By Eric Elezuo
Crossing the pedestrian bridge either from Oshodi or Iyana Ipaja into Ikeja mainland is a daily experience among white collar job workers and traders alike. Also among the daily experiences is the presence of beggars of different shades and shapes lined up in scattered arrangement along the rail line. These beggars transcend the ordinary as they parade one heinous disease after another; diseases, most of which are stranger than fiction.
However, while it is common knowledge that the thought among young people these days, especially the unemployed ones, most of whom are graduates, is to take to begging. This is more rampant in notable cities of the country, most especially Lagos State; and to bring it nearer home, the Ikeja Along area of Lagos.
On a general note, regular citizens see begging as the fastest means of making ends meet having gone through the futile stress of securing employment, for one known or unknown reason or another. These people storm busy areas such as motor parks, market places, worship centres and others to beg for alms. This is even as there are different businesses one could get involve in within the confines of one’s immediate environment; businesses that could turn one to employer of labour within a short period of time. But it takes only the steady and inquisitive person to get the ideas requisite, and initiate them. This, the young ones are not very willing to do.
If one should ask why the influx of so much people into this horrible and image destroying vocation, you would be shocked to hear excuses like hardship, persistent political and economic instability in Nigeria, claiming that it has seriously marginalized the society as the various sectors of the economy favour only the rich, thereby making the rich, richer and the poor, poorer. This has increased the population of beggars to alarming proportion.
Begging, which over the years was known only among the disabled, has now become a vocation, accommodating more and more able bodied persons.
Experts have argued that the trend is a product of laziness and outright inability to put the mind to work towards taking advantage of the various openings only the brave and willing can see.
In Nigeria today, beggars are classified into the corporate, common and circumstantial beggars. Common beggars are the day to day street beggars seen in the traffic, mall gates, bank gates, motor parks and so on. Their features include rough and dirty appearance, disability in some cases and sickness.
The other is better referred to as corporate begging, which is the latest. These set of beggars are well dressed and are most times found around highbrow areas usually with their folders or bags with phrases like “excuse me “,”sir/ma”, “hello brother /sister”. These are just common ways of salutations in preparation to beg for aims.
They are also good at proffering excuses like losing their wallets, shortage of transport money or getting impromptu calls of going to a place and they are financial handicapped. Some of them go the extra length of telling how their father, mother or children or siblings have been in critical condition in the hospital, or are hanging between life and death. They master the act of emotional speech to the extent their gullible audience falls for the pranks and part with some notes.
These beggars in question, phrase up different stories for a particular picture every day, focusing on different routes in order not to be caught or exposed. To worsen the matter, some beggars have choice or are choosers as they describe to their audience the particular amount of money they want if you eventually decide to render them assistance. This sometimes comes as a proposal so one can decide to give less.
This act has created a bad impression in the hearts of foreigners and tourists from different parts of the world who come into the country as they tend to believe that the economy is poor and cannot be invested in. In this manner, top business men and women have been discouraged from partnering with Nigeria.
Although beggars are found all over the places, it has becomes excessive and incontrollable as government efforts to stamp it out have so far proved abortive.
In recent times, the governments of Kano and Kaduna states have tried unsuccessfully to eradicate begging and beggars through legislation, use of task force and many other instruments, but the efforts have rebounded.
In the first place, the government cannot boast of any fall back projects for the beggars should they agree to abandon the so called vocation. It therefore, behoves on the government to make available certain measures in terms of providing soft loans for trading, establishment of cottage industries that can absorb these beggars and a thorough orientation and sensitization of the public on the evils and dangers of begging.
Sometime in the recent past, it was reported that a woman who was presumed to be a beggar, was arrested for keeping guns for robbers who resides around Sagamu junction, Ode Remo North in Ogun State. This is not forgetting the story of three women who were arrested for renting babies to beggars as pawns at Iyana-Ipaja area of Lagos.
Those who beg have not ruled out poverty as being a major cause for begging though there are other serious social issues involved.
It must be noted that apart from the environment nuisance and health hazards these beggars constitute, criminals are said to hide under the guise of begging to carry out their evil acts.
“Whether we like it or not, we must understand that beggars have jeopardised the economic and social status of the country because of the menace they constitute in urban areas, and understanding the causes of these phenomenon will aid social thinkers and the government in combating the problem and such will get rid of these beggars of the street making urban and rural centres more habitable and suitable to do business and to live in,” said Clement Odion, a social commentator.
But what is facing the people stark in the face now is the diseases borne by some individuals who have spread across many parts of the country, taking Lagos as a case study. In the days before the Fashola revolution of Lagos, Kano Street in Ebute Metta use to be a meeting point of all kinds of beggars from the North who harbour some diseases that are eyesore and unwholesome to look at. But now that they have been uprooted from the site, they seem to have scattered around the state with a good number of them camping at the railway line by Along Bus stop. Most of them are even inside the town right infront of the local government secretariat.
The diseases these people bear and carry about unconcerned are heinous, and are capable of infecting most innocent people. While it is agreed that they need arms, this is where the government must come in, and assist to nip epidemic in the bud. You never can tell, some of them may be suffering from leprosy and other communicable diseases.
It is high time, the Lagos State Ministry of Health step up their game, and create a colony for these people with various diseases so they could be taken care of before a situation greater than can be managed erupts.