Igando is a suburb in Lagos, Nigeria. Flanked on both sides of its four carriage expressway is a beehive of activities. The bus stops bustle with intense energy as traders and buyers ferociously haggle over prices of goods.
Igando is a suburb with a hustling spirit
Merged within this chaos, are the characteristic wailing of bus conductors calling the attention of passengers. Within this mirage of confusion are police men and women who connive with touts of the Road Transport Union members to extort money, in the name of levies, from transporters. The transporters, not wanting to lose, transfer their frustration in the form of extra transport charge right to the common people, the passengers. This scenario can be mind boggling if you’ve just arrived in Lagos and you are not used to the system.
There is one group of people, despite the madness in Lagos, they never flinch. They are the most peaceful, humble and quiet of people. These are the Lagos beggars. Over thirty of them, male, female, children and elderlies, can be seen, all seated at the middle of the Igando expressway, begging for alms.
Beggar meets a richman
On this particular day at high noon, the traffic at the bus stop was at its worst. A young woman in her early twenties, with a baby hung to her left hand side, approached a Mercedes G wagon begging for alms. “My baby is hungry sir, give us money to buy food to eat,” cried the woman.
The owner of the car, seated at the back seat, and out of curiosity asked, “Who is the father? Why do you suffer the child begging under the sun?”
The silence from the woman could shatter a windscreen.
The rich man’s stare seemed to burn holes right through the woman as his intent looks simply made her more uneasy. From head to toe, she looked filthy, ragged and unhealthy. The man, conscious of the traffic, simply brought out his wallet, took out a thousand naira note and gave her with his complementary card. “Come and work in my factory. I’ll be expecting you.”
The gridlock eased and the G-wagon sped off into the horizon.
The beggar with her baby ran back to the middle of the road in order to wait for the next traffic jam. A slight cunning smile creased her tired face as she took shelter under a worn out umbrella.
Two years later…
The same G-wagon drove through Igando bus stop, but this time around, the roads were free of traffic. Street traders weren’t happy as they waited patiently. Beggars at the middle of the road hugged unto their umbrellas as the midday sun began boasting of its strength.
Instinctively, since his last encounter with the beggar, the owner of the G-wagon, would stare through the window looking around the bus stop looking out for her. He had a friend with him in the car. From the corner of his eye, he spotted the beggar. Though, he didn’t notice the child. “Amos, what a funny world! I just spotted a female beggar whom I gave alms to two years ago. I also gave her my complementary card asking her to come and work in my factory so that she could stop begging. Can you believe she I just spotted her now, still begging at the same bus stop?”
Amos smiled and said, “It’s difficult to take such people off the streets and rehabilitate them. Some of the babies you see are given on daily rentals to beggars who use the babies to milk out sympathy from people. Some beggars are actually controlled by the mafia. They dress up for their begging act, and the kids in arms are often drugged. Some of these young ladies who carry these kids are also under some influence of drugs. So, when you give money to these beggars, even out of pity, you are in a way encouraging their trade and supporting the mafia.”
With little traffic congestion, the Mercedes with its passengers sped off into midday sun. The Lagos street traders pray for a severe gridlock. The beggars at the middle of the roads also pray for severe traffic. While commuters pray for the opposite, a free flowing traffic. Oh well, seems like the traders and beggars have a more powerful deity as the gridlock began. Immediately, the roads are taken over by beggars and hawkers swooping on vehicles like hungry hawks.