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Chinelo Okoli: When Begging Becomes a Profession

Chinelo Okoli

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dreamstime_xl_31830682Some days ago, I visited Abeokuta from my base in Lagos for Fieldwork. On my way back, I got off at the last bus stop at Iyana Ipaja. As I made my way through the many people, to find the next bus to my destination, I made eye contact with this lady. She was wearing a long pink Ankara dress, and her hair was braided. She carried a brown bag and looked about six months pregnant.

I kept walking, until she approached me, just under the bridge. I thought to myself, what could she want? I still kept a welcoming look on my face. She did not look familiar, but one never knows, as I meet so many people in my line of work.

The conversation went as follows:

Pregnant Lady in Pink: Good afternoon, please help me with some transport fare, they picked my purse.

Nelo: Sigh…Where are you going?
Pregnant Lady in Pink: Ketu.
The reason I asked her destination, was so I could mentally calculate the amount I would give her, to be sure it would be enough to get her to Ketu by bus. I opened my black purse and gave her a single note of money.
Nelo: Here you go.
Pregnant Lady in Pink: Silence…

I looked up but not directly at her and still silence, then she walked away. In case you are still wondering what I was waiting to hear, it was, Thank you! Particularly as the amount I gave her was not N10 naira, it was not even N100 naira, it was not even N200 Naira. It was going to get her to Ketu and then some change to buy Gala or something.

It was not even about the amount I gave her, as it was done in Christian charity. It was just her attitude that left me both surprised and confused at the same time. In fact, I left her there feeling embarrassed, like I had done something wrong. Then that feeling quickly changed to “can you imagine? Just negodu this woman”. I started thinking; maybe I should have asked her to return my money, since she was ungrateful. But I brushed it aside, I dare not sef in this Lagos, before I go turn to shoe.

A few days later, I was on my way to LASU with my mum. As we drove past Igando, we passed a large number of beggars, sitting on the median on the road. You could see generations of beggars there, but it was the children who just broke my heart. We saw a man give a mother and her 2 kids, 2 nylon bags with edibles inside. The mother smiled and muttered a few words and then her kids started to scramble for their lunch in the sun. Then I remembered my encounter with the ‘Pregnant Lady in Pink’ and recounted it to my mum and her driver, Oga Joe. It was then Oga Joe told me, “Aunty, the woman na Professional beggar nau. She fit no get belle sef.”

Then it hit me, why did I not see through that. If you are accustomed to the streets of Lagos, then you must have encountered these ‘Professional Beggars’ at some point. I have met a number of them at different points in my life. Some of their features: they like areas with high footfall (like crowded bus stops), they are neatly dressed, they have a touching story (no transport fare, stolen purse, sick family member, no funds for school project), they throw in a few big words (e.g. alight, approach, bus fare, etc.). It is even more interesting, when you meet the same professional beggar at another location with a different story.

Being ungrateful is not a characteristic of these professional beggars. What worries me the most is that they make you doubt people who are genuinely in need and most times discourage people from helping others? I know people who refuse to help any beggars at all for this reason. But like Rev. Sis. Gladys’ once said: “if you are moved, then give freely, don’t bother yourself about if the person is genuine or not, let God be the judge”.

I know times are hard. Yet, I still wonder what makes a person choose begging as a profession. Do you have any stories of your encounter with a professional beggar?

Photo Credit: Dreamstime

Chinelo Rita Okoli is a freelance writer and content creator. She owns Parenting and Lifestyle blog www.neloshalo.com where she shares her perspective as a Modern Igbo woman living in Nigeria.

26 Comments

  1. Rhecks

    June 13, 2016 at 9:49 pm

    This is becoming a common thing we witness everyday in our daily commute in Lagos. I’ve had to caution a young guy who told me the same story twice! Unbeknownst to him, I recognised him at Lekki bus stop as the same professional beggar I’d seen before at Berger! To think he was well dressed and looking like someone going to work… smh

  2. fluffycutething

    June 13, 2016 at 10:28 pm

    There’s a couple* = mr and mrs who go around gaily dressed during the weekends, Sometimes they throw in a souvenir or too into thier set up and colour coordinate thier outfits. “They usually were at a party (you can see thier clothes can’t you???) and thier purse got nicked!

