If you are middle-class like me, I am sure you receive a cry for financial assistance from a neighbor, or an old friend, or a colleague, or even an ex, at least once or twice a week.
If you don’t receive these requests from people in your present or your past, I am sure you receive them from total strangers who walk up to you, look at the shine on your skin, decide it is from goat meat peppersoup and point-and-kill, not from the the blistering Abuja sun, then they conclude that you have enough to share.
Clearly, there is an explosion of corporate street begging, and we respond in different ways. First response: we wave them off before they offload their sorry story.
Sometimes we do this out of lack of empathy, other times it is out of lack of money. Other times, yet, we remember that talking to strangers can cause us to turn to a tuber of Onitsha yam. Or that scammers have juju in their mouths that will make you go home and empty your wife’s jewelry box.
Second response: we tune out and let them talk, but we aren’t really listening, just courteous silence. We let them speak, then we tell them how Buhari has hidden all the money.
We end by telling them “God will help us all.” Out of courtesy, they say amen to your prayer but they are secretly angry, angry that you are calling the Lord’s name in vain just to dodge “sorting” them.
Third response: we give them the little change we have, hoping that we won’t turn to a tuber of Onitsha yam in the process. We don’t wait for the effusive and ineffectual thank-you-My-God-will-bless-you, acting like you are not interested in the blessing of his God, if his God has kept him so needy.
We just trail off, half feeling like good people for responding to a stranger in need, but we also have the familiar feeling of being scammed by a “sharp” Nigerian.
Recently, my mind has dwelled quite a bit on this begging epidemic and what it portends. And implies.
If you are wondering if the National Bureau of Statistics figures about the rising rates of unemployment are real or not, perhaps you should give it more thought The NBS has told us there are over 20 million unemployed Nigerians.
It has however not told us what these 20 million are doing to get by.
My guess is that some are working menial jobs; some have mounted the street corners waiting for you to return from work, so they can hail you, tell you their sorry story and wait for you to pay up; some are disturbing the peace on social media, distracting themselves from the suffering that real life has become; some are sending mails to Australia saying they ran into an inheritance of $500 trillion and would like to share with the fortunate Australian; some are looking for a rich man-friend who is willing to throw some money around for a rub of his hairy abdomen and hairless head; some are waiting for a rich middle age woman, twice their age, who has unruly hormones.
But some are angry. Just plain, raw, white-hot, rabid anger.
It is this last group that has become a hazard to themselves and a menace to all of us. This anger is directed inward but manifests outward as petty thievery, armed banditry, child kidnapping, and roadside mugging.
So, in case you have not made the connection, here is your chance: when poverty becomes widespread, none of us is safe.
We are at risk of impoverishment by one or more of these mechanisms: you will get legitimately impoverished by your neighbours, friends and exes who keep plucking you to fruitlessness.
If you escape these ones, you are not likely to escape the corporate street beggars who have a standing invitation to their pity party. Or the government that has deitified poverty will make you their trophy. “Proudly Poor,” is your banner.
My worry, though, is with the group that is a hazard to themselves and a menace to us all. The angry group. They look at you, and all their anger at the system that has failed them (and also failed all of us), crystallizes. Suddenly, in their eyes, you symbolize the big man who has eaten their money, who has stolen their opportunities, who has sacked them from their jobs, who has subjected them to subhuman ridicule.
Next time you are approached by a street beggar, or by your needy neighbor, or ex who has refused to remain in your past, remember that there are tens of millions of angry young people who are not nice to ask: they would rather take by brute force. Let me put it this way to conclude: the 91,477,179 extremely poor Nigerians are not all needy beggars. Some are vile, vicious, villains.
We are generating 10 extremely poor Nigerians every minute according to the World Poverty Clock. That is about 15,000 daily. There are scary implications for us as a country.
Think about it and tell me how safe you feel.
This article was written as a facebook post by Daniel Bott.