How Lagos beggars prey on religious sentiments

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Lately, there has been an influx of beggars
into places of worship in Lagos. While some are persons who really need help,
others do not seem so, but are exploiting the religious injunction on giving
others to make money. IME AKPAN writes

How they normally appear

At the end of a religious revival at
one of the campgrounds on the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway or elsewhere, it is not
uncommon to encounter a person who would stop you, greet you and tell you a
story that goes thus: “Please sir, I’m sorry to bother you. Don’t be offended.
Please, I came in a bus that ferried us from Igando on the outskirts of Lagos,
to attend this event. At the end of the meeting, I discovered that my child
(points at a child who is barely six) was nowhere to be found. I went in search
for him and by the time I found him, the bus had left. I’m left with no money
to take me and my child to Igando. Please sir, I will be grateful if you could
help us with some money to transport us home. May God bless you.”
Out of compassion, you bring out your
wallet and give him or her some money. He or she collects it, thanks you and
prays for you, your business, family and your future endeavours. But instead of
moving towards the bus stop, the ‘beggar’ walks across and approaches another
public-spirited person to tell the same tale. Sometimes, he or she would run
into you again with the same story.
Welcome to the world of beggars at
worship centres. Some are physically challenged while others are able-bodied.
They throng the churches, mosques, crusade grounds soliciting for alms. On
Fridays, they station themselves at strategic places outside the mosques saying
to every passer-by: ‘Fi sabilillah (spend for the cause of Allah), Don Allah don Annabi (for Allah’s sake, for Prophet
Muhammad’s sake, give me alms).
On Friday nights when Christians hold
vigil or Sundays when they hold devotional services, they besiege the venues
before the pastors and worshippers arrive. For every worshipper that walks
past, the beggars make familiar refrains such as “help me because of God,” “God
loves a cheerful giver,” “give and you will never lack,” etc. Some of the
sophisticated ones who are variously referred to as corporate beggars would
bombard you with biblical pronouncements like “Give, and it will be given to
you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be
poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to
you,” “it’s more honourable to give than to receive,” “Lot gave to strangers
who turned out to be angels that saved him and his household from the doom that
consumed Sodom and Gomorrah.”
After Sunday services, young men and
women approach some owners of the state-of-the-art cars or the
gorgeously-dressed worshippers with their resumes and other credentials hoping
to get help. At times, they tell tales of misfortunes so as to win sympathy. In
the event that the assistance is not forth-coming in the form of a job
opportunity, the benefactor assists his indigent friend with some money.
Flood as a justifier
The beggars are already exploiting
the flooding and the security situation in the northern part of the country.
They now claim that they were internally displaced persons who lost all their
earthly possessions to the flood problem or the war between the Boko Haram sect
and the Nigerian military in the north.
Those who are involved in this
practice of soliciting for alms cut across all ages. Young, old people, men,
women and children are all involved. While some do it because of importunity,
others see it as a quick way to making money.
An age-old menace
The spiritual leader of a
Surulere-based Fountain of Truth Ministry Inc, Reverend Mathias Johnson said
soliciting for alms has been an age-long practice saying people who have the
right to beg are the poor, the sick, the old, the orphans, etc.
He also said begging at places of
worship is not new recalling the story of Peter and the cripple at the
Beautiful Gate. However, he frowned at a situation in which people who are not
supposed to beg now engage in the act.
“Yes, we preach that it is more
honourable to give. But if you can provide for yourself, no matter how little,
be content. Let those who are unable to do so do the begging. Don’t go to
worship places to deceive people that you are suffering from one misfortune or
the other, just to collect alms, which you know you don’t deserve. It is not
profitable and you may not be prosperous in the end,” he said.
A Lagos-based social commentator, Mr.
Julius Adebayo explained that many beggars are found at worship places because
they knew that Nigerians are religious and would always respond to religious
sentiments.
Mr.Adebayo said those who engage in
the begging, were able-bodied or physically-challenged, and knew the psyche of
an average Nigerian.
“They know that once you mention the
name of God, an average Nigerian will have a re-think. Again, an average
Nigerian believes that the more some other people pray for him, the more he
will meet his miracle. So, beggars of all sorts throng the churches and mosques
and to make people part with their money, they (beggars) tell them what they
would like to hear. Most times, what the beggars tell their benefactors has a
semblance of what the clergyman had preached during sermon. When that happens,
you can be sure that somebody will be convinced to give the beggar some money,”
he said.
The president of Change Agent of
Nigeria Network (CANN), Mr. Kayode Salako, blamed the prevalence of begging in
Lagos to poverty.
“We all know that Lagos is a very
viable place for any economic activity. Realistically Lagos has always been the
dumping ground for all the economic liabilities or problems of other states in
Nigeria. So, Lagos has always been very attractive for any activity that can
encourage people to make easy and quick money including begging. The money most
of the beggars make in Lagos, they can hardly make in other parts of the
country. The population of Lagos is another factor. Lagos is densely populated
and it is an attraction to beggars,” he said.
Another social commentator, Mr.
Onjefu Ogbole, agreed saying some Nigerians had taken to begging as a way of
making ends meet.
“These days hardship has become so
unbearable that people are looking for ways to survive. So, if some people
choose to go everywhere, including churches and mosques to beg just to keep
body and soul together, it is the fallout of the economic situation in the
country,” said Ogbole.
To stem the tide of begging under any
guise, analysts say Nigeria needs a strong social security system that provides
for the poor, the weak, the needy and the aged. The country also needs a
functional healthcare insurance system that can take care of the army of the
poor, who go onto the streets with various ailments soliciting for alms.
Nigerian beggars, they contend, are products of a system in dire need of a
thorough overhaul.

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