By Josephine Agbonkhese
Some people may have lost their sense of responsibility and compassion towards the elderly, but the Alake of Egbaland, Oba Adedotun Aremu Gbadebo, certainly has his intact. This, he demonstrated when a team of professionals under the aegis of Care Companion & Quality Medicare visited his Ake palace in Abeokuta last week. Sunday Vanguard was with the visitors. Later in an interview with Sunday Vanguard, the Alake of Egbaland explained that besides efforts by extended family members, successive governments have failed Nigeria’s old citizens.
What’s your verdict on our disposition towards the elderly in our society?
The white people believe that we have a better system because we have this extended family system which tends to accommodate our old citizens and allows them to live with younger generations rather than keep them in old peoples’ homes. In that aspect, we are better than them since we try to accommodate our old citizens. This is however particularly when we are a bit well-to-do.
The truth is that, our elderly people should not wish to die; they should not be praying for death because if they do, it is a big shame on their relations. It should not be a crime to be an old man; after all, we all pray to live long.
As a man who is well travelled, aside efforts by extended family members, what’s your opinion of government’s efforts towards them, compared to what you see in other parts of the world?
There’s still a lot to be put in place by government. The welfare system that is practiced in other countries should be copied so that when you’re out of job, even if you don’t have any pension, you should earn something. No elderly should die of starvation or lack of roof over his or her head. Those are part of the key things government should ensure. The plight of the elderly in our society is disheartening. These people should not have to die on the streets simply because they have nobody to take care of them.
Public transport system
A very challenging one is our public transport system. We have no public transport system designed to easily accommodate the aged. It’s so bad that even younger people suffer the lack of a working-transport system each day they have to move to and fro their places of work. Every public building should have rams for those using wheel-chairs but we grossly do not take cognizance of this; thus, anybody on wheel-chair will have to remain inside the car wherever he goes to, and people will have to come meet him or her in the car.
Does this visit by Care Companion & Quality Medicare to your palace bring any ray of hope?
Yes, of course. I’m happy that some people have identified ‘growing old’ as a societal problem, and are also trying to address it. I’m happy that we can now turn to an organization and say: “Please, I want to send this particular old man for daycare from morning to evening, every day.” Or: “I want to send one of my staff to come learn from you how to care for the elderly. Or: “Send me a live-in help for this elderly person”. This is so that the quality of life of the elderly will not be totally destroyed because of old age.
In fact, having lived till old age, an elderly person should die happy; not sad that he or she is unable to do things necessary for daily survival and personal hygiene such as not being able to shave, wear clean clothes, eat good food, enjoy good company, etc., which were easily done in the past.
How are you keying into their vision?
I have already promised to give them a plot of land in Abeokuta where they can put up a daycare for the elderly, so that they (elderly persons) can come in the morning and return home in the evening. This is a non-profit initiative from me and I do not intend to ever make any money from it. About five other Obas: HRM Dr. Joseph Adeogun Oguntona Ogunjobi, Oba Igbore, Orile Obafemi Owode LGA; HRH Oba Kolawole Sowemimo, Afin Olu Owode Egba; HRM Oba Fatai Akamo, Olu Of Itori Land; HRH Femi Ogunleye, Oba of Akinale, and Oba Dosumu Olowu of Owu, who were also present at the Council of Obas’ Meeting where the team made their presentation in my palace, also instantly donated plots of lands for more daycares to be set up for the elderly.
So far, how have you personally shown kindness to the elderly in your land?
Among other things, I encouraged a group from Lagos to set up a home for them at Kobakpe. That home will soon be opened. It has block of flats which relatives can purchase for their elderly so they can live together with their peers and feel alive again. The flats can also be sold out to another elderly person when an occupant passes on or decides to relocate, for example. The beauty of it is that they will have like-minded companions.
I also make it a point of duty to visit the Leper Colonies once a year, during my coronation anniversary. My help to them however continues throughout the year because I see it as a privilege; it’s by the grace of God that one is not there. So, I believe that in helping the vulnerable, you’re building up treasures for yourself in heaven, where no termite can eat them.