By Jude Atupulazi
Among the Igbos, pride is something that is not toyed with. It is held in the highest esteem. Anyone without it is deemed finished. Thus, even among the very poor, you see them carry themselves with dignity. Even when they are starving, they hardly beg for food as it would be considered infra dig. However, these days, pride has been thrown to the dogs and many Igbo people are doing those things that are considered alien to them. One of those things done today is begging.
It is not just begging, however. Some of these people now fake deformities as they beg in order to attract sympathy and thus money. Enter the ''Blind'' beggars.
Not long ago, I was driving with my wife and at a point at Amawbia by-pass, I slowed down to wait for the traffic lights to turn green. It was at this point that a ''blind'' woman who was led by a small boy approached my car to beg for money. My wife shooed her away, telling her she was fake. I thought it rather harsh and reprimanded her but she insisted that the woman was faking her blindness. I however gave her money, at least for God's sake.
Barely two weeks later, my wife's assertion was vindicated. It was a day the Anambra State Commissioner for Women's and Children' Affairs, Hon Mrs Ndidi Mezue, made a harvest of arrests of women posing as blind beggars. A total of nine of them were apprehended.
According to the commissioner, she was heading to Onitsha when she beheld this pregnant teenage girl being led by a small boy. Apart from carrying a pregnancy, she also had a baby strapped on her back. Moved by pity, the commissioner stopped and wanted to help the pregnant beggar. It was a part of her mandate by the state governor to rid the streets of Awka and environs of beggars and have them relocated to a home in Nteje where they will be looked after.
When interrogated on her condition and the fate of the small boy leading her, she told the commissioner that she lived in Army Barracks, Onitsha and that the boy also went to school there. They were made to enter the commissioner's car. But on getting to her ''address'' in Onitsha, a startling discovery was made: she was not blind! More so, the boy did not attend school there.
Prompted by her discovery, the commissioner swooped on other ''blind'' beggars in Awka and at the end of the day, eight more were apprehended and they were all not blind!
It was also discovered that those little boys or girls leading them are hired by them on a daily basis and at the end of the day, proceeds are shared between the hirers and the hirees.
Stories abound of how some of the beggars have built houses in the village, meaning that begging is now a lucrative business. It is now a ready substitute for hard work by people who have sold their pride.
One may want to ask how we ever got to this low level of deception. Is it the economy? Is it mere laziness? What is it? Granted that the economy is harsh, I still know that there are many things one can do to earn a living. Had those women been engaged in any manner of petty trading or even washing plates at restaurants, doing contract farming or selling food, they would still be living fairly comfortably.
But because they have found a way to trick the public into parting with money, more and more of them are hitting the streets and together with the mentally challenged, are constituting a menace to their immediate society. Perhaps this was why the Anambra State Government ordered for their relocation to the Nteje Home.
'We were given a mandate to round up the mentally challenged from the streets and relocate them to the Home at Nteje,' the Women's Affairs Commissioner said. According to her, medical personnel, including Psychiatrists, are on hand at the Home to take care of them.
She also said that those apprehended were being interrogated by appropriate quarters with a view to ascertaining the backgrounds of the small boys and girls hired to lead the beggars.
The Women's and Children's Affairs has been working round the clock to deliver on its mandate. To this end, it is embarking on a sensitization campaign against street begging and street hawking. According to the commissioner, street hawkers will be arrested and put in Correction Centres until their parents show up. The ministry which is collaborating on this with CAFÉ, an initiative of the governor's wife, has also warned parents and school heads against allowing their wards/students to hawk during school hours.
'We are not asking the children to disobey their parents by refusing to help them but what we are against is doing so at the detriment of their education,' the commissioner stated.
But beyond the efforts of government to arrest the situation, members of the public should not be in a hurry to help these people, especially those healthy enough to be engaged meaningfully in other jobs. But the sad reality of it all is that these bad eggs are now making it difficult for genuine beggars.
However, I believe that a return to our core values may help. People should not be in a hurry to take up a plate and beg. Begging exposes one to other risks like being victims of ritualists.
Again, people should not be in a hurry to come to the urban areas to beg. They should stay back in their villages and engage in anything meaningful, even if it on a very small scale.
Our rich folks should set up more foundations to help the poor, widows and orphans. It is much better than wasting money on irrelevant stuff. We should return to being our brother's keeper, helping one another as in the days of old.
Begging is alien to Ndigbo. We are a proud and hard working people and we should keep it so. Only those with genuine problems should seek help and the various communities should always help such people. It is bad enough to beg; it is worse to fake to be blind, lame, deaf and dumb. It is simply not the way to go.