By Gbenga Awomodu
“When life knocks you down, you choose whether or not to get back up.” – Anonymous
Anyone living in Lagos must have encountered people who have made a career of begging for alms, usually in the name of God. Ubiquitous, they are an interesting mix. Some plead, others demand. Young and old, able-bodied and living-with-disabilities, male and female, crude and sophisticated, shabbily dressed and dolled-up, you find them almost everywhere. Often in the most interesting ways!
Take for instance my encounter with one of them. I was returning to school after a busy day on industrial attachment. Happy to be back after the stressful day, annoying traffic situation, and prolonged commute, I burst into the school gate and took a hurried walk along the right sidewalk. Then someone broke my flow, as if to ask for directions. “Uncle, E jo, mo wa sranded,” a beggar said to me, her pleading eyes fixed on my kind-looking, accommodating face. She was a middle aged woman and strapped to her back was a baby wrapped in swaddling clothes. She was neatly dressed, like someone attending a party, and this was not our first encounter. She repeated the familiar chorus in Yoruba: “E jo sa, mo wa sranded 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.
This was not my first encounter with people who have chosen begging for alms as their primary source of livelihood – a career of sorts. I have met them (usually the same cohorts) countless times. These fake beggars (I wonder who the original beggars are) have developed various tactics over the years. I remember a man I have met at least twice on Idowu Taylor, a popular street on Victoria Island. The second time he accosted me, he didn’t recognize me and went ahead to repeat the same lines.. “…Please, brother I’m going to Okokomaiko, but I don’t have enough money… I just finished a job interview and I’m stranded…” As soon as he saw that I was not going to comply by doling out some cash, he murmured rudely and walked past me, leaving me to confirm his dubious motives.
It is our moral duty to help people who are weak, disadvantaged, hungry and suffer lack. But by dispensing alms as charity, we do not help them. We should help to educate and rehabilitate them. Our nation has been built on the dignity of labour. Our heroes past have laboured hard to hold the fabric of our country together in one piece. Industry makes us tick. Every day, millions of Nigerians wake up and toil for love, for family and for nation. Despite the harsh economic conditions prevalent, many still eke out a fairly decent living. We need to talk to the able-bodied men and women who refuse to work to earn a decent living – those who have refused to grow up. Granted, we all go through phases in life. There are times we have abundance of resources and there are times that many of us suffer serious lack, but we must resist the urge to embrace mediocrity and laziness and fight back up again. We should always strive to overcome such trying times and work hard out of poverty, lack and eternal dependence.
Our nation has survived because of industry and we all must never relent in the toil for a better nation. It starts with the individual. Then, together, we should build our nation. We have no excuse! Those who need a helping hand should not hesitate to ask; neither should they get too comfortable! Next time you see Mrs. Sranded, kindly tell her about people living with disabilities who are making brilliant efforts to make the best of their situation…those who are engaged in productive activities and are adding value to people’s lives. I once knew a crippled fellow who sold recharge cards on Adeyemo Alakija, a popular street on Victoria Island. Moving about with the support of his hands and a make-shift roller-skate, he has chosen to be positive and productive in life. I’d rather leave my change with this guy than dole out cash to dishonest, lazy bones. Why? He has truly realised the dignity of labour!
This piece was originally published on CP-Africa.com @ http://www.cp-africa.com/2010/07/30/fake-beggars-lagos-gbenga-awomodu/