Home Op-Ed Have We Become a Country of Beggars?

Have We Become a Country of Beggars?

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By Dr. Chris Ikeanyi

The red-eye flight from Port Harcourt, Nigeria, to Istanbul, Turkey, aboard the Turkish Airlines was smooth and restful. The interior lights were dimmed; all one could do was eat and sleep.After 6: 45 hourson the air, the jet arrived Istanbul at daybreak.

 

Alert and active, I decided to shadow the janitorial staff at the airport to determine why the airport was so clean and sparkling – I made that observation on the first leg of my journey to Nigeria. I chatted with four separate crews of eight janitors as they work in a team of twos. I met the first team and explained to them that my mission was to learn about their daily routine that keeps the airport very neat. The first team explained their approach and answered most of my questions to the best of their abilities in spite of the language barrier.

 

The routine calls for the janitors to stay very close to their work location and clean any dirt as the clients use the facilities. At each restroom, the janitors stood sentry as soldiers stationed to guard and cleaned the urinals and floors immediately after use. A pair usually stands in the waiting area at each boarding gate to clean up after every departure of a group of passengers.  The janitors’ rapt attention to their chores is clearly evident as they move things around and sometimes compel the passengers to relocate to other places to enable them clean and remain focused to their duties.

Conversely in many Nigerian airports, one noticeable attribute among the staff is the culture of begging. Yes, begging under the color of authority. Numerous checkpoints, unseen in any other airports around the world, are created simply to slow visitors down in order to beg.  Why would people who are gainfully employed to perform specific duties condescend to the shameless act of begging? What has happened to our dignity and pride as a people?

The indignity of begging among Nigerian workers is spreading like a wildfire. If not checked and addressed with appropriate enforceable laws, it will soon replace bribery and corruption as our new badge of shame. Plying Nigerian roads, particularly in the southeast states, police checkpoints are set up at intervals of every 1000 yards with officers begging for money or soliciting bribes from motorists. Their primary focus is to beg while on paid duties and every other task or duty is secondary.

 

Begging, beggars, and endless begging is rapidly destroying the Nigerian workforce. Workers, particularly those who interact frequently with members of the public, have turned their workplaces into begging stations. At the airport, most of the employees strive to position themselves at locations where they could easily get in contact with visitors in order to beg.No one wants to work at the back end of the office. There is no limit to what the employees ask from the airport visitors:

 

“Brother, anything for your people?”“Can I have some leftover change?”“Do you have dollars, euro, pounds or anything for me?”“Do you have something for your boys, for food?”“I like your handsets (cellphones), can I have one?” “Sister, I like that necklace, can I have it?”“Mommy, Daddy, anything for us?”

 

Absolutely nothing is off-limit. They will ask for the shirt on your back.

 

When you leave the airport for the villages/towns, the horror continues. As early as 6:00am, people are already knocking at your doorsteps to beg. This habit has forced many Diaspora returneesfor vacation to end up in hotels in the cities in order to avoid the beggars. Begging does not stop at one or a few gifts; folks continue to beg whenever they see you for the fourth or fifth time. After collecting whatever you can afford at the moment, they compel you to make promises of future gifts. Some of the beggars are even better off than the givers, but they would not hesitate to collect whatever you have to add to theirs.

 

In a country with over 30% unemployment rate, the people who are lucky to have gainful employment should be satisfied with their situation. Moreover, the employees at the airport who are mostly Federal employees as well as the Nigerian police earn much better than their colleagues at the state level.

 

We must strive to stop giving to paid workers who have abandoned their primary duties to become professional beggars. Inside the airport security checkpoints, majority of the custom officers who search (or pretend to search) for illegal goods or prohibited objects do not concentrate in their searches as they are primarily focused in begging for whatever they can get. No doubt, such distraction compromises security at the airports. We must also stop giving money to police beggars on the roads. We usually endorse and rationalize their habits by saying that the givers were not under any compulsion to give. The real truth is that regardless of how gently the police beg for money as opposed to demanding for bribes, they will continue this shameless habit as long as we continue to give. As a matter of fact, the giver is compelled to give because upon refusal to give, the police usually begin to assert their authority by manufacturing charges against motorists. This is why I describe this new culture as begging under the color of authority.

 

This problem has gotten out of hand and must be addressed legislatively. This new culture of begging under the color of authority is different from traditional method of asking a familiar person or relatives for assistance or gifts.  The situation being described here is where a total stranger, employed by the government or in a private sector, abandons his or her duties in lieu of harassing the patrons of the airport or any business for money. The government must not allow their employees to spend their time while on public payroll or work time badgering guests and clients for assistance.

 

I propose that the same type of laws that prohibit bribery and corruption should be extended to begging under the color of authority. Visitors to Nigerian airports or motorists on Nigeriaroadsare entitled to protection and maximum comfort by the employees of the government and should be spared from incessant pestering and harassment.  If we do not aspire to become a country of beggars, let’s end this shameful habit now.

 

Dr. Chris Ikeanyi writes from Los Angeles, California

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