By Francis Ewherido
Frittering away of resources versus charity is one of my favourite sub-topics in personal finance in our marriage class. I love it because some of us always mix up charity and frittering away of money. In those days, a woman came to our NGO. She needed money to increase her working capital for her akara (beans cake) business. Her two children were in the university. We supported her with about N5,000, the amount she requested for then. Today the children are graduates. Another woman’s daughter got a university admission, but she did not have enough money to send the girl to school. We were willing to support her, but we were concerned about how she would cope after the first semester. She assured us that she would bounce back and subsequently cope with the bills. We gave her the benefit of the doubt and supported her. Today, the young lady is also a graduate.
Contrast the above cases with a beggar I used to see on Eko Bridge, Lagos, between 1987 and 1994. I saw him after about 15 years later. He had aged and was still begging. There was another beggar on my route to work at Itire Road, Lagos, between 1990 and 1992. About six years ago, I drove through the route. He had aged, but still at the same spot begging. These made me to begin asking myself, what is charity? Dictionary says charity is “the voluntary giving of help, typically in the form of money, to those in need.” So, giving to people in all the above cases qualify as charity. To make today’s topic more meaningful, I am adding “purposeful” to qualify the noun, “charity.” The definition then changes to the voluntary giving of help, typically in the form of money, to those in need with a view to achieving a goal or purpose.
In our marriage class, we discuss the many ways that people fritter away money. That is why we termed sub-topic “charity vs frittering away of money.” I will give an example. If you drive into a petrol station and tell a petrol attendant to fill your tank, chances are that the total cost will not be a round figure. For instance, the total cost might be N9,767. If you pay with cash, you might be able to get N250 change, but no more because we do not use kobo coins in our financial transactions. But that is not even the issue. Most of us jump into our cars and drive off without collecting any change. I do not see that act as charity. It is frittering away of money. For a while now we have been battling with occasional scarcity of fuel; is it not the same fuel attendants who have been ripping us off and bringing us untold hardship? Has anyone of them reciprocated your kind gesture of leaving your change with them? Do they deserve this “charity” or tips, as many of us see it?
I used to leave my change with female fuel attendants. I felt that was my way of encouraging them for working hard to earn a living instead of using their bodies to make money. But I stopped after a female attendant ripped me off, of about N2,500. She manipulated the fuel pump. I did not realize until I saw the final bill after my tank was filled up. I do not know what annoyed me more: the N2,500 I lost or the fact that she caught me mugu (outsmarted me). Anyway, there are more female fuel attendants now, so they do not need my encouragement. Unemployment, with the fear of hunger, is enough push.
Before I stray too far, let us go back to today’s topic: Charity versus frittering away of resources. For some time now, my conscience kept pricking me. After leaving the church on Sundays or while in traffic, beggars flock around me begging for money. Depending on my mood, I oblige or ignore them. When I oblige I feel I frittered money away, but take solace in the fact that this N100 or N200 cannot do any damage to my economy. But as time went on, I kept seeing the same faces over and over again begging. It is their trade. They have no interest in being gainfully employed. Many times government has rounded them up and relocated them to their home states 100s of miles away. In no time, they find their way back. Some have been put in rehabilitation centres and given vocational training. Some escape from these centres while others return to begging after receiving training.
These beggars are everywhere in cities. At pedestrian crossings and some public places in Lagos, they have taken over and become a big nuisance. If you go to a street like Kano Street in Ebute Metta, Lagos, they have been there for decades. Begging has become a generational inheritance. The current beggars are probably children of the beggars 30 years ago. It is possible their grandparents were there 50 or 60 years ago. They are organized and can be very violent. They have fought government officials who tried to relocate and teach them a trade. They add no value to themselves or the society. How do you break the cycle of poverty, illiteracy and the beggarly orientation in their lineage? Does it make sense giving professional beggars money?
Giving money to beggars might be charity, according to the dictionary definition, but I also believe in Apostle Paul’s admonition that those who are capable and able to work, but decide to be idle should go hungry (2 Thessalonians 3:7–9).
I have since lost interest in purposeless and aimless charity. If you donate the N200 to a charity organisation and aggregate it with donations from other givers, it can take willing children from less privileged background through tertiary institutions or support them to learn a trade. The beneficiaries do not need to know or acknowledge you, the fulfilment you get, knowing that the little you contributed has made someone an engineer, a medical doctor, a banker, a computer expert, etc., is immeasurable.
I used to do prison visitations. There are awaiting trial inmates who need only N5,000 to be released. I have taken a firm decision. I might still give beggars money once in a while if the spirit moves me, but I am done with aimless charity as a habit. Rather, let my N200 build men, women and make our society a better place.
Unfortunately, there are some beggars who are just trying to raise capital to start a trade. But how do you distinguish them from professional beggars? That is why it is not wise to shut the door totally on giving money to beggars. The only professional beggars you can identify are those on a route that you ply regularly over time.
There is the story of a good, a Good Samaritan, no, Nigerian, who raised over N1m to take a beggar off the street, but she came back because she is a professional beggar and begging is business. I nor get time for that kind beggar again.
Leave a Reply