From my window I saw them- women, men, boys, girls, babies going about their daily business on the culvert. A few women were breastfeeding their babies, some had theirs tied to their backs, while others were fully engaged in chats. A naked boy who shouldn’t be older than five years was running to and fro on this pavement that divided the road, hurdling over the demarcations present, as if he was performing a sport. Other children walked short distances from one mother to another or slept peacefully on the mown grass cultivated on the culvert. The men, who were considerably fewer in number, didn’t sit in groups. Each isolated himself. This one man, sitting aloof just like the other men, commanded such an air of importance even in his state. I monitored him for a while. He was looking into space before he slowly turned his head to look at me. I looked away knowing I didn’t have anything to give him. Then I heard the women and a few children raise an alarming cry; the naked boy had slipped and fallen on the road. The hollow crack of bones within a squash, the retreating trailer on whose tyres I imagined bloodstains, and the high-pitched screams intermittently punctuated with ‘Jesus!’ warned me not to look. I didn’t want to behold the horror from which my imagination would work fine gory details my mind was yet to fathom. I didn’t want to see. . .
He didn’t want that life, the naked boy. A life with no purpose, more uncertain than uncertainty itself. None of them wants that life. They simply resigned to that fate. They belong to the begging universe either by birth or naturalisation. They have a home but, having deserted that home, are now hopeless. There are beggars from every tribe in Nigeria but one doesn’t need a survey to guarantee the fact that not less than half the population of beggars in the country are from the northern states. A northern beggar has become a living trademark, or better still a stereotype. People have come to accept the begging phenomenon especially in Lagos. We’ve gradually trained our eyes to look above them and our silence is an accomplice to the beasts who encourage the existence of this pathetic show of degraded humanity.
There is really no excuse for the alarmingly large population of beggars in the country. I know of physically challenged individuals who acquired a university or polytechnic degree and are putting their skills and knowledge to good use. How or why should one who is hale and hearty resort to begging to live for the rest of his or her life? And this is why it is so absurd to find so many people engaged in begging as a trade. I don’t totally comprehend it. But I’ve heard rumours about some northern towns- and rumours could be true or false. I’ve heard that some men have made themselves lords over their immediate communities; the financially weaker members of these communities live on these ‘lords’ and worship them daily with prayers and Ra inka dede!. I’ve also heard of the unspoken and outlandish procreation charge- young men who can barely fend for themselves have children with more powerless girls with no substantial plan for their future or the future of the children born. As soon as such children can speak and walk around, they are sent out with tin containers to beg for alms in order to survive on the streets. Insanity, I hear you say? This mendicant culture is growing and poses future problems for our country and humanity.
Walking back home, the screams and cries are fresh in my memory. A Fulani walks past me with a beautifully created child. I feel sorry for the naked boy, but I don’t think his fellow beggars will feel so sorry for him. It’s something they’ve seen so often, they’d tell themselves. They’ll be on the same culvert tomorrow going about their daily business. It’s a vicious cycle. What is most unfortunate about it all is that children are born into this cycle only to inherit a life of nothingness. So as we all think of how to make the world better in our own little way, let’s put these people in our thoughts. We’ve lost some invaluable gifts to humanity in these beggars, we might lose many more in the future if we stay silent.