    If we start thier stories we will not leave here today

    *sighs*

  3. maxwell

    June 13, 2016 at 11:26 pm

    Its not a lagos thing alone, I have known this woman in Enugu for about 6yrs, meet her at different locations….. Proffesional Beggers Professor

  4. Bodunade

    June 13, 2016 at 11:31 pm

    Over analysis. Give because you can, not for Thank-Yous to boost your ego. The poor will always be among us. Who wants to be a professional beggar?? Smh

  5. nwa nna

    June 14, 2016 at 12:20 am

    Begging in Nigeria is an industry or should I say a sector by itself… The begging and wetin you get for boyz is non fvcking stop! People expect some type of reward, tip or sorting for doing their damn jobs! Sure, there are people could really use the assistance but then there are many more that are just skimming off people’s niceness.
    Was catching an international flight once, and one of the Nigerian staff of the airline approaches me in the departure lounge and proceeds to as me “bros drop something nah” I didn’t waste a second in telling him f’ing NO! The dude was rocking a pair of loafers that looked more expensive than the damn pair of shoes I was wearing for crying out loud ?

  6. nunulicious

    June 14, 2016 at 12:26 am

    there was a day I saw a grandma, mother and their granddaughter begging at a corner and the weirdest thing is that they were well spoken and dressed decently enough. Me I had to wind down call the mother and tell her off! i was so upset! i don’t believe those were in dire need enough to be begging particularly with the little child.

  7. marcel

    June 14, 2016 at 1:00 am

    I once met a woman who alleged she needs a little token to buy drugs. She had a prescription and a baby too. When I got to know it’s her ‘profession’ was seeing her around that area a week later. Telling same story.

  8. abby

    June 14, 2016 at 1:16 am

    At least in naija the beggars or a beggar says please for u.s the beggars will ask u as if its their right. Can I get few change Or a dollar .. Smh awon a lí ni kan se

    • Mr. Egghead

      June 14, 2016 at 8:52 am

      Gimme a dollar!!

  9. BigJoy

    June 14, 2016 at 8:47 am

    I agree with what you have said and the truth is that folks have taken begging to become a lucrative sector but honestly the woman might have just been ashamed, i give no excuses for her not saying “thank you” but it could just be possible that shame just didnt let her stay one minute. And truth be told there are some folks that are genuinely stranded so shouldn’t they try n ask for help

    Lemme give u a true life example that happened to me, so i had just started work back in 09′ and my folks were working out of Lagos so twas just me n my bro at home. This particular weekend i had spent all i had on me on the house needs, what i had was just my BRT ticket and money that would take me from my house to the bus stop and the bus stop to the BRT terminus. I even made my hair that weekend, decked up in my suit and hit the road. By the time i got inside the tricycle that would take me from my house to the bus stop, I realized that my brother had taken money from my wallet and i didnt have enuf to even take me to the BRT terminal.

    If i paid for the keke” i wouldn’t be able to enter a smaller bus to catch the BRT and it was quite a distance. i had to ask a lady in the keke if she could pay for me.. This was 50box o! she didnt hesitate, i shyly said thank you and as soon as we got to the bstop i ran off, i was sooo ashamed. most especially becos if we ended up entering the same bus she would wonder where money suddenly came from to pay for the bus, not knowing that that’s all i had on me.

    I cried that day, quite profusely. but i was honestly begging for help. My 2pence; Help when you can, you never know when its a genuinely request but also be watchful because folks do it for a living thats for sure..

    Wao! what a long type. mabinu people..

    • BigJoy

      June 14, 2016 at 8:49 am

      Genuine*

  10. AriWolf

    June 14, 2016 at 9:33 am

    I’ve had a fair few encounters with these, especially in the Ikeja area, and usually involving sick children in hospitals. On two occasions, I’ve have been fortunate enough to bump into the same professional beggar, and imagine his surprise each time as I’ve cut him off and asked about his sick child and if he’s still in the hospital. Like you said, the most annoying thing is that they detract you from genuine acts of charity. I’ve learned to let the spirit lead without trying to question motive or sincerity.

  11. zzzzzzzzzzzzz

    June 14, 2016 at 9:35 am

    I usually assist those who enter a bus and do not have to pay and ask. This is becos I once entered a bus and forgot my purse at home somebody paid for me. But as for those who accost and ask , I don’t usually answer them. There is this man at Marina who is always claiming to be from Liberia begging for money, the day someone told him that the war in his country had ended he insulted the man. This was some years ago. I saw him some weeks ago and he claimed he was sick and needed money for drugs. when he got to my window (I was in a bus) and I closed it because I was hearing none of his story, he called me stupid.

  12. Tusman

    June 14, 2016 at 9:43 am

    It’s not a Logos thing at all. Last year, a pregnant woman played a similar prank on my at an ATM point. She pretended to have money in her account but the machine won’t pay her and her child was in the Emergency unit of a Hospital 5minutes from that ATM point. Hmmmm yours truly parted with hard earned 6 or 7 thousand Naira only to find out later that she was a fraudster

  13. moz

    June 14, 2016 at 10:57 am

    True. There are several people who get dressed in the morning and leave home to resume duty on the streets begging. I was in Lagos for last with my hubby for a couple of weeks. We went shopping at Shoprite Ikeja Mall only to be approached by a woman in her late 40s; she told a sob story about being a widow and how difficult it is for her to feed her children, complained about rent being due etc. My hubby was really uncomfortable ready to quickly open his wallet to help out, only for me noticed the woman perfectly manicured fingernails: with clip-on nails and polish o. Even her toenails were perfectly polished, ( so person get trouble like this still dey fix nails, fix weave on). So, I decided to look at her face only to notice that I had seen this same woman at the Senate building Unilag the day before when I went to follow-up on processing of my transcript. I saw her carrying a file and she came out of one of the offices on that floor.
    I simply bragged my hubby’s hand, the shopping cart and walked away from her. I was really puzzled as to why a staff of a university will result to begging in the evenings after close of work, She followed us for a few seconds before she moved on to another target

  14. le coco

    June 14, 2016 at 11:18 am

    no be only Naija… where I live the begging is just ridiculous.. and the things is.. unlike in nigeria where there is a shortage of jobs so sometimes u cn understand the begging.. Over here its like.. There are jobs available.. Plenty sef.. but these women will carry their babies nd be begging on the road.. waving at cars nd teaching their children to do the same.

    My heart broke when I saw this woman’s child ,who is not even up to 1 year old, wave on cue.. asif he knew wht to do when he sees a car approaching.. And these same women are always pregnant .. nw my issue is this. i dn’t live in a country where sex is a tabooed word.. people speak freely about it.. nobody gets shamed for entering anywhere nd picking a condom.. infact nobody will bat an eyelid… hiv counselling and testing is free.. there are free condoms in every single public bathroom… even smtyms in malls.. yet these women will stand infront of the same mall junction heavily pregnant, with a baby on her arm and be waving.. how difficult is to enter the mall and pick a condom or 10..

    let me nut even start with those men tht will be begging every time you pass buy.. Nd they will use tht same money and my cigarettes infront you oo.. mtchew..
    smtyms these things r just so annoying..

  15. gurl_wendy

    June 14, 2016 at 12:07 pm

    The one that I experienced was in front of Lasuth, Ikeja, one man was practically harassing me, following me around asking for money telling some tale about how he needed to pay for hospital fees and drugs for his mum etc, that she was seated in front, true, true, there was an elderly woman sitting on the floor a few feet away in crutches, just for me to get to the womans side after giving him money and she was shouting that why did I give him, that she didn’t know him from anywhere, *sigh*, this man had to be in his 50’s so shameful just left him alone before he decided to stab me under the bridge.

  16. olubabe

    June 14, 2016 at 12:29 pm

    Very common in Ikeja, some will insult you if you tell them you don’t have enough money on you.

  17. Sisi

    June 14, 2016 at 1:31 pm

    I get your sentiments, it’s not nice at all not because you are doing it for thanks but because you would expect that any decent human being would express gratitude when being helped out by a stranger especially. This professional begging palava is sad and shameful but I would say what is doing such people is something that money could never solve. For you to resort to such as your daily business, your pride, integrity and dignity are all missing or need topping up. This doesn’t apply to those who are obviously truly in need. Let’s thank God whenever we are in a position to give and help out where we can.

  18. Woman to woman

    June 14, 2016 at 4:45 pm

    At the spa sometime back, this woman started talking to me in the sauna. Unnecessary questions that we have accepted as part of normal converstaion in Abuja. Anyway after about 20 minutes, I was getting ready to go downstairs and pay, madam was like please can you send 10k to my account, so I can pay ill collect your number and give you back next week, my card is faulty. LOL

  19. Yehni Djidji

    June 14, 2016 at 5:10 pm

    Same thing here in Abidjan. You just forgot to add the case of the christians who came in the area to spread the Gospel of God and were left behind by the church bus. Yes, they are not afraid to use God’s name to beg. lol.

    Few weeks ago an old woman walking apparently with pain stopped my husband in the street and ask him to give her money to buy a long list of medication on a sheet of paper. Instead of giving her the money, he proposed to go the nearby pharmacy to buy them for her. She refused. “If you don’t want to give me money, leave me alone”. Ok. She was left alone.

  20. Tunde oni

    June 14, 2016 at 9:23 pm

    “don’t bother about if the beggar is genuine or not”? for where? when I never bellefull, I go come dey give one professional beggar my cash. I have brothers and friends who I know are genuinely in need and will do well with the money. I’d rather sow into their lives.

  21. Muanya

    June 14, 2016 at 11:16 pm

    I used to work in Abuja, and our office was on the third floor of a plaza that had four floors. That was all the workout I needed daily. Going up and down those stairs a couple of times a day. So one day, a lady comes in, she was wheezing or should I say grunting. I asked her what was wrong and she said she was asthmatic and needed money for her medication..salmeterol. I know how expensive salmeterol is and being asthmatic myself, my question to her was how did you get up these stairs? If you’re grunting that heavily how did you manage to climb up and you’re walking straight. Apart from the grunting I couldn’t tell there was anything wrong with her. Well I had no money, and I offered her my salbutamol inhaler, which she refused to take. It was after I narrated the story to others that I learned it was her routine. Come around once in a month. Same story. Same MO.

  22. Cynthia

    June 15, 2016 at 11:03 am

    This doesn’t happen in Lagos alone. They are everywhere. I’ve seen same beggar approach me in the same park at different days. It’s apalling.

  23. Uche Okonkwo

    June 15, 2016 at 9:49 pm

    This “begging parade” has become very common along Opebi/Allen Avenue axis of Ikeja . This usually happens in the evening time, while their target are people coming back from work. Imagine driving through heavy traffic after a hectic day’s job, different able-bodied men and women meet you with different kinds of stories such as “wife in labour”,”baby in the hospital”, “money for inhaler”,etc. It is always a sorry sight to behold, because I feel that no man or woman in his or her right senses would want to be a beggar. No matter how we see it, something is definitely wrong with these people. May God help everyone in their different endeavour shaa!

  24. Cheechee

    July 2, 2016 at 2:58 am

    oh yes they are everywhere and I share my experience with one on my blog.It’s sad.Honest work just doesn’t cut it anymore.
    cheecheelive.com

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