I am not a big fan of Governor Fashola good as the mega city idea sounds. Much as Eko o ni baje sounds. As a matter of fact I was angry on February 14, 2009 when he contracted Elizabeth R to distribute balloons to Lagosians as his show of commitment to Lagos. For me the big question was na balloon we go chop? I was even angrier at the investment in xmas decorations in the streets of Lagos, pretty as they were. My sentiments are that we need good roads and lots more infrastructure as opposed to Governor’s BRF show of affection.
However, one thing came to mind recently, beggars on the streets of Lagos. I don’t recall seeing beggars while in Lagos traffic anymore. Just like me, you may unconsciously not have noticed. Its either that or I have become a bigz girl that I failed to notice. Here’s what I mean.
Begging in our streets especially at bus stops and areas where traffic lights are pitched used to be cause for anxiety as beggars were a big menace. At some point in Lagos, it was a source of livelihood and to some others a profession or vocation (you’ll understand soon enough). For me distinguishing between the destitute and the beggar had proven an arduous task. Some used to beg in-style and others did it the traditional way.
I do not know if you recall a most interesting group of child-beggars. Cute little girls with their tanned fair skin and silky curly hair (which most of us would give anything to have) who used to go on bare feet or bathroom slippers! Rumour had it that they were children from Niger. They would follow and glue to pedestrian (ladies in particular) like magnet to a metal, flattering to get what they wanted. Now, these ones used to insist and would embarrass you if you refused to let go of your money, some even attempted to seize ladies bags with a lot of aggression. This worked at a time but as time went by they lost audience. So they reinvented themselves and began to parade at bus stops with trays of sweets singing in the three Nigerian languages interchangeably, asking that you support them by buying their sweets, since you have constantly reprimanded them for begging. Yet again they are very persistent. What was most absurd about these beggars was the fact that their parents sat across the streets calmly waiting to collect the proceeds of the child-beggars.
Another no-longer popular group of beggars is the breast feeding mother with her suckling twin babes on her nipples under the heat of the sun. Hers was an emotional game - hoping that you’ll take pity on her at the sight of the poor little ones (even when she failed to do so herself) and let go of a few Nairas. Quite selfish of her and to her detriment most times, passers-by turned deaf ears disgusted at the sight. Her male counterparts who also used ‘pity’ as his strategy were those with either an amputated arm or leg. Some say they are victims of the Sharia law. Could it be true? If true, did judgment passed on them justify begging? I still see a few of them around Maryland but no longer rampant.
The most appalling of this pity driven group of beggars are a popular sect on the Falomo Bridge and Kingsway Road. A perfect picture is a child or an adult on a wheel chair with a growth or swelling on the face or neck which has caused the body part to be distorted. This syndicate would usually use an amplifier pleading for help on behalf of the sufferer while other members share leaflets as well as collect donations from well meaning Nigerians. I wonder if they really used the proceeds for the treatment as claimed. Afterall, the sufferer is handicapped and cannot fight!
“…Excuse me madam, am actually on my way to Iyana-Ipaja, CMS to Iyana-Ipaja is a hundred naira but I just have sixty naira, could you please assist me by giving me anything you have. I really don’t mean to embarrass you, thank you….”. Does that ring a bell? Those are the professionals who had perfected the act. I bet this is familiar both for the motorist and pedestrian. I call them corporate because they are polite, well dressed, well spoken and present their case very well. The first thing that comes to mind when such walks up to you is that he wants to ask for directions. Hell no! You’re wrong, he’s a beggar. But who has perfected the act.
Back in 2003 when I used to ride home with a colleague after work, I was introduced to the Allah bà mùsà. Those were the magic word to dismiss the fail old beggar (the Ba bi Allah, beggars). I realized that each time the Ba bi Allah-beggar approached my colleague dismissed them by saying Allah bà mùsà. When I probed, I learnt that Allah bà mùsà meant “God will provide”.
The Ba bi Allah, beggars are the traditional duo of a frail old man mumbling with his walking-stick and plate, guided by a child. They are not aggressive trusting God to provide and satisfied with whatever goes into the plate no matter how small. To them, it is okay for some to have more than others and for he who doesn’t; it is more dignifying to beg than to steal, so they beg willing. They do not make a fuss about it and are willing to move on to the next vehicle if they do not get any response.
The question is - Did God really provide or is Governor BRF gradually succeeding at cleaning the streets of Lagos? If the answer is yes, then I guess Governor BRF’s mega city plan is working and I cannot but give him Kudos.
Eko o ni baje o!