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Elderly Persons’Bill

By Helen Ovbiagele

Old age touches us all, for, if we’re not yet of that range, we have parents, grandparents, and relatives who are.  So, old age should be of some concern to everyone.  I was glad to receive a few responses from young people, among the many I got, understandably, from the middle-aged and the elderly.

I got some flak from a few readers, for my comment that I’m pessimistic about any government in Nigeria being masses-friendly enough, to really have the interests of any category of our citizens at heart.  They feel I should have faith in our  leaders and believe that they will do exactly what they have said they will do, and not think that they lack integrity and will renege on their promises.

Our leaders need to be encouraged by our trust, say these readers.  I don’t mind this reaction at all, but I would have welcomed examples from these patriotic readers, of a particular government at any level of governance, in recent years, which was solely out to improve our lives without any self-interest on the part of the rulers. Personally, I think it’s great that two of our Senators are concerned about elderly people’s welfare in their twilight years, especially since these  senators are not yet elderly people themselves.

Proposing the Bill is good, but like I said, it’s the implement ation of it that I fear may not achieve the desired results.   But then, you ask, which are these desired results?  We read of establishing   a Recreational Centre for the Elderly, protecting their rights, etc.  As for the Recreational Centre, a friend, who was one of those who responded early to my write-up said, “Helen, you’re right to think that the centre would be for the elite where they can engage in sporting activities and down some drinks afterwards to unwind, but you failed to add one vital point.

That is, it would be a place for them to take their mistresses to.”  I jokingly replied that if these mistresses are elderly people themselves, it would be alright, since they’re entitled to be there, to enjoy the facilities.

Seriously speaking, we need to break down the contents of the Bill properly so that the public can know how every elderly Nigerian, right down to the one in the lowliest hamlet in the country, can benefit.  For the Bill to be properly implemented, input from the elderly, educated or not, should be sought, across the country, through the local governments and non-governmental organizations  (NGOs), working at grassroots.

What are their capabilities and health challenges? How are they spending the twilight of their years?  What recreational activities would be of interest to them?  What excursions?  What vocational skills or hobbies?  Various clubs which have the elderly as their major members can be asked for their input as well.

We thank all those who wrote in to express their views.  We publish some reactions below:
‘Sister:let’s welcome the Elderly Persons’ Bill with enthusiasm as we point out how best to implement it in a federal setting like ours.  The examples of the United Kingdom and the United States of America that you gave, re-branding the National Pension Commission to decentralize it and have state offices, is the way to go. Layi’

‘Madam Helen, I do enjoy reading most of your write-ups because you try as much as possible to highlight what’s amiss in our country, but I’m uncomfortable with your pessimistic stance, most of the time.  Surely, there must be leaders who can deliver in an honest manner in the country.  I know you have every reason to doubt the words of politicians, but when a good and useful Bill is proposed, don’t immediately begin to assume that it would be badly implemented.  Give these people the benefit of the doubt.  Not all are rascals.  Thanks.  Patrick, Kaduna.’

‘If properly implemented, the Elderly Persons’ Bill will be a blessing for our old age in this country.  It will show that we have caring people at the helm of affairs.  I just want to say that since men are the main rulers in Nigeria, they would implement it in such a way that it would be mainly the men who benefit.  This is wrong.  They should involve women, if possible, the elderly, in the breakdown of the contents of the Bill, so that the needs of elderly women will be taken care of.   Knitting, sewing, crochet work, baking, cooking courses, and other female hobbies, skills and crafts can be established at centres, right down to the villages.  These can be tailored to meet the local needs; like teaching knitting in the cold areas of the country.’  Thanks, Felicia, Owerri.

‘My dear Mrs. Ovbiagele, kudos to you for letting us know that there’s a proposed Bill for the welfare of elderly persons.  After many years serving the country as civil servants, my wife and I, after raising our children, retired to our village in Ondo State.  Before the economic crunch, we were okay as we tried our hands at a little farming to keep busy.

Our vehicles were in order and we were able to go to the state capital from time to time.  But as the economy worsened, our vehicles packed up, roads got worse, farming became too expensive and exhaustive and a host of other problems.  Still, God keeps one.  Some packages for the elderly would be very welcome, like the recreational centre the  senators spoke about, if they can extend it to the villages.

Then they could add the bus service that you spoke about, so that we retirees will have transportation to the state capital at least twice a month.  We could go shopping or sightseeing, etc.  All these would give us a new lease of life.  Thanks.  Pa Oluwole, Ondo State.’

‘Ma, the Elderly Persons’ Bill will be very welcome for old citizens if properly put together to reach right down to the grassroots.  Even though I’m in my thirties,  I can see that a welfare package for the elderly will be of great benefit to my aged parents.  Now in their seventies, life is mostly indoors for them, as their finances and health are not that sound.

Dad’s monthly, under N20,000,  pension from the Federal government doesn’t come regularly, and but for the fact that we the children have jobs and can help out a bit, they would really be suffering.  However, by far more important is their health bills.  We all know the state of our hospitals.  They spend more money on their health than on food.  If there’s free medical care for the elderly like you say there is in Britain, it would be of great benefit to our elderly here.  Thank you, ma and God bless.   Bunmi, Oshogbo.’

‘Helen, your August 24 article isn’t pessimistic!  You’re very right: the Bill goes for the Elite!  Payment of Pensions don’t come easy and regularly.  Regularization of salaries to reflect current state of the  economy is not forthcoming.’‘Happy Sunday, ma. Thanks for your views on the Elderly Persons’ Bill today.

We are very funny people in Naija.  We know our ogas are lying but we lack the courage to tell them; expecting God to help us!  Na wao!    – Kris.’

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