On a rainy Monday morning, a relatively new Honda Pilot SUV stopped at the Oworonshoki layby in Lagos mainland to pick passengers rushing to work across different areas on Lagos Island.
As the passengers rushed to open the car doors, without even asking the direction the driver was heading to, most of them left on hearing the high fare, while those who could afford it, jumped in.
But the affluent-looking SUV driver was only concerned about his money. The driver is not alone; so are other private car owners who temporarily turned commercial.
Before now, many private car owners had been picking and dropping off passengers at bus stops and along the road to make extra money.
But the number has increased since the removal of petrol subsidy on May 29th, as many use the small change made from picking passengers to augment money for the expensive petrol.
Also, recently at the Grand Square Supermarket in Abuja, a woman who claimed to be a nursing mother bought baby food and presented an ATM card with less money on it.
She pretended that she did not know her account balance and was bent on going with the items to save her baby from starving. It took the intervention of a generous retiree to save the situation, which many customers said was among the many new pranks by beggars.
The above scenarios depict the reality of the current economic crisis in the country, which is driving many into begging.
Nowadays, people who ordinarily will give to others, are now looking for who to give them because their earnings are either depleted by inflation, high cost of everything or lull in business.
As the Naira weakens further, inflation bites harder and purchasing power declines, the situation gets worse with many people are no longer ashamed to beg for alms.
At bus stops, the number of people asking for alms has increased, while in a commuter bus, someone will subtly ask fellow passengers to pay his/her fare and pressure from family members asking for financial help is almost weighing down breadwinners today.
In an encounter with a beggar at Oshodi in Lagos, the middle-aged woman confirmed that she had no money to complete her journey to Ota, Ogun State.
While that is the usual storyline of most beggars, the corporate outlook of the woman portrayed her in a different light of a truly stranded passenger, otherwise, the situation is forcing beggars to go corporate in order to convince people to give.
“With the high inflation, high rate of unemployment, high cost of food items, soaring house rent and school fees, people are barely surviving.
“The hardship is pushing more people to beg today because stealing, prostitution and other illegitimate ways of getting money also come with consequences, which they are not ready to bear,” Cosmos Onyeali, an economist and a university don, said.
According to the economist, Nigerian streets will see more beggars because of the economic instabilities, which are expected to further spur inflation, impact purchasing power and unemployment.
“The managers of our economy are yet to find lasting solutions to the weak Naira, Dollar is ever rising, crude oil price is rising too, manufacturers are closing shop and SMEs are disappearing. So, the economy is still going to get weaker. That means more suffering and begging by Nigerians. The government has to intervene big time else the austerity measure will surpass past experiences,” Onyeali said.
A Public Relations manager with a firm in Lagos said that the things were getting out of hand in terms of purchasing powers available to people.
“I hope that things do not continue this way. If they do, everyone would turn to a beggar. Nowadays, my salary hardly take care of the legitimate things that I used to take for granted. What has happened is that the volume of requests from family members, friends, old school friends, Church members, name it, hitting my phone on a daily basis is driving me crazy,” he said.
Opening his phone and scrolling down to show some of those request messages, as if to convince our correspondent, he said: “This is an ordeal that nobody can survive.”
Busola Adeyemi, a human resources manager, decried the situation as worrisome even in the corporate environment.
“It is not only on the streets that people beg. Nowadays, we keep getting requests for advance salary payment from more staff members who are financially distressed and we decline a lot of them because things are not easy for our company too.
“So, the many we couldn’t help will look elsewhere, which may include begging from anyone who can assist,” she explained.
According to her, there is no money anywhere and people as well as corporate organisations are struggling to keep things going, hence the tightening of the fist, which is forcing many to beg to keep the body and soul together.
For Ferdinand Ebiriene, a Port Harcourt-based business executive, the begging trend is worrisome because people do not want to borrow, they prefer begging, which is free money.
“This September, I made more enemies from my family members who requested me to pay their children’s tuition fees or dash them money and when I suggested borrowing instead of begging, they got angry because they don’t want to pay back.
“If you plan well or live according to your earnings, you will not beg,” he said.
But many fear that no matter how much you plan, how much you save and how prudent you are, as the situation in the country keeps getting out of hand every day, one may be forced to beg.
“Those of us who are managing to keep our children in foreign schools are under pressure now with the weak Naira.
“Moreover, with the increasing tuition fees in private schools here in the country, you are likely going to borrow or beg to pay the fees today. If there is no respite, we will all turn to beggars soon,” Goodie Ehiemen, a father of three, said.