The Beggar’s Handout
THIS WAS WRITTEN BY MY GOOD FRIEND ZINNY. I DO NOT POSSESS THIS MUCH DEPTH OF THOUGHT.
THE BEGGAR’S HANDOUT
Ours is a society where begging has been transformed into an art form. I am not quite sure how it evolved, but here’s my two cents: our Nigerian brethren put a thinking cap on their gifted criminal minds and decided to put a spin on the value our religions place on giving to the poor and our brothers’ keeper culture and gave it a whirl. They took what was hitherto considered a demeaning cop-out and made of it a profession, a proud one at that, which many now jostle to belong to. And they didn’t quit there. They threw out the boring, and dare I say, uninspiring practice of sitting quietly in a corner, being visible just enough for people to take notice of and toss a few coins in mercy and replaced it with a lively performance that stops short of a standing ovation each time. Now it thrives, not merely as a petty association, mind you. It is an emerging industry, it is the oil that lubricates the national economy, it is the very fabric of society itself. Dears, I give you the Panhandlers Executive.
For those aspiring to enter this exclusive club, you have a jump start. Detailed below is a list of things you need to know. I went all out, held nothing back. From job benefits to qualification requirements to modus operandi…your very own exposé. If many who got into this line of work without the privilege of reading this piece have been able to make a go of it, you, my friend, are without excuse.
- This occupation is open to all and sundry. Discrimination on the basis of gender, age, status, disability, ability, ethnicity, race, education, etc is not tolerated. Note that this profession holds strictly to the principles of Equal Opportunity and Federal Character as enshrined in our beloved nation’s constitution.
- Experience is utterly irrelevant. Lose a hand now, and you have a job waiting by evening. This incentive, I assure you, exists no place else.
- You are your own boss, and your earnings all yours to be spent as you please, except you consent to come under the authority of a Mallam (if a Northerner), or parents (if a refugee).
- Your take home per month is at par with average income earners, or even better.
- You cannot be fired!
- You must have suffered loss or scarring of some body part. It doesn’t matter that you came about said loss or scarring deliberately or obtained it in the course of engaging in criminal activity. We do not judge.
- You must be unable to provide for yourself or your dependants. We realize that the country’s situation leaves a lot to be desired, making most of us dependent on the charity of others. We sympathize and hey, the more the merrier.
- You must be street smart, able to think on your feet. No dullards wanted.
- You must be naturally talented at acting and able to adapt your performance to the circumstance at hand.
- You must be quick on your feet. Previous experience in dancing is an advantage.
Caveat: Nothing in the aforementioned portion precludes the able-bodied, idle, lazy-rich, pleasure seekers, kleptomaniacs and those who by some spiritual condition have been cursed to a life of begging from participation. If in doubt about our open door policy, see “Job Benefits” above.
Success on the street is dependent on knowledge of the factors above. Put simply, who is your client? Where is your client? When can you find your client?
Contrary to popular belief, your client is not every Lagosian, no. Your client is the religious adherent, who lives by the admonition It is more blessed to give than to receive or its equivalent in the Koran. Thankfully, in Nigeria, by their dressing you shall know them. So, keep your eyes peeled for jewellery in form of a cross, prayer beads, bibles, gramophones and Muslim attire. Your client is also the doe-eyed, new arrival in town. You may prefer the term Johnny-Just-Come. JJC is just oozing with compassion for the less privileged and has oodles of spare change to throw around. Cluelessness is adorable – milk it dry!
Again, your client is the political candidate at the peak of defining elections, who wants to show the world that he really intends to make good on his manifesto for the poor and destitute. Be non-partisan, but make yourself available at every rally and every event where the money is being distributed. Do not be a fool; you have a constitutional right to the National Cake. Grab your own slice now!
Location! Location! Location! This is a no-brainer. First off, crowded places are your business’ thrust points. But you would need to narrow it down some: big churches on Sundays, event centres (parties) on Saturdays, mosques on Fridays, markets and bus stop thoroughfares every other day of the week. See, you’re covered the whole week through so there’s no reason to starve.
Prime time is Rush Hour. Save your energies and best performances for then.
We are born with innate gifts and talents. These gifts and talents make us better predisposed to certain job descriptions than others. This applies in this occupation as well. Below are recommended ways of expressing your inner Genevieve or Ramsey Noah. Choose wisely.
- Badger: This works best if you are a child: everyone has a soft spot for a child. Adults are considered pesky.
Strategy: Do ensure you look your most raggedy on the job. Presentation is key, and the worse off you look, the more compassionate people are to your plight. I have to say, fair-complexioned, curly-haired refugees with a knack for speaking pidgin like English is going out of style have the best luck. Don’t hate though, pretty poor rocks.
Prime Target: Look out for those who dress like a million bucks and those who would be uncomfortable beside you. Reach for their hand and attempt to follow them to their destination. Before long, money would exchange hands.
Prime Location: Hassling someone for a kobo over the stretch of a pedestrian foot bridge or across an express road is an excellent choice. Good thinking.
- Praise Sing: Our Hausa & Yoruba brothers excel at this art as their cultures are woven around it. So if you are not from these tribes, steer clear. Note: Knowledge of the English language is absolutely unnecessary. In fact, speaking English would likely halt your progress. Truth is, there is something about praise singing especially in Yoruba that causes our ears to tingle with joy, our hearts to open as a flower opens up itself to the sun, our heads to swell and consequently, our pockets to empty. Be sure to have a tambourine at hand to make the music ring.
- Motor-Park Evangelism: Don’t get it twisted; your job is not to bring the lost to the saving knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Leave that to men of the cloth. Your job description is simple: give succour to the fearful of heart. You do not need to be born again yourself to do this. You only need to know a few choice scriptures on protection and safety.
Prime Target: Your customer base is in the parks, so do yourself a favour and liaise with the park’s management to be the park pastor. Word of advice: the bigger the park, the higher the inflow. Of course that might mean giving them a cut of your earnings. What does it matter? You have a steady source of income now. This job requires that you possess a good degree of charisma. So, if you are typically morose and mellow, turn aside. Sanguines and cholerics, vacancies within.
Strategy: Pick on small buses alone. Why? Their drivers are famous for taking the needle out of the speedometer. The sheer dread of what the future holds usually has the passengers in numbing paralysis. They would be only too glad to have you show up and even happier to pay you for your services. So just before the bus takes off, approach the passengers to say a word of prayer with them. Sing a rousing song and burst into prayers with gusto. Quote those scriptures and intersperse your prayers with a stirring smattering of tongues and the blood of Jesus. Round up your prayers with a call for donations to help you continue with “the Ministry”. You don’t need to say much. Money would tumble forth.
- T-Fare Con: For you, the busiest thoroughfares are the best. You can switch around per time of the day so people don’t link your face to a particular spot. You are allowed to look miserable but not entirely so – you have to be believable. Time your business hours around rush hour because then you have a sea of people trooping to or from work. Approach anyone and explain that you don’t have enough to get to your destination. Your destination should be far, but not too far to warrant suspicion. I cannot stress it enough: be believable. Prepare a good cover story too. Your use of the English language should be sufficient, particularly if your cover story is that of a worker.
- Help! I Have Twins: “Children are an heritage from the Lord.” Yes, we know. But sometimes, they could be an unexpected package, especially when they come in duplicate. Since you sent up no request to the Divine for this special package, you have a right to head for the nastiest gridlock and present this package to every open eye. However, your cash target are people driving fancy cars as those in danfos might be in no mood to summon pity for you and yours. This job favours the nimble of feet because gridlocks bring out the crazies in Lagos drivers. If you are overweight and have a death wish, ignore my counsel. Please note that here, you work hard for your money. Any slouching and you might go home without a dime. Think about the children.
PS: Let the tears flow!
- Smile: Oh, the power of a smile. I lose myself every time I see a beggar smile and there is one who has captured my heart through this tactic. No, he doesn’t follow me about smiling. That would be eerie. He has his spot on the stretch of road between Ojuelegba and Barracks bus stop. He is Hausa, middle aged, dark skinned and missing an arm. Most mornings, you can find him sitting on that piece of stone, widening his lips in pleasure without fail. And he caps it up with a greeting: “good morning, ma; good morning, sir.”
Strategy: Purchase a brush. A toothbrush, I mean. It costs 50 naira a pop for the Smokers version. Teeth that look like burnt potatoes have zero appeal. And if your teeth look like a bomb went through it, please Do Not Attempt This! Also, don’t look too unkempt. Strive for balance. You want to say “I look haggard because I am poor, but I am not a terrorist or a mad person.” My favourite beggar keeps his hair close shaven. This enables his customers respond to his greetings without fear. And be polite. The door that badgering closes, politeness would fling open. It helps, too, if you are good looking. I kid you not. It has gotten so I no longer give the man 10s and 20s. I give 50s and 100s. If I had loose change (in the denomination already stated) every time I pass his way – which is every day – I would give him every day. Smile, people, smile.
That’s it, folks. All you need to get into the business of begging. Warning: Let no one berate you about your choice of occupation. Truth is, we are all beggars, only in levels: from government beggars to social media coney-catchers to family parasites, we are one or another. But human nature seeks to put down those at the bottom of the totem pole, so you might find yourself being picked on more. Turn a blind eye, shut your working ear, pay them no mind. Never forget, creativity is the fuel that drives a lucrative business, so do not hesitate to tweak any of the methods listed here for maximum output. Better still, come up with something Nigeria has never seen. Trust me, we will applaud and our pockets will show their gratitude. Finally, always, always, keep the client’s response in view. This is what makes or breaks any business. You don’t want to start out at a disadvantage because you refused to listen. Good luck and God bless.