Uchenna Idoko is an economist that specialises in gender and gerontology. She has worked on gender equality programming and gender-inclusive policy development for nineteen years with a variety of NGOs, donor agencies, and government MDAs. She has been working with older adults and their families in rural Nigeria for over 5 years.
Uchenna is the founder of Center for Gender Economics (CGE Africa) and the coordinator of Women’s Budget Group Nigeria. She is a doctoral student in Economics with a research focus on gender economics. In this interview, she speaks on the need to write a better script on how to celebrate the elderly especially mothers
The world just celebrated mothers, what value does motherhood bring to the world?
Motherhood brings gifts of the incredible and unconditional love of human lives. Gifts that arrive from pulling their first home (wombs) apart; leaving scars that mothers often celebrate as stars.
Mothers sacrificially nurture their children from cradle to adulthood all the days of their lives without ever expecting anything in return. Mothers are role models for entrepreneurship — they are natural leadership coaches, our first civic educators, and our nurses that only retire in death.
Although most mothers cannot play crossword puzzle yet they build our brains through life. They are hustlers, salespersons, innovators just name it!
How best can the elderly be celebrated and how often?
All through our history, the elderly citizens have achieved so much for our families, our communities, and our country.
We owe them our thanks and a heartfelt salutation on ‘a daily basis’. And as a country we need to set aside a special day to celebrate elders, for example, a National Senior Citizens Day.
As an advocate for a better life for the elderly and parents, what would you be bringing to the table?
I will keep creating awareness about the ills of the myths and misconceptions about older adults who are too numerous to count in Nigeria.
They range from false ideas about elderly persons and to the stereotype that elderly persons are sick and always grumpy. Even our movie industry most times projects them as witches and burdens.
I will keep making myself available to work with individuals, firms, donors, institutions, and government at all levels to make sure that our communities are good places in which citizens can grow older — places in which elderly people can participate to the fullest and find the encouragement, acceptance, assistance, love, and services they need to continue to lead lives of freedom and dignity.
This is a period the world is faced with COVID-19, how has this affected your agenda?
It has affected our agenda in our project communities in two states. Our monthly meetings in various safe spaces with elderly persons have been disrupted.
But we have devised other means of reaching them through phone calls and recently we got approvals and funds to distribute relief materials to them.
Regrettably, the distributions of COVID 19 relief materials by the government in Nigeria have been very age-insensitive. Materials are thrown from trucks and shared in queues where collections of materials are a function of strength and youthfulness.
This is very sad, government and well-meaning individuals should please look into this double disaster and help the elderly access these relief materials that they really need.
You have 4 years agenda plan signed to work with the elderly to produce solutions to the plights of the elderly especially women.
How has this pandemic disrupted this plan?
We have signed this pact with Global Affairs Canada and Actionaid Nigeria (Women Voice and Leadership Project) to work in four communities here in Lagos over a period of 4 years with elderly women.
We also currently implement another project in 10 communities in Enugu State (VOICE Project) funded by OXFAM NOVIB still on providing solutions to the plights of the elderly.
During this pandemic, we changed our project strategy to implement livelihood support to our beneficiaries. Hopefully, when the pandemic comes to a halt we shall resume back to our originally planned activities while we still mainstream post- COVID 19 protocols in both project activities.
What are the challenges involved in achieving the plan?
The greatest challenge in our project communities is finding adequate buy-in, in our efforts to bridge the existing generation gap that is encouraging children to connect with elders.
In many of these communities, the elderly crave the attention and interest of young children and would love to sit and talk with older children and teens as well. We are working hard to create spaces and activities that will encourage such connections.
A key obstacle has been that although many older people want to keep socializing with the younger generation they also feel that the younger ones don’t like them because they’re slow or believe they don’t have anything to talk about that will interest them.
The world is becoming digitalized how do you intend to work with the elderly with this plan?
From my estimation, it’s only one in fifty elderly persons in rural communities in Nigeria who have Wi-Fi access. Meanwhile in the global north internet usage has been found to help in making elderly persons find happiness.
A 2016 research in Computers in Human Behavior found that the internet makes people happier: especially seniors and those with health problems that limit their ability to fully take part in social life. In October this year, our organization hopes to launch a digital project that will improve the lives of older people here in Lagos if we can gather all the support we are canvassing for.
I have also signed up for a short course on ‘Internet of Things for Active Aging’ that starts in September 2020 to better equipped to lead our upcoming digital project.
What are the challenges the elderly face?
Many people in Nigeria look forward to retirement, seeing it as a time to finally unwind, slow down, and quietly enjoy life.
Despite the fact that it’s true that the old age years can be some of the best years of life, but there are still some important challenges that cannot be ignored.
These challenges can be made worse by life circumstances. Some of them are poor health conditions, financial insecurities especially those that worked in the informal sector all their lives and can’t access any form of social security in old age.
So many of them live alone, they suffer social Isolation, and so much Loneliness because they have fewer opportunities for social engagement than younger age groups.
They suffer Elder Abuse; sadly, some elders are victims of abuse committed by their own relatives. Elder abuse complicates their health and increases their death rate.
Elderly women suffer double of these challenges due to sexism and patriarchy that enforces deep-rooted prejudices, dehumanizing cultural stereotypes and social norms that condone awful acts of violence against women from girlhood to old age.
How do you think the challenges can be addressed by all stakeholders?
We all need to join hands to change the ill PRACTICES of elder abuse and neglect; to do that in a sustainable way we need to get policymakers at all levels to enact POLICIES that will outlaw elder abuse and protect elders.
Ultimately provide AMENITIES and PROGRAMMES that will make life bearable and meaningful for the elderