Beggars are ordinarily the poor, who live on the alms they get from members of the public to survive. But there are a number of beggars, who have made a fortune from begging but do not intend to quit anytime soon. LADESOPE LADELOKUN writes on the weird ways of rich street beggars
As a peripatetic beggar, no major religious event escapes her. For Mama Francis(not real name), begging is more than a lucrative job. It is a way of life. And it is not a job she would quit anytime soon. According to her, no job would fetch her N150,000 a day. So, begging to eke out a living is what she intends to do for the rest of her life as she boasts of building a storey building from the proceeds of begging.
“No place comes close to what we earn at the Redemption Camp and the Celestial Church of Christ Camp at Imeko. Whenever these two churches hold a major event,what I earn oscillates from N140,000 to N150,000. For other churches, the average ranges from N80,000 to N100,000.”
Asked if she finds fulfilment in begging, she said: “I’m not a thief. I only beg. This is how I earn my daily bread. I’ve been doing this for more than 10 years. If I don’t find fulfilment in it, I would have left it for something else. If what I do can fetch me a piece of land and a house,then it is worth doing.”
Although confined to a wheelchair, being physically incapacitated has not discouraged him from living on begging by travelling across Nigeria. While he lives in the Ibafo area of Ogun State, his ventures are outside that part of the state. With proceeds from inter-state begging, Adamu could purchase a mini bus(korope) and a tricycle for the purposes of generating daily streams of income.
“God has been kind to me. No matter my physical condition, I will always praise Allah. It will be my joy if I can walk but I can’t fight God if I don’t walk again. It is through him I have all that I own today. Buying a tricycle and mini bus is not by my power. He gave me a good wife and children. I owe everything I am today to God.”
Narrating an experience at the RCCG annual convention, Mama Francis told how she challenged a fellow beggar she thought had left the begging business for another job.
“There is this man I met at the last convention at the camp. He told us he had bought two freezers and he would start a business with them. When I saw him, I asked him what he was doing at the camp and he asked me if I was the only one who needed money. He said he wanted to expand his business.”
Though the two major religions in Nigeria- Islam and Christianity- encourage giving to the needy, unknown to many, a simple act of benevolence may be misdirected.
This is because a number of ‘rich’ beggars across Nigeria feign poverty to get free money from unsuspecting victims, investigation by Sunday Telegraph revealed.
In another instance, a beggar who plies his trade at Mowe in Ogun State, is said to be sitting on over a million in his account.
He has been sighted at First Bank, Mowe, many times after close of work, making deposits. “He comes to the bank every evening, seeking assistance to fill the teller in order to deposit his daily collections”.
Similar, a beggar was arrested at Alakuko, in Lagos, by community leaders on suspicion of combining begging and diabolism and handed over to the police.
“He did not accept any currency but N50 note. Upon his arrest, he was found with a stach of cash, amounting to N400,000,” a source said.
However, according to an earlier report by the World Poverty Clock(WPC),Nigeria maintains the dubious honour of being one of the countries with a huge population of the wretched of the earth despite the activities of comfortable beggars.
In its report, the WPC had said 70 million people in Nigeria were living in extreme poverty. Meanwhile,the World Bank had projected the number of poor Nigerians to hit 95.1 million in 2022.
I refused scholarship offered my daughter by Pastor Adeboye’s wife – then we scammed her
Sharing with Sunday Telegraph an encounter with the ‘task force’ at the camp, Mama Francis said a raid of the camp resulted in scholarships for three of her four kids and other beggars.
“There was this evening we were sleeping at the camp and the task force came and rounded us up. We were asked why we were sleeping at the camp and we told them we were beggars, who had no place to stay. Our stories got to Pastor Adeboye’s wife and she offered all our kids scholarship that covers their university education. But if I allowed my four kids to get the scholarship, no one would go with me when I move around. Other people also left out one of their kids for the same reason. We eventually wrote her a letter to assist us, so that we could have a roof over our head. Some got N200,000. Some were given N300,000. But we rented no apartment. We were still going to the camp because we know the exact time they raid; so we can avoid them.”
Why we find fetish priests, prophets, useful
Beyond receiving cash gifts, another beggar, who identified himself as Kabir, said all givers cannot be sincere, disclosing that ,like him, beggars seek spiritual fortification against diabolical givers. According to him, it is not every giver that has good intentions.
Hence, the services of spiritualists are sought to ward off evil. But that is only one leg of what they are paid to do, he told Sunday Telegraph. Adamu explained that ,knowing how Nigeria’s economic situation has reduced spending power, some of them have resorted to patronising prophets, fetish priests,et al for favour-inducing “spiritual work” to get money easily from members of the public. This, he said, could be in form of soap,perfume,et al.
“We are in a country where people are so desperate to make money and taking the life of a human being does not mean anything to them. There are ritualists, who are willing to take advantage of our situation to cause havoc. It’s the reason I seek spiritual protection from prophets of God. Some patronise Marabouts and there are those who see native doctors. It’s all for protection. With the hardship that pervades the land, virtually every household is lamenting. Whatever we make, we earmark a certain amount for mercy-inducing prayers and concoctions. You know how hard the country is now. It’s not easy for people to just give money. ”
Ban on street begging
Worried by what it called the activities of miscreants and beggars on Lagos roads, the Lagos State Government, last year, banned street begging in the state, and said it had begun massive raid and clearance of beggars and street urchins from the streets in the state.
Speaking at a joint news conference by the state Commissioner for Youth and Social Development, Olusegun Dawodu; Commissioner of Information and Strategy, Gbenga Omotosho, and the state Commissioner of Police, Hakeem Odumosu, in Alausa, Lagos, the state government vowed to fight the menace of street begging to a standstill.
According to Dawodu, curbing street begging was necessary to sanitise the society and restore dignity to those sent on the streets for alms begging and hawking, noting that these groups of people have turned alms begging and hawking into a huge business by collecting returns from beggars and hawkers, who incidentally sleep under bridges, motor parks and uncompleted buildings.
According to him: “As a responsible and responsive government, the Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu administration will not fold its arms and watch the state become a haven for beggars; it will take action to curb this menace.
“Street begging is a social vice that we cannot afford to watch attain uncontrollable level before we act. Otherwise, all the good plans and programmes to transform our state would be adversely affected. The same goes for street hawking.
“This has become big business to some groups of people. Our investigation revealed
that beggars and hawkers (children and adults) are transported regularly from other parts of the country to Lagos with the sole aim of doing this odious ‘business’ that demeans humanity and abuse innocence in the case of children, who are being pushed into this degrading trade.
“These groups of people have turned alms begging and hawking into a huge business by collecting returns from beggars and hawkers, who incidentally sleep under the bridges, motor parks, uncompleted or abandoned buildings as well as other places not conducive for human habitation.”
He added: “The activities of these people in our streets impede human movement and vehicular traffic, constitute environmental nuisance and security threats.
Intelligence reports have revealed that some of the so-called beggars go about with dangerous weapons; they assault and rob innocent Lagosians. Therefore, as a government, we cannot afford to let this continue.
“Thus, a special team has been set up to tackle this menace frontally. The operation of this special team will commence in the next few days. The task we are undertaking is not only to sanitise our society but also to restore the dignity of these people who have been sent onto the streets for alms begging and hawking.”
Following resolutions reached at the State Security Council meeting held at the Government House, the Kaduna State Government House in 2017, the Kaduna State Government had placed a ban on street hawking and begging, as well as commercial motorcycle activities in the state capital and environs.
According to the former Special Assistant to the Governor on Media, Samuel Aruwan, the decision was reached so as to maintain law and order in the state, based on credible intelligence report of security threat to lives and properties.
“Credible reports at the disposal of security agencies have made it necessary to begin vigorous enforcement of the laws against street begging, hawking and the illegal business of motorcycle taxis, as well as safeguard lives and property.Law enforcement agencies have been directed to begin enforcement of the restrictions against begging, street hawking and Okadas/Achabas in Kaduna town and other cities in the state.
“The directive is with immediate effect and is based on cogent security concerns and the need to uphold law and order in the state. Citizens are urged to cooperate with the security agencies as they enforce the relevant laws; the directive is clear.No motorcycle is allowed to carry any passenger. Beggars and hawkers are also reminded by this notice to leave the streets, please,”he said
Also, Kano, Kwara are among states that have banned street begging.
Is online begging the new normal?
For many, social media platforms like Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, WhatsApp, among others are a source of education, entertainment and information.
However, for online beggars, it serves another purpose. The desperation, according to some observers, to get free money has pushed a number of young people into begging for alms from strangers online. Unlike beggars on the streets, who move from place to place and risk arrest in places where their activities have been banned, it is a different story for online beggars.
“Sharing his experience with an online beggar, a Facebook user, Okunade Victor, told Sunday Telegraph that their modus operandi include deploying emotion-arousing appellations to get free money from their unsuspecting victims.
“They just call you all manner of names like Honey,Love, Dear,and so on to start a conversation and you wonder where it all started. Then they tell you ” Dear, I’ve not eaten since yesterday. I know I should not be doing this but I know God can bless me through you. And the next you see is prayer.Some would even beg you to buy data and recharge card.”
Another Facebook user, who simply identified himself as Samson, also shares his story: “There’s this lady that suddenly became friendly and showered prayers on me. I felt I had found a beautiful lady. But after about four days ,she showed her real self.
“See, the first message she sent:”Happy New Month to you sir. Boundless Joy, peace like a river, overwhelming grace and much more are what I wish you this month. Happy New Month, dear. Nothing will stand in the way of your success this month. You deserve happiness, joy, and blessing. I hope this new month offers you all that you deserve. From the bottom of my heart, I wish you the best this month…”
Then, after four days, she sent another message and followed it up with a call demanding N20,000 for her final year project. Of course, I told her why it would not be possible and requested to see her but she also replied with excuses, stating why it would not be possible. That ended our conversation.
” I am a student of Crawford University in Lusada in Ogun State. A 400L student…I’m just a normal student…and I do tell my friends , please don’t judge me by my looks. I’m just a student and a broke girl,” she wrote in a WhatsApp message, according to Okunade.
Reacting to the menace of street begging, a lawyer and former Commissioner of Information in Ogun State, Dr Fassy Yusuf, reasoned that though some state governments in Nigeria had banned street begging, some beggars would not quit because they find it convenient to beg. Citing an example of a beggar in Ijebu-Ode, Ogun State, who, he said, has four wives and three houses, Fassy said a number of beggars are in the business because they know some Nigerians are “empathic and compassionate”.
“It all depends on the state you are talking about. There is no national law on street begging though some states are outlawing it. But it is more of non- adherence than adherence because those involved are disrespectful of the law and they find it convenient to do so because they have this culture of begging. And once it is entrenched…it becomes difficult because it is the issue of getting money. I know some states have outlawed street begging but you still see beggars here and there. At a time, they were going around and arresting them.Yet, they still indulge in it. But, it’s the responsibility of the government to ensure that there is no nuisance on the streets. It’s not the fundamental right of anyone to beg. Like I said, some people just beg because it is convenient for them. There is this man in Ijebu-Ode; he has four wives and three houses but he would not quit begging.”
For civil rights activist, Biodun Ogunmuyiwa, a great number of beggars on the road are a creation of government’s detachment from the people, stating that it is unjust to arrest people for being poor, adding that the government made them.
“It is true that people who don’t have any need to be on the road are begging but what is their population compared to those who are genuinely poor. The Nigerian government made these people. It cannot be fair for people to be arrested for begging, deprived of freedom for years and they are not charged to court. You are not just violating their rights; you are being inhuman,” he said.
‘How to give’
A Christian cleric, who chose to be anonymous, speaks on the rewards for giving and consequences of feigning poverty:” God will surely reward you if you give with your whole heart. There is a reward for you because God loves a cheerful giver. But those who pretend to be poor bring curse upon themselves and sudden deaths. And these punishments are transferable from generation to generation,” he explained.
Commenting, an Islamic cleric, Taofeek Abdullahi, said those who innocently give to comfortable people who go about begging will definitely get rewarded by God because their intentions are open to him. “There is a reason and reward for everything. Just as Quaran says, whatever you sow, you shall reap ,whether good or bad. So, if rich people decide to leave their wealth or riches and go to the another place to start begging, there should definitely be reason(s). It could be that the source of their riches is unclean. So, if they begin to have problems, then they will visit a church or Mosque to find their solution.The solution could be for them to start begging because they have to abandon all the things they use the evil money to acquire just to survive. It can also be the sin of their forefathers that led them to such situations.
“It could also be that they harmed people’s destinies with the money they collect. So, due to the repercussions of their actions, they will run to church for deliverance and solution which might lead them to begging somewhere else because they cannot accomodate the shame. Nonetheless, God will reward you if you give them money because you did out of love. So, definitely ,there is a reward.”
In his reaction, Leader, Greater Tomorrow Group, Brother Demola Samuel, said whatever it is that is given to the needy must be inspired by the Holy Spirit .
“Motivational speakers say givers never lack. Though the Bible says God loves a cheerful giver, giving should be inspired by God. If a comfortable person hits the streets for alms, it could be to cause havoc to people’s destinies.You see, if you give and the Holy Spirit didn’t direct you, you have wasted your money. If you cry in my presence and you tell all the stories in the world, if God has not directed me to give, I won’t give,” he told Sunday Telegraph.