Beggars, Beggars Everywhere

Abdullahi Yisa recently played a fast one on passers-by in Iyana-Ipaja, Lagos recently.  The Zamfara state-born 44-year-old came to Lagos with no clear understanding of what he  wanted. He said he had no vocational skill nor has he ever attended school. He only  thought that with a little understanding of pidgin English, he could survive.

On arriving Lagos, he started by sleeping under the Ojuelegba bridge. From there, he met  fellow Nigerians from his state who told him their survival strategy. Part of it was that  he must take advantage of the sympathetic nature of Nigerians, especially Lagosians, and  get them to assist him financially.

Yisa, who says he has a wife and six children back in his state, got to Iyana-Ipaja very  early that fateful morning. After looking around and ensuring that nobody was paying  attention to him, he lay on the ground, placing a small sack beside him. He pretended as  if he was on the verge of death, and trust unsuspecting Lagosians, they gave generously,  concerned a fellow could endure so much suffering.

Completely soaked, Yisa stayed like that for two hours on the ground, looking helpless  and getting all the attention he needed. However, when it was time to close business for  the day, he realised that the whole Iyana-Ipaja had become a beehive of activities.  Commuters and petty traders were all over the place. He waited for some more minutes and  slowly began to get up. He drew the sack closer. “The man did not know that we were  watching him closely. He got up as if he was acting a movie. At that stage we went up to  him only to discover that he was faking everything’” a driver, who simply gave his name  as Segun said.

It was discovered that Yisa, who was later given the beating of his life by those whose  sympathy he had earlier bought, had engine oil in a bottle inside his bag which he poured  on himself to give the impression that he was dying.

Explaining why he decided to put up such an act, Yisa said he had become a laughing stock  back in his village. He said because he had no money to take care of his family, some of  his children have become homeless and are now fending for themselves. His wife even  threatened to divorce him if the suffering continued. With no other choice, he found his  way to Lagos.

Though he was given the money he made that day and warned never to return to the entire  Iyana-Ipaja area, checks revealed that Yisa is not the only one who has adopted this  pattern to swindle people. While some of these beggars create the impression that they  have terminal ailments like breast cancer, others tie particular parts of their body with  bandage and dress it as if they have serious sores that have defied all medical  attentions.

Some of these beggars, mostly the females, stay along heavily populated areas during rush  hour.

When they approach their target, they fabricate touching stories. “These well-dressed  women would either tell you that they travelled to Lagos only to discover that their  guests had travelled. Some would even inform you that as they speak with you, their  children are in the hospital, but if you look at these set of people, they are better  dressed than you are,” lamented Adigun Abel, a resident of Egbeda. Many of the smart  beggars would tell you that they have been attacked and their money stolen from them.

Around Pen Cinema, in Agege area, a young man is always seen displaying a photograph in  which his stomach is plastered. He claims he suffering from a terminal illness, though he  is hale and hearty.

Andy Solomon, a banker, while lamenting the activities of these beggars, stated that he  once met a young man at Ojota on the way to his office on Victoria Island. According to  him the well-dressed man, clutching a brown leather bag, told him that he was on his way  to Lekki and that his money had been snatched.

“Because of his appearance, I never saw him as someone that could want to swindle me. I  gave the guy N100. Three days later, I saw this same man at Ojota again. He had forgotten  my face, so he told me the same story,” he said.

According to Solomon, “it was as if I should give him a slap but as a gentleman, I just  told him to leave my presence before I do something stupid. As if he understood what I  met, he disappeared from the scene and did not resurface till I left the place.”

Investigation reveals further that young ladies are fast getting into the act. These  young ladies hang out at places like eateries and bus stops and since they know that men  are easily touched by their appearance, they use the advantage.

“These girls do not have jobs, so they just stay around areas they know they could get  the attention of the men with their cock and bull stories. Because of their good spoken  English, you will never know that they are what they are —beggars,” Isaiah Jimoh, who  claimed he had had such experience recently, explained.

Gbenga Awomodu, a freelance writer and editor, once posted his encounter with a beggar on  his blog. While stating that anyone living in Lagos must have encountered people who have  made a career of begging for alms, usually in the name of God, he explained that he once  met a woman on his way from school.

“She was neatly dressed, like someone attending a party, and this was not our first  encounter. She repeated the familiar story in Yoruba: E jo sa, mo wa stranded ni sa.

“She wanted me to part with a few Naira notes because she was stranded. Too bad! I will  not be fooled by this woman, I told myself! She had better moved ‘office’ from the  University of Lagos and environs! At least, I doled out some cash the first time we met,”  he said.

While many would reckon with the saying in the holy book of the Christians that the poor  must remain among the rich, it has been proven that beggars make more money than the  average salary earner.

“This is why they use every form of disability as a means of seeking for alms,” said  Julius Ade. “While these ones laze around looking for who will butter their bread, they  should always be reminded that there are several other deformed people who end up  becoming what they had set out to become. I know of some people with disability who sell  recharge cards and operate phone business centres for a living.”

—Eromosele Ebhomele