18th July, 2011
Lagos state is the leading commercial centre in Nigeria. According to the 2006 census exercise conducted in Nigeria, Lagos was rated as the second most populated state in Nigeria after Kano state with over 15 million people. And according to international ranking, Lagos state is the seventh fastest growing mega city in the world. But irrespective of these attributes and more, there still remains one stigma which has refused to be subdued in the city of Lagos, but rather reinforces as the days go by. The stigma is the daily incessant influx of beggars in the supposed mega city of Africa.
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! Even nowadays, some able bodied men pretend to be beggars, dubiously extorting money from people with long whips in their hands with which they scare people for extortion.
Take for instance my encounter with one of them. I was walking into the University of Lagos through the main gate, heading for the senate building where I had my industrial attachment at UNILAG Radio. By the side walk, someone broke into my way, as if to ask for directions. â€œUncle ejo, mo wa stranded,â€ a beggar said to me (meaning-please uncle I am stranded), 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: â€œE jo sa, mo wa stranded ni sa.â€ 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 â€˜officeâ€™ from the University of Lagos and its environs! At least, I doled out some cash the first time we met.
The Lagos State Government has severally carried out programmes to help the destitute scattered across the state and clear them away off the streets of Lagos, yet as the days go by, their number increases. Most people who are not in Lagos, see Lagos as a city with so many opportunities (begging profession inclusive), where greener pastures are ever present. So while others come to seek meaningful jobs, some come to take up the begging profession.
Recently, the Lagos state government sent back 3,029 beggars to their various states in the country and 15 foreign beggars to their countries in a bid to rid the state of the nuisance they pose. The statistics shows that 196 beggars were deported to Sokoto State; 83 to Oyo State; 75 to Kano State; 67 to Osun State while 21 were deported to Ekiti State and seven to Ondo State. Also, 12 beggars were deported to Niger Republic; two to Chad Republic and one to Cote dâ€™Ivoire while 2,580 others were handed over to their relations for integration.
In a bid to rid Lagos of street beggars and destitute, and to foster the actualization of the development of Lagos as a mega city, the government provided a rehabilitation and training centre at Owutu, Ikorodu. The facilities were put in place to help turning the lives of the destitute and beggars around while the mentally unstable are given medical attention.
Also recently, the state government made it clear that giving alms to beggars on roadsides is an offence punishable by two years imprisonment without an option of fine. It further stated that instead of risking jail term, the citizens of the state could give such alms to churches, mosques, registered orphanages, motherless babiesâ€™ homes or social welfare institutions in the state.
Special Adviser on Youth, Sports and Social Development to the Governor, Dr. Dolapo Badru, said this at a news conference in Alausa, Ikeja on the performance of the ministry in social care. He said the government was determined to take beggars and the destitute off the streets and provide them vocations and shelters. â€œLagos State frowns on giving alms to beggars. It is punishable under the law and you can get up to two years imprisonment for giving money to beggars. We have places where such money could be put to good use. The government is committed to best practices in social care,â€ he said.
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. 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 â€“ 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 to get out of poverty, lack and eternal dependence.
Achieving a complete mega city in Lagos would be very difficult if on every highway, street, and roadside, beggars and destitute are seen scattered like flies. A mega city should be devoid of any social disorder, not just a city where the streets, roads and houses are beautified, but also a city where the lives of everyone in it is beautified and makes meaning.
â€¢Ekwuribe Ekwuribe wrote in from Lagos State University School of Communication.