. There, they mix up with call girls, who I observed, starts lining up for business, as early as 5pm, on the day I visited.
I also noticed that some of the female beggars were nursing babies. I asked the woman how they came about them. She laughed and said some of the beggars marry one another and raise children.
“Some of the bad characters around also sleep with the women or¡ girls but when the affair results in pregnancy they abandon them to bring up the children all alone. But one funny thing is that their mothers don’t send them to school because there is no provision for that.”
She pointed out that the beggars don’t make much, at the end of the day, because whatever money they make is delivered to their master who then gives them some stipends out of it.