#ThoughtivityOpinion: On Begging and A Society’s Collective Hypocrisy

Hello folks, thanks for joining us on the blog once again. Today we are talking about a phenomenon that has become a scourge on our communities. From North to South, and from East to West. It is nothing other than the issue of street begging. I can say something about this, because I live in Ibadan, the largest city in West Africa and a city that some regard as the “street begging capital of Nigeria.” Beggars are an eyesore on our cities, they are dirty and unkempt, some of them are not even disabled in anyway but instead of looking for something useful to do, they shamelessly prefer to rely on the charity of other people to survive. They even brazenly approach you and ask for money as if they aided you in anyway to work for said money. Government should just pack them into one large bus and send them back to the villages that they have come from. Street begging is the most dishonourable and disgusting thing a man can possibly do, street beggars are at par with animals on the scum of the earth scale.

But let me tell you this without fear of contradiction, you don’t think begging is bad, You are just a hypocrite who is expressing your disgust because you hate the poor, smelly, dirty “lazybones” who literally harrass you for money in the street. A lot of us, especially most of us who have had some level of western education, tend to view the issue of begging from just the perspective of the individual asking someone else to give them their hard earned money. A lot of us do not understand the psychology behind begging and the fact that it is in fact a cultural thing. Yes you heard that right, begging is deeply ingrained in our culture. That is why solutions like the government rounding them up and bussing them to the nearest village or giving them jobs, or you tongue lashing the beggar who has come to beg for money “to go and get a job”, have no effect on the problem and Nigerian Governments at all levels seem to be incapable of resolving the menace. The way the Nigerian society itself is built is the reason why street begging is not going anywhere in the near future.

How many of reading this piece have an uncle who told them when they graduate from University: “send me your CV let me see if I can help you get a job.”? I am also one of you. What often happens is that because of the nature of the Nigerian job market, those uncles fail to come through for you. The result is that you end up habouring a grudge against that uncle for years. Even if you do get over the malice you feel towards the uncle, anytime you see him you still think of the fact that he didn’t help you when he should have. Another example, many of us, especially in this era of social media, have friends in government. So for example let us say you have a close friend who is a Special Assistant to a governor or a senator, you will expect that said friend can put in a good word for you with their principal so that you can also get one or two “benefits”. If that friend does not help you, you are likely to habour a grudge towards that person. But let me ask you one question, where in the law does it say the uncle or the special assistant friend must help you? Supposing you call your uncle’s phone one day and say: “Good afternoon sir, I hope you still remember that you promised to help me?” and then your uncle replies: “why are you bugging me? You are a graduate, get on the streets and find yourself a job.” Or your SA friend tells you. “You are also a Nigerian like me, so I can’t help you. Come and talk to the principal yourself.” You will probably be disappointed in both of them and believe that they are assholes. Yet when the security guard of the company where you went to make a pitch asks you “sir anything to help the boys enjoy the weekend?” You don’t hesitate to unleash the most biting words in your arsenal on him. Of course the S.A. who ignored your calls is a bad person, but you, who unleashed a torrent of abuse on someone who begged you for money, are just a nice person who is giving him good advice because you are concerned about him. My point is that asking for favours, whether it is done by a smelly dirty disabled woman with rotten teeth, or the posh executive with a Range Rover, is about asking help from someone who has better access to something you want/need and who you believe can help you get that thing. The same way you believe your uncle can get you a job, is the exact same way the Nigerien beggar with cute children believes that you have money. In a certain sense you are both beggars, you just happen to be wearing cleaner jeans or a better ironed suit.

So am I saying that if you have an uncle or friend who can help you get something you want, you should not accept it? Of course not, because that makes no sense. Again let me explain with another example. I was with an older acquaintance, an event planner, one day and she was on the phone to someone who was supposed to be the MC at an event she was planning. What she was pleading with the MC to do was to do the event for about a third of his normal fee because “You are my person and you know what the economy says. And that if you do me a solid by doing this for me, then I owe you one.” Needless to say the MC accepted the offer of course. Then it occurred to me that if that M. C. was a white European or American, she would never have been able to try it with them. That is the beauty of Nigerian and African culture. A communal society where even if you don’t have much in terms of monetary value, you can count on the charity of other people (soon I will write a full piece about how Western colonialists came with their individualist world views destroyed the communal African society, and created a class of Africans with western ideals who refuse to care for their less privileged fellows thereby creating a class divide of rich people versus poor people). It is this same charity that street beggars try to exploit when they beg you for money. My event planner friend also begged someone for a favour, but that’s not begging she did it with an IPhone. So in essence, wiping out street begging means destroying the culture that birthed it and that might as well be as futile as trying to drain the ocean with a bowl. Is it then any surprise that those who scream the most about “corruption and nepotism” are those of us who have acquired western education and have imbibed western individualist thinking Unfortunately for us the same African communal system that us educated Africans disparage as “barbaric” “Stifling innovation” and “retarding development” is the same self-help community system that Western individualists are trying to revert to, hence the proliferation of Patreon accounts and GoFundMes (Also hopefully I can also pen down a few things about the African self-help system and how it helped keep precolonial African societies stable).

In closing, I am not arguing that we should all sell our property and give them to the street beggars. What I am saying is that the tendency of us educated folk to look down on poor people and boil their issues to a glib “they should just get a job.” Will help neither us nor them in the long run. The reason why the political can foil our efforts to get the “masses” to be conscious of their rights with ease, is that they realize we don’t care about them, we think of them as poor, lazy, uneducated, unenlightened freeloaders whom we must educate or they may turn into kegs of gunpowder that could burn down the whole place. We don’t regard them as human beings whose lives probably has as much nuance as ours with our two postgraduate degrees and International Passport (hopefully I can also get the time to write some thoughts on why Godfatherism will never be eliminated in Nigerian politics). Perhaps when we think less of ourselves and more of others, we will be able to engage the government to provide a just and equitable society for us all. But for the time being, the scourge of street begging, no matter how much it revolts us, is going nowhere.

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