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Nigerian Elderly Groan Over Neglect And Poor Welfare
Published Oct 08, 2022 IN Column, SATURDAY COVER,
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OLD age … is a good and pleasant thing. It is true you are gently shouldered off the stage, but then you are given such a comfortable front stall as spectator.” – Confucius

The above quote credited to Chinese Sage, Confucius, implies that ageing is indeed a beautiful thing and that the aged ought to be given paramount attention and care to ensure their wellbeing. Perhaps, that line of thinking informed the United Nations (UN) to pass a resolution on December 14, 1990, to establish October 1 as the International Day of Older Persons (UNIDOP). The day came into being after the Vienna International Plan of Action on Ageing Initiative, which was adopted by the World Assembly on Ageing in 1982. The day was introduced by the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) with the aim of appreciating the contributions of older persons and looking into the problems that they face; it is celebrated annually.

Since the beginning of civilization, senior citizens have played an essential role in society. They’ve historically represented wisdom, earned through a life filled with experience. Older people make significant contributions to society via volunteer work, passing on experience and knowledge, and assisting their families with different responsibilities. Owing to human advancement and breakthroughs in science, life expectancy is increasing and it has been recorded that over the next three decades, the number of older persons worldwide is projected to more than double, reaching more than 1.5 billion persons in 2050. The second fastest increase is projected for sub- Saharan Africa, where the population aged 65 or over could grow from 32 million in 2019 to 101 million in 2050 (218 per cent).

The population of the older persons in Nigeria is estimated to be around 6 million and a continuous increase is projected as a developing country in the second stage of demographic transition with a high birth rate and lower death rate. The life expectancy has also increased from 37 years at independence to about 53.4 years in 2016. As of 2020, 9.4 million people were aged 60 years and older. Between 2018 and 2020, Nigeria’s elderly population experienced an increase of about 740 thousand people. The population of older persons in Nigeria is increasing, but there seems to be no concrete existing plans on how to address the accompanying challenges and needs as Nigeria has no functional national policy on the care and welfare of older persons. It is based on the foregoing that The Pointer, in this piece, examines the plight of the older persons in Nigeria, how they are faring and the activities of those taking care of them.

The Nigerian Situation

Ageing in Nigeria is occurring against the background of socio-economic hardship, widespread poverty and the rapid transformation of the traditional extended family structure which makes care for the elderly tedious, difficult and unappealing. In other climes, especially in the advanced countries of the world, designated care homes for the elderly are provided by the government and well-meaning individuals to cater for the needs and welfare of these aged persons. In Nigeria, owing to negligence, especially on the part of the authorities, care for the aged has fallen on the shoulders of some faith- based organisations, Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) and family members. However, due to the economic reality of the day, some families are not finding it easy to take care of their aged family members.

Nigerian Government has no regard for the elderly- Ebreme

Dr. Moore Ebreme, is the founder of the Moore Ebreme Foundation which has been in the business of taking care of the elderly in Asaba, the State capital, for over a decade. According to the retired Permanent Secretary, the Nigerian government has no regard for the elderly, as they do not care about their well-being or welfare, abandoning them to fate and care by private individuals, without even offering assistance in footing some of the bills incurred by those taking care of them.

“I usually organise elderly meetings four times a year, give them health talks, refreshment, medical tests and others. In 2009, I took 176 of them to the Federal Medical Centre, Asaba, to screen them for various diseases. I also took over 200 of them to the FMC for medical tests. On February 20, 2020, I organised a programme for 150 elderly people. They were taught all the things the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control teaches today. They felt loved. Unfortunately, I never get support from the government. But one with God is majority”.

“It is unfortunate that the government doesn’t have regard for elderly persons. Traditionally, we do, but administratively, the government doesn’t. It is very bad to see pensioners dying for a small amount of money they ought to be paid without struggle. Every year, they keep getting asked to come for screenings. Outside Nigeria, elderly people are loved; the government gives them free transportation. But here (in Nigeria), it is not so”.

Government should assist us in taking care of the elderly- Miss Rose

The Pointer also visited the Old Peoples Home located inside the premises of Regina Mundi Private School, opposite the Oshimili South Arcade, which is run by St. Joseph the Cathedral, Catholic Church. The institution which has been running for several decades, caters for the well-being of elderly women. The institution’s day -to- day activities is run by a Reverend Sister, who, unfortunately, was not available at the time of visit. However, The Pointer, was able to speak with one Miss Rose, who assists in running the daily activities of the institution.

According to Ms. Rose, the institution ,which has been in existence for several decades, currently housed only three women and activities at the institution are held sparingly, often times due to economic constraints, except on the insistence of visitors or on special occasions.

“Actually there are no activities for now, though some are here and some are in their houses but if there is any event then will not invite them and they will come together. But normally, they always come on the last Saturday of every month or if there is anyone that wants to see them, then we can then reach them, so they will come”.

“On the day for Older Persons, some persons just came that day they brought some fruit and food for the old people. Then after they greeted them, they took pictures and they left. Then, on Monday, some group of doctors came here, they brought some food items, played and danced with them, before leaving. So it is usually sparingly”.

Elderly have their say

The Pointer was opportune to speak to some elderly persons, majority of whom, in their younger days, deployed their energy, time and attention to serving their fatherland, before calling it quits from their respective public offices, in compliance with Civil Service rules and regulations.

For Mr. Theophilus Ogana, who retired as a driver in the State Civil Service, he blames the political leaders for not making the plight of the elderly, majority of whom are pensioners, seriously. According to him, they do not pay their pensions on time and often times, they had to undergo strenuous challenges before they can access their pensions, which further deteriorates the health of some of the elderly or leading to the death of some of the pensioners.

“The greatest problem we have in this country is that our leaders don’t keep to their words. The people managing the pension schemes don’t keep their words. Many elderly who depend on pensions suffer to get their pension, many even die before the pension starts coming. Some of the elderly who are retired cannot even pay their rents. Some of us who retired and moved to the rural areas died immediately they got home because of suffering”, he said.

Another elderly woman, an octogenarian, Mrs. Franca Ofili, posits that the government of the day had no respect for the elderly anymore as compared to before, hence the neglect of people like her by the authorities.

“In Nigeria, we used to have so much respect for the elderly. In fact, in some communities the elderly people are celebrated every year. But this generation is a different one. They believe that the elderly people are not useful in the society anymore. The government of Nigeria has no respect for the elderly people. They have no policy for the care of the elderly in this country. They are not even considered when major decisions are taken in the country. That is why majority of us are suffering today, except those of us, whose extended families are fortunate enough to assist them”, she lamented.

Another Octogenarian, a retired Major, popularly known as old soldier, agreed with his peers about the neglect they suffer in the hands of the government. According to him, even the basic healthcare insurance they once enjoyed as serving officers and other benefits were stripped off, immediately after retirement.

“Let me tell you how the Nigerian government neglects the elderly. There is no special medical care for the elderly in this country. When the elderly are sick they go to the hospital where every other person goes. We have very few doctors who are knowledgeable about illnesses that come with ageing. The elderly in Nigeria are really suffering. If an elderly person falls sick, he/she prays to die rather than stay alive and suffer. They are not given any special treatment in the hospital. They are expected to queue in the line and wait for their turn to see the doctor like others”.

A retired Oshimili North LG employee, who did not want his name in print, attributed his well-being and welfare to family support, which had kept him from being isolated as depressed with life after retirement, while tasking the government to do more for the senior citizens.

“Many of the elderly who retire from the civil service now don’t go to their village homes. They retire and stay in the city centre, if they can afford it or fortunate enough to have their own houses. At times, they live alone in their houses because children have their own apartments. Some of the parents will not want to even stay with their children because of either their lifestyle or because they want their own space. There is nothing in Nigeria like an adult day care centre where they can go and relax with their friends and come back to their homes. They stay alone in their homes and become isolated, but some of us are lucky. Personally, having my family around me has ensured my spirits are still high. Some of my colleagues are not faring better, because of isolation from family members, when you talk to some of them, they are not happy because no one is coming around them as they used to, and this may lead to depression, which, if not checked, can kill”, he cautioned.

Way forward

From the tone of the respondents, it is glaring for a fact that care for the elderly in our society has been left to private entities and family members, while highlighting complete negligence or absence on the part of the government, either in form of partnerships or policy implementation.

In 1989, the Nigerian government developed the national social development policy which aimed to provide a framework for protecting elderly persons from moral and material neglect and provide public assistance when necessary. Despite the development of the national social development policy to care for the elderly, there has been no effective execution of this policy by any federal agency.

As a signatory to the global and regional commitments, Nigeria signed the National Senior Citizens Centre Act 2017 into law to cater for the need of senior citizens in the country and related matters.

The Act gave birth to the establishment of the National Senior Citizens Centre (NSCC) in January 2018. But nothing was heard from the Federal Government as regards its implementation until June 2021 when President Muhammadu Buhari approved N2.5 billion take-off grant in October 2021.

Primarily, the NSCC Act intends to facilitate Section 16 of the 1999 Constitution, which provides that the state shall direct its policy towards ensuring “that … old age care and pensions, and unemployment, sick benefits and welfare of the disabled are provided for all citizens”.

Its functions include identifying the needs of senior citizens and taking responsibility for creating recreational, sports, health, educational, counselling and social programmes for their benefit. It is also expected to develop and implement schemes to provide income or supplementary earnings for aged citizens.

Dr. Ebreme, mentioned earlier, who has been taking care of the elderly through several outreach programmes, by his foundation, suggested that the government should take active role in taking care of the elderly as they are citizens, too. “The Government at all levels should endeavour to make these elderly ones smile; they should put a smile on their faces by catering for them and making them feel good, they are part of the society and deserve that treatment, too. It is the responsibility of the government”. He also called on the National Senior Citizens Centre to advice state governments on the need to replicate and implement some of their policy thrust.

Miss Rose from the Old Peoples Home owned by St. Joseph the Cathedral Catholic church also appealed to the Government to render assistance to those already in the vocation of taking care of the elderly. Citing an example with their institution, which does not have the requisite capacity to accommodate quite a number of persons, she implored the government to assist in making the facilities convenient.

Mr. Ogana called on the government to show sincerity in dealing with the elderly, especially in the payment of their pensions. According to him, “It has never been heard that former governors or presidents were ever owed pensions. They should apply that level of effort and sincerity in our case, after all, we are more than the number of retired governors and presidents”.

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