This is one of those rants I cannot but punish you with because I am getting really sick and tired of its frequency. Almost anywhere you go in Nigeria, you are faced with beggars begging right up to your face and totally crowding your space that you feel your only escape is to settle them. I am not talking about the poor, haggard, and destitute soul on the street without a home to go back to; not the physically maimed citizen crisscrossing go-slows to tap on your car’s window screen for their sustenance. It is not even the poor person in the neighbourhood who has genuine need and shows up at your gate on a weekend. If it were just these, I would understand for even Jesus said we will always have the poor with us.
My concern is with the pervasiveness of subtle beggars who trudge our corridors of service, demanding privileges that they do not exactly deserve. They are everywhere from the supermarket you frequent to the professional offices where they don the most formal attires. Anywhere you go it seems you are bound to encounter what feels like an organized mob of commercial inducers, asking for settlements for all kinds of spurious reasons ranging from ‘weekend money’ to ‘big man status money’. The latter is very upsetting because you now have to pay for looking affluent, as though it were indicative on the flesh.
The matter has become very embarrassing (or ‘embarazzing’ for emphasis) to the point that I am suddenly put on the offensive every time I request a simple service. Even when I am not asking for any services, usually some freelancer suddenly appears and imposes a service for which you have to cough out something. I drive into the parking lot of a public facility and the security man directs the parking process, a role for which he is also employed along with securing the vehicle. The profuse greetings you get from the security man on alighting your vehicle has its cost implication. The doorman usually almost prostrates before opening the door even though he sees your fully functional limbs. You have to factor all these into the expense to be disbursed at your location – of course not forgetting the tips you have already given for services in the inner sanctum.
The airport has become a place where I put up a different personality by wearing a stern face mask as soon as I step in there. I do this in an attempt to ward off evil begging spirits from oppressing me. Does it work? Why would it work when these people have so perfected the art of collecting that they have become blind to your facial expressions but keenly follow the movements of your hands? At the airport I do my business through a middleman, but will have to appear at the counter to verify my name. Despite the fact that I do not deal directly with these officials, they will still usually ignore the go-between and say “oga anything for us?” or as one lady put it: “sir you know today is democracy day” – meaning you have to democratically dispense with your liquidity. The sad part is that even the guys checking your tickets before you proceed to the security gate, as well as the security men waiting to clear you despite the inconveniences of taking off your shoes and belts, all stylishly demand for something. Poor you if you are only carrying a thousand naira denomination.
It is very unfortunate that this is what life has been reduced to in our society, one of entitlements. People walk around with a bold statement on their foreheads: “Watchout! You owe me something”. Somebody somewhere is trying to extract something off you by any means possible and feel they have done you a great favour even when they have simply performed their assigned duties. For students to collect their transcripts from schools, they are faced with a bureaucracy of money miners even after years of encountering disgusting greedy and randy lecturers. They even have value- added services such as altering the transcript contents. As hurtful as it is to admit, there is a dearth of good services for the life of it. Where you find it, it usually is at the behest of unspoken demands.
It is very painful when you consider the fact that poverty has eaten so deep into our moral fabric that even the very ones engaged in productive and rewarding labour do not realize at what point they already have enough to live decently on. Begging brings added income. But then when I think on what is the real income of these people, I can thoroughly understand why ‘man must survive’. With the sharp rise in the cost of living and without the commensurate rise in income, people are becoming poorer. The difficulty of living is even worsened because the pleasures of life are constantly paraded before them, thus provoking the inordinate desire to attain, by any means necessary, ‘the good life’. People must cut corners, deals, slice and dice their way through just to give life some more substance.
There is a negative aggregating effect this has on the country. It simply means that in Nigeria, money is the answer to all things. If money even enhances the quality of prayers for divine protection offered by an Imam or Pastor, then there is obviously an established indirect relationship between money and morals. Even great friendships now thrive on the unethical, and corruption forms the basis for cultivating those with whom you wine and dine. Sometime ago I updated my Facebook status with this statement:
I am getting convinced by the day that your real friends are those whom you knew when life was uncomplicated; when you were a child and innocent, when the basis of such relationships was predicated on nothing but laughter and sharing. Most of the friends you make today are trying to peel something off your back.
I made this statement because I observed closely the content of some of my friendships. As soon as a circumstance arises that spells an opportunity for making money, that friendship becomes a strategic alliance, and people become manipulators just to ride on your back toward their fiscal goals. So we see now how dire our condition is as a country.
The question for me is to what extent do I allow this system alter my personality? Do I become more mean and unapproachable because I am trying not to get offended by the demands of people? Do I become rich by any means so I can Father Christmas my way through everything? Or do I feign being deaf and dumb when confronted by creepy circumstances like the abovementioned? Undoubtedly, the systems does have its influence on our character and outlook, and it remains a personal battle on how to stand by what you know is right and never be afraid to speak the truth, howbeit in love. Frustratingly, because the mammoth nature of the problem, one is tempted to go with the flow or ignore the existence of these issues because you cannot do anything about it. But I have resolved to meditate continuously on what I can do in small measures to change things and perhaps if I am faithful in that, I may be given a bigger platform to ensure widespread changes.
Let me close on a funny note. One of my respected mothers in church told me a little story when I discussed this whole matter with her. She went to a popular commercial place to grind her onions, tomatoes and pepper. However, the business had moved to an unknown location. So she found some little kids between the ages of seven and ten playing by the market stalls and she inquired of them where the business had moved to. They quickly pointed her to the new location. So she parked her vehicle, thanked them and went over to the place. On returning to her vehicle to leave, the kids sprang up from play and approached her, asking to be settled. In utter shocked she observed them closely and noticed that the oldest who led the group was about ten years old. When she asked them on the reason for their demands, they claimed that they gave her directions. With annoyance she shooed them away and drove off. Behold a new breed of the begging menace.