No Hope In Sight: ‘Corporate Begging’ On The Rise In Nigeria As Economy Bites

An already bad situation has gotten even worse due to staggering inflation triggered by the recent removal of fuel subsidies and the falling value of the Naira.

Sherifat Adio* maintained a vantage position along a street in the Ojodu Berger area of Lagos on the evening of Sunday, Nov. 19. She needed to be seen by as many passers-by as possible to increase her chances of meeting her needs.

She would later approach me with a picture of one of her children, whom she claimed had just been offered admission into the university. As she tried to speak about her inability to raise money for her son’s school fees on her own, her body filled with sadness and choked back tears. 

Before now, her husband had the habit of paying their children’s fees even before school resumed, but the situation isn’t the same anymore. 

“The fact that my son got admitted into the university should be a thing of joy, but it is a terrible moment for us in our family,” said the woman in her mid-fifties. “My husband, who is a taxi driver, has been out of work since the hike in the price of petrol. The owner of his vehicle asked him to stop working when he didn’t meet up with his daily delivery fees.” 

She added that her fashion design business had gone downhill, too, and her family had been ejected from their rented apartment.

“Fortunately, my father-in-law has a house in Lagos and we have moved into the place. But family members no longer respond to calls and text messages seeking help from them as inflation accelerates. I will appreciate any amount from you to keep my son in school.”

Beggars have been a common feature of Nigerian streets for a long time, so much so that it is seen as a “social institution” of its own. This is especially true of the northern region, which has higher numbers of internally displaced people and almajiris (that is, children who split their time between Qur’anic schools and seeking alms).

It is difficult to get credible statistics on how many beggars are in Nigeria. But the country has the second-largest population of poor people — over 70 million, according to the World Poverty Clock. It also has huge numbers of people living without proper housing or decent livelihoods.

But the already bad situation appears to have gotten even worse due to staggering inflation triggered by the recent removal of fuel subsidies by the federal government and the falling value of the Naira.

The state of the economy has forced more people into what is known locally as “corporate begging” or “executive begging”. These refer to begging by able-bodied, well-dressed people — the kind of people you would ordinarily not expect to be desperate for money.

From Ojodu Berger to Ikeja, Yaba, Ikoyi, Victoria Island and other mid-level areas in Lagos, corporate beggars are on the rise.

The situation is not different in Ibadan, Kano, Port Harcourt and other parts of the country, where citizens continue to battle for survival amid rising economic hardship.

HumAngle came across a number of these “corporate beggars” in banks, shopping centres, markets, bus stops, and even religious centres. They said they became beggars because they had little or no other means of support. 

Unlike Sherifat, whose reason for begging was to pay her son’s school fees, another woman identified as Iya Ibeji approached me at a pharmacy in Osogbo, saying she was in need of medicines to take care of her sick daughter.

“My daughter is currently in the hospital, and we are in need of ₦3,000 to get some of her drugs. She’s been battling with typhoid for days,” she explained before presenting a paper that showed the prescription.

Sarumi Alimi, a civil servant in Abuja, gave an account of his encounter with a single mother on his usual journey to work in October. 

“She had a baby strapped to her back when she accosted me, pleading for money to eat breakfast. According to her, she already had someone who refilled her cooking gas but was in need of money to buy raw rice to cook.”

Meanwhile, there are those who prey on the sympathy of unsuspecting passersby who find it difficult to distinguish genuine requests from made-up sob stories.

They trick people into giving them money, citing personal challenges or family problems such as the inability to pay medical bills, school fees, and house rent. Sometimes, they claim they are stranded with no money to continue their journey.

In one of my visits to a mall in Ikeja, I came across one of the cheats who spoke glowingly on the strategy. 

It is simple, he said. When they are not pretending to have lost their wallets, they lie that their credit cards have been stolen. They look out for people riding in SUVs, official cars, or those who are well-dressed. Once you respond to their greetings politely, they strike.

“I started corporate begging after losing my job earlier this year. To make ends meet, I decided to go into begging and it has really helped to pay my bills. I observed that most Nigerians do not want to help when they don’t hear sad tales,” the person said.

“I form sympathetic stories every day. I sometimes earn as much as ₦5,000 daily. Since I have become jobless amid the worsening cost of living, the last hope is to come to the street to beg for money through different tricks and lies.” 

Though Jide Akinyemi does not go to the streets to beg for money, the civil servant said life has been very difficult for him and many other fixed-income workers. To meet his family’s needs, he depends on his siblings abroad. 

“Putting food on the table has been difficult every month and I have to lie to my siblings to ensure they send money to me. My friends and church members still reach out to me to help them, not knowing that I live off my siblings. It has become a chain. The only survival means outside stealing is to beg.”

The development has become so widespread that even the hallowed chambers of federal lawmakers are not spared. In October, Ismail Haruna, a member of the House of Representatives, complained about the rising number of “corporate and non-corporate” beggars, who he said have taken over the corridors of the national assembly complex. “When you’re leaving, these people will scope you. They will beg for money.”

The decision of President Bola Tinubu to remove fuel subsidies has worsened poverty in Nigeria. To cushion the effect of this policy, the government has promised to increase the supply of grain and fertiliser, raise the salaries of civil servants, and supply palliatives to the poorest households. But none of these have so far made a significant difference to the quality of life of most Nigerians, who are increasingly looking to God and their neighbours for support.

“No hope in sight. Only God can help us out,” Jide said. 

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Adejumo Kabir

Kabir works at HumAngle as the Editor of Southern Operations. He is interested in community development reporting, human rights, social justice, and press freedom. He was a finalist in the student category of the African Fact-checking Award in 2018, a 2019 recipient of the Diamond Awards for Media Excellence, and a 2020 recipient of the Thomson Foundation Young Journalist Award. He was also nominated in the journalism category of The Future Awards Africa in 2020. He has been selected for various fellowships, including the 2020 Civic Media Lab Criminal Justice Reporting Fellowship and 2022 International Centre for Journalists (ICFJ) 'In The Name of Religion' Fellowship.

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