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National Policy for Senior Citizens in Nigeria, necessary now – Expert tells NASS

International Elders’ Abuse Awareness Day:

WHAT is Senior Citizen Care Foundation (SCCF) all about?

SCCF has been established for 13 years now; it’s being run by a credible Board of Directors. The present chairman is the third chairman of the Foundation;  Prince Bola Ajibola, SAN, CFR. He has been very passionate on how to improve the care of elderly, which is part of his constituency because he is also an elderly man.

•Jide Taiwo, Executive Director, SCCF

The Foundation has been able to touch the lives of so many elderly people majorly through the SCCF Free Elderly Medi-Care Initiative. But we know the care of the elderly is not a challenge that only non- profit organization can solve. We have the role of government, of the family, and we also have the role of private sector.

We have been achieving this by going to the  rural areas, haven written letters to their local government secretariats to inform them. We spend 48 hours and the Medicare is conducted by our medical team.

We do screening on diabetes, high blood pressure and  eyes  and we give drugs for free and  free eye glasses. We  also do  counseling.  This initiative has taken place  in five major states. We are taking it gradually.

The need to care for the elderly: I was brought up by my paternal grandmother at Abeokuta in Ogun State so I grew up in the midst of elderly people, and by the time I even returned to Lagos to join my parents, I saw that the seed of caring for the elderly had been sown in me. Even when I was in the university, with the little that I had, I still did so much for the elderly in that community.

I would visit Old People’s Home in Yaba to donate welfare support. But at a point in time, somebody advised me that  I should  establish a non-profit organization which will give more  people with same passion for caring for elderly a platform to express themselves. That was the genesis of SCCF. The elderly themselves don’t have so much of the strength anymore  so someone younger  has to do that for them.

Number of people impacted: We’ve lost count because if a child was born 13 years ago, by now he would know his right hand to be different from his left. Today, I would also want to use this opportunity to say a very big thank you to late Dr. Babatunde Osotimehin who passed away some weeks ago. When he was Minister of Health during Yar’Adua’s regime, one of our Directors then Senator Biyi Durojaiye linked him up to the Foundation; he was able to assist us to get free drugs for the elderly people.

By the United Nations standard, senior citizens are people from 60 years old and above. When Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu was 60 years old in 2012, we used the same initiative to induct him into the class of senior citizens. The late Ooni of Ife, Oba Sijuwade Olubuse II received this certificate, late Chief Mrs. HID Awolowo, received the same certificate. The Olowu of Owu kingdom, Oba Olusanya Dosumu  received the same certificate. Sir Adebutu Kessington has also received this certificate and the Mother of Former President Goodluck Jonathan, Mrs. Eunice Jonathan was also nominated in the year 2014. 

How do the elderly fare in Nigeria compared to the rest of the world?  

There is a large difference between the way  we care for the elderly in Nigeria or Africa compared to the way it is in the Western World. So many things that also affect the way we care for the elderly in Africa is surrounded by our culture and tradition.

Like I would say, I just returned from America and I went on a tour to senior citizens centres, old people’s homes and nursing homes. These are kinds of  centres that we have not started experiencing  in Nigeria.

In Africa, when you tell people you took your parents to old people’s home, it is seen as not wanting to take care of them because our culture says when your parents take care of you from childhood to adulthood, when they are old, you in turn  take care of them in old age. Nowadays, even the active father and the active mother don’t have time for their children, not to talk of their old people back in the villages or those of them even living here in Lagos.  It is so bad that for  months  they might not even send money to them for their upkeep.

For Nigerians living in the diaspora, who leave their elderly ones in the care of family members back home,  most of these parents are being  mal-treated. We had  a case whereby a man who lives in the US left his old mother in the hands of a relative and sends dollars to Nigeria on monthly basis but the money  does  not get to the hands of this woman.

So when  the  son  came back, the mother who was  living in fear, couldn’t tell the son what was going on. However,  the son knew that  there was something his old mother wanted to express, but a neighbour was able to give the woman confidence and this old woman thereafter opened up to the son. The man then got in touch with us asking if we had a place where people can keep their old people as in the Western World and such person would be well taken care of as if it is the children. We don’t have such a place yet in Nigeria.

The  Foundation is looking at establishing a senior citizen centre,  which  would be a research centre, where you can get to know about traditions and cultures of Africans as regards to elderly people, and also get the information there.

People who have retired and feel their homes are boring, their neighborhood is boring can come in the morning and leave in the evening. But people who choose to live voluntarily within the centre can also do so.

Plans for this year: Annually, Senior Citizen’s Care Foundation has been joining and observing this day and over the years, we have done workshops,  talk  shows  and bring elderly people together. We invite stakeholders to  listen to the view of elderly people.

A major challenge and pain of the Senior Citizens in Nigeria,  is  non- payment of pensioners as at when due. It is so pathetic and so painful to see that most of these old people that have served the nation or served their various companies while they were active not being paid.

There were issues the association has handled and lately a state in Nigeria has shown a very good example that Federal Government and other states should emulate, it is Edo State.

Number one, they have their pensioners’ verification centre within a hall and they have numerous computers to attend to these elderly people.  I could remember four or five years ago, Federal Government did a verification exercise for pensioners, particularly in Akure where a man slumped and died. We read about it also in Bayelsa State.  Our government needs to pay more attention and put things that will make such exercises very, very comfortable.

The elderly are the custodians of our culture and traditions, if anything goes wrong in the society.

Culture and tradition

The first question we ask as Africans is where are the elders? How much are we giving back to these elders? The beautiful part of it is that old age is just a grace from God; it is not something you can buy with money. Gradually we are losing our culture and tradition because the elderly that are meant  to pass it to the younger generation are dying untimely.

In 2008, we conducted a research. With the research, we realized that every minute in Nigeria we lose Senior Citizens to poor medical attention.

Old age is full of regrets. It is a reflection time for things you didn’t get right while you had the opportunity. But some people live and choose to live longer once they have something to keep them going on daily basis.

A clarion call to relevant authorities: We are calling on the National Assembly because as we speak today, there is no law that protects the interest of the elderly single-handedly. There are laws that protect them as  citizens of Nigeria; there are laws that protect maybe females among them, as citizens of Nigeria, but there is no law, no policy for the elderly in Nigeria.

In 2008, we sponsored a bill. It was on the need to have a National Policy for the elderly in Nigeria. It was thrown out at the House of Reps during Hon. Bankole’s tenure.

There are ministries for youths, for women, but there is no agency for the elderly in Nigeria. Instead,  issues that have to do with the elderly are placed under youths and sports ministries which doesn’t make any sense.

What we want to achieve possibly is that the care of the elderly the way it is in the Western World. And it starts with the policy; it starts with establishing agencies that have to do with the interest of the elderly.

In Lagos State there was a time we got a report that most of the elderly were being neglected at bus stops by transport operators. Do you know why? The youth are beginning to see them as witches and wizards.

There are some sicknesses and challenges which are attached to old age. Among such is Alzheimer, that is loss of memory. We’ve seen issues whereby an old man or woman would leave where he is being taken care of, maybe his house or his children’s house and he would never return  and such a man or woman would be found on the streets wandering, people would think he or she is a wizard or witch. We’ve seen a situation whereby an elderly woman would be saying something she has not done because she has lost her memory and they would think she is a witch and they would stone her to death. This is what the society needs to frown at.

We have a lot of experts on the care of the elderly in this country that can work hand in hand with the government and non-profit organizations can also join them.

 


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