BY LANRE IDOWU
Our eagerness to get home quickly and welcome the New Year with hymns and prayers was halted by the traffic lights at the junction of Adeola Odeku and Akin Adesola streets on Victoria Island (Lagos). Time was 21.45 hours.
The car windows were wound up. As we waited for the green light to continue the journey, a young girl moved close to the driver’s side, soliciting.
Involuntarily, I moved my mask to cover my nose and mouth even with the car windows closed.
Our guest was not deterred. “Sorry Daddy,” she pleaded.
I pretended to not see her, so I kept my eyes fixed on the traffic lights, monitoring her with the corners of my left eye.
You never know with this people, I thought. They come with all tricks in the book to set you up for a sucker punch and I wasn’t falling for it in these dying hours of 2021.
But the girl, probably no more than seven, wasn’t done yet. “God will promotion you,” she declared. “Your children children go better well well.”
As I pondered on her quaint expressions, looking for loose Naira notes near the joystick, the green light came on, and I moved the car in the direction of home, unable to help the girl.
Thereafter, the traffic was light and nothing stood in our way until we got home twenty minutes after. What kept playing over in my mind was the girl’s eleven-word prayer.
“God go promotion you. Your children children go better well well.”
Her opening apology of “Sorry Daddy,” indicates her sensitivity to disturbing my peace in the comfort of my space. The import of her prayer, “God go promotion you” was that God would uplift me. I would enjoy an improvement in my circumstances. Since I looked old enough to be a father and indeed a grandfather, her last statement was a prayer for my children and grandchildren that things would go well for them.
Nowhere did she outrightly ask me for alms, even as there was no denying her intention. Her approach subtly employed prayer, hoping that I would do the needful. As I headed home, I
couldn’t help remembering the approach of girls of her age in another era, armed with the beggar’s bowl, moving in bands of twos, threes, and fours, soliciting with songs.
Involuntarily, I started humming one. Ba bi Allah, tori Olorun ba bi Allah, e bun mi toro, ba bi Allah. Asiri abo.
Ba bi Allah was a more direct plea for alms; a call for help with the persuasive appeal of music. It was a song rendered by itinerant beggars moving from home to home in the Lagos of the 1960s where traffic lights were not common sight. Appealing to our common humanity, it asked in the name of God for alms, indeed the odd three pence.
Then and now, street begging remains a reminder of the poverty in the land and the unfinished work of deploying state and private resources to ridding the land of poverty enveloped, in this instance, in idle begging. It is a reminder that our people’s needs are largely rudimentary—food to keep body and soul together. It is what our politicians exploit to buy votes and under-develop the land. It is what conscienceless leaders in secular and religious groups utilise to take advantage of the weak.
Beyond the relatively sane and safe precincts of Victoria Island where the praying girl operated on 31st December 2021, many like her are exposed to grave dangers of being exploited in the name of begging to douse the hunger in their stomachs and those of their parents who usually lurk in the background.
So, as I review the past year this first day of the new year, I pray an expanded version of the little girl’s prayer at the traffic lights that this year will favour you. May the Lord promote you above your current circumstances. May you enjoy an anointing of ease. May doors of opportunity open for you and you be equipped to put them to effective use. May you not be a disused rag in the hands of exploiters. May the Lord open your eyes to the deceit of those who promise heaven on earth but deliver hell as a living reality. May you not be a mean exploiter yourself. May the New Year favour you generationally. May you be counted among the league of problem solvers in the land as you work assiduously to contain poverty in the land, knowing that the fewer the number of the poor, the higher the chances to enjoy peacefully from the sweat of your labour.
This new year, may you partner with the state and people of goodwill to take more people off the streets. And may you be assured of the Lord’s promise that “Blessed are the merciful for they shall receive mercy.”
Happy New Year!