Sitting on his locally-made wheelchair at the busy Marina road, near Balogun market in Lagos Island, Bello Usman beckons to any passerby who takes the slightest glance at his goods: a heap of wrist beads, knuckle rings, key holders, ID card holders, pens, and other material.
A physically-challenged man, Mr Usman said he went into business to cater for his needs and that of his family as begging for alms was no longer paying.
The father of five said he suffered polio when he was young and has since been unable to use his feet.
“I pay school fees, I take care of my family,” Mr Usman, 38, said proudly.
Although there are several persons with disabilities (PWDs) begging on the streets of Lagos, just like in every other state, there are many others who have turned to petty jobs for survival.
‘Begging no longer pays’
Mohammed Zinna, the coordinator of the Physically Challenged Empowerment Initiative (PCEI), said many PWDs now venture into petty businesses for survival.
“Begging no longer pays, the charity business is now going down because of the economic hardship many people face,” he said.
“Many people who still beg try to sell in addition, this is why you see them selling things like handkerchiefs, sweets, and bitter kola in traffic.”
Mr Usman said he started alms-begging while in Ibadan and later relocated to Lagos to learn how to make and repair shoes. He still moves around with an identity card issued him in 2000 when he was undergoing an education/skill acquisition programme organized by Friends of Disabled Nigeria.
Upon completion of his training, Mr Usman said he went back to Ibadan and opened a roadside shoemaking and repairs shop.
“The business was not moving, no much sales. Some days I go only make N100 or N200 from customer shoe. I started selling handkerchiefs, singlets,’ he said.
He found himself back in Lagos where he enrolled into the Para-soccer association of the Lagos State – he played para-soccer up until 2018 before retiring due to age.
“I gather about N30,000 to buy these things,” he said of his wares. “I come from Monday to Saturday and on Sunday, I sell at Obalende.”
In Katsina, David Adamu, a person living with a disability, worked as a mechanic, specialising in the repair of Vespa motorcycles. After the motorcycles stopped being fashionable and he could no longer get customers, Mr Adamu, 41, moved to Lagos.
“I cannot beg and work no dey (again),” he said in Pidgin English.
Mr Adamu said he suffered partial paralysis on his legs due to a wrong prescription of injection administered to him when he was a child.
He said since his arrival in Lagos, he has worked as a mechanic, then a commercial tricycle driver, and now a bus driver because he has to fend for himself and his family of five.
Mr Adamu said he obtained a tricycle on hire purchase with the help of the PWD community he joined and was operating it until the ban of tricycles on major roads in Lagos.
He now drives a minibus, which he also obtained on hire purchase, along the CMS-Obalende route.
“I work every day, morning and night. Every week, I pay delivery money N35,000. I try to remove N6,000 every day for delivery money and I buy N4,000 fuel every day. After that, I go leave small money to take maintain myself,” he said.
Mr Mohammed noted that there are cultural factors that encourage people with disabilities to beg on the streets.
“The culture and the society always see them as good for begging, while the religious centres see them as people to give alms to so that prayers can be answered.
“If you walk on the street, most of them came from the northern parts of the country. The reason is that in the northern part of the country, the source of livelihood there is either farming or animal rearing. To northerners, when they have a physically challenged child, it is a burden to them because he can neither farm nor take the animals to the bush to feed.
“Quite often, they push their children to beg because they cannot do anything. Over time, some of them are made to join Almajiri schools, while others are just neglected at home. The family don’t tend for them or send them to school,” he said.
Mr Mohammed said many children, youth, and adults suffering from disabilities often move to other states where they continue with their business of begging for alms.
“The society also owes them a responsibility to meet their needs when the system throws them out on a place like that,” he said.
For people living with albinism, their situations are quite different.
Tolani Ojuri, a person living with albinism, said there was a limit to the types of work he could do and he had to find a job with minimal risks.
Mr Ojuri said although people with albinism can rarely be found on the streets, living on charity is no longer sustainable.
“The charity model is not working anymore, worldwide. Free money is shrinking, you have to give one value or the other. You have to give value, there are services people need, people want to buy something, they need something,” he said.
Mr Ojuri said he is an online vendor, selling house items and also into real estate.
“I started as an online dealer with Vitafoam 10 years ago. I do other things as well, I freelance with a law firm in real estate and I sell old and new furniture.
“I knew from the beginning that I cannot work in the open space during the day, so, from the onset, I channeled all my businesses online and the ones that I know I have to be exposed to the sun such as logistics and delivery services, I have stopped them,” Mr Ojuri explained.
The Lagos Office of Disability Affairs
To address the needs of PWDs, safeguard them from discrimination and provide equal rights and opportunities for them, the Lagos State government under the administration of Babatunde Fashola inaugurated the Lagos State Office of Disability Affairs (LASODA), under the Lagos State Special People’s Law (LSSPL 2011).
Part of the mandate of the agency is to give guidelines for the education, social development, and welfare of PWDs in the state.
The agency in 2020 said it empowered 300 PWDs in various vocations such as sewing. Barbing, tie and dye, electrical installation, cosmetology, and many others.
Meanwhile, several PWDs interviewed by PREMIUM TIMES said they have not benefitted from the empowerment programmes organised by LASODA.
Abubakar Umaru, one of the coordinators of PWDs in Lagos Island, said their members are yet to be registered by the agency – which is fundamental to benefit from any of the programmes or funding.
“We have collected the forms, filled and submitted but we have not been given our ID cards. Each time we go, they say it is because we are not from Lagos State,” he said.
A budget of N315 million was earmarked for LASODA in the 2020 budget – an adjustment from the initial N500 million budget due to COVID-19.
Although N185million of the budget was for non-essential expenditure, it is unclear how the budget was allocated.
PREMIUM TIMES contacted the General Manager of LASODA, Ogundairo Oluwadamilare, to inquire about the empowerment and opportunities available for PWDs in Lagos, the criteria, and whether they are exclusive to PWDs who are indigenes of the state.
Despite several calls made to Mr Oluwadamilare, who initially said he would respond, no response was received as of the time of filing this report.
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