Every day you walk the streets of Lagos or log on to the Internet, you are confronted with requests for money or assistance from total strangers; some beg outright while others try to scam you into parting with your cash. As Nigerians become aware of new tricks, these set of people that have taken begging as their means of livelihood are upping the ante daily, coming up with fresh begging scams.
A couple of days ago, a Twitter user, Kelechi Uzoka, raised the alarm that another twitter user, Emmanuel Odinaka Emma was using the pictures of his deceased secondary school mate, Paul Arisa, who died of cancer on May 2017, to defraud people online. The beggar had already gathered funds but pulled down the post immediately he was discovered. It is unclear if donors got their money back.
This is not an isolated case, according to a cybersecurity expert, Abisola Ogundeko, who says that most people that beg for money online for health, to pay school fees and so on, are just “advanced beggars and scammers with smartphone and data. They have graduated from standing at street corners to ask for money and playing at peoples’ heartstrings by hook or by crook is a way of getting them to part with their money.”
Warning people not to give money to those that beg online, she added that many online beggars are able-bodied men and women that have taken begging as a profession.
If you stand at any major bus stop in Lagos, one or more people will approach you to “pay my transport fare, please.” Some even enter public transport with no intention of paying and when asked for money, they begin to beg other passengers to pay for them. Every street corner is inundated with beggars and they all claim the harsh economic situation of the country forced them into begging.
“Good afternoon Ma, please I’m stranded and headed to Iyana-Iba, can you assist me with N100 to get to my destination,” says a well-dressed young man, with a face that tells that all may not be well.
Most of us have heard this phrase repeatedly. In fact, a social media user recounted that she helped a young man with N200 to pay his bus fare and right in front of her, used her money to buy snacks.
A visit by The Guardian to one of the major streets in Ikeja revealed that despite efforts to tackle the trend, street beggars are increasing daily. A conversation with one of the female beggars revealed she wasn’t Nigerian and the baby in her arms wasn’t hers.
“Alhaji gave me the baby to hold and beg because people tend to give to women with children. Whatever we make in a day, Alhaji that brought us to Lagos takes his share and we take the rest. We pay money to ‘council’ and agbero for ‘protection’ and also give the mother of the baby something at the end of the day.”
When asked if she would rather work than beg, she shrugged non-committedly without saying a word.
In the evenings, when workers are returning home, you find women with children stand by the side of the road, politely approaching you for transportation to get back to their destination.
“E ta ibeji l’ore, which means ‘help my twins,’ is a trick anyone will fall for until you find out the twins are not hers and the same person is asking for transportation from another person right in your presence or you fall victim another day.
Yemisi, a young girl in her 20’s, with a child strapped behind her approached this reporter saying, “My baby’s father traveled last week and left nothing for us; I’ve not been able to feed since then, so, my spirit asked me to approach you as you will help me.”
However, she was quick to add that she doesn’t mind taking up a house cleaning job or any menial job to help sustain herself and baby.
A taxi driver, Farouk Adisa revealed he didn’t usually work at night because most times, passengers would start begging when they reach their destinations, pretending they don’t have money to pay.
“That’s the latest scam by people now; they know they don’t have money, but they enter your vehicle and when you get to the destination, some will start begging while others will take you to ATM to waste your time when they know they don’t have money to give you,” he said.
In some cases, you find others around ATMs, pretending that their cards are not working and proceed to tell you cooked up tales. The moment you part with some cash and leave, they look for fresh prey to pounce on.
Another favourite begging scam is people that brandish medical reports of their children admitted at the hospital. Some even hold up medical urine bags or expose body parts ravaged by disease. As most have quickly discovered, there is no child admitted anywhere, neither are they sick. In fact, investigations show that those charities that help really sick people beg for funds are mostly scams; they take a greater part of the money, leaving the sick with little or nothing.
Precious Odinaka decried the activities of these scam beggars, saying it was making it difficult to help those who genuinely need help.
“We don’t know who is genuine and fake these days, so, I’ve stopped helping strangers altogether.”
A soft drinks seller in Surulere, Adetola Sonubi, wondered if the worsening economic situation was responsible for the increase in the number of beggars in Lagos.
“They are so aggressive these days; I’m afraid they might take to robbing at night when they don’t see enough during the day. Before, I used to get two or three people coming to beg daily, but now, on a good day, at least 10 people come to my shop for money. Some will even claim they are prophets and have seen a vision concerning you and want to pray for you. Don’t even fall for it or allow them to finish talking because some of them are diabolical; they try to hypnotise people,” she claimed.
There are some, who will approach you to buy their musical CD and support their dream, claiming they are not begging and you should give what you have. According to Precious, it is a sophisticated begging scam, as the CDs are usually empty and they would be long gone.
“I and others I know personally have fallen for this trick. So now, I don’t listen to whatever anybody has to say again. People are very devious and lazy and will do anything but actually work hard for money.”
While begging might have become a part of our society, psychologist, Raphael James says that an individual’s behavioural pattern is a major determinant.
“Our assumptions and theories when propagated are based on individuals and their behaviours, but that notwithstanding, there are basic parameters that are put into consideration. For example, we may study the culture, the environment, the social status, even the family background of the individual, before we may give a conclusive answer. We may also look at the upbringing of the beggar, what was the child development process like, what is his cognitive ability and so on.”
She noted that begging, in whatever name it comes in, is as old as mankind.
“They are found on streets, markets, party venues and in public buses some even will walk into your shops and offices to beg without fear. Some beg for money, others for food and even drinks.”
She added that religion accepts begging rather than stealing as they all preach and support almsgiving.
“Presently, there are social media beggars begging for everything from food to clothing, money and so on. People beg for many reasons; hunger, frustrations, lack of employment, money, culture, and greed.”
Begging might be universal, but some Nigerian beggars will reject your money if they feel it is too small. Some are even bold enough to tell you how much they want, while others will guilt trip you into giving them money, claiming you are better off than them.
Speaking with The Guardian, a source at the Lagos State Ministry of Youth and Social Development, who chose to remain anonymous, said they were working hard to rid the streets of beggars.
“Some of the beggars are arrested and charged to court while others are rehabilitated to the best of our ability. We have no jurisdiction over online beggars, but we try to sensitise and warn the general public about their activities. We are not crime fighters; we cannot arrest or prosecute them, so we do our part by warning people of their tricks. We recently rescued a woman with her twin babies from the streets and before we knew it, we saw their pictures circulating online, begging for funds that their mother had passed on and so on. We warned the general public and we would continue to do our best to sensitise Nigerians in order to save them from these sophisticated beggars,” he said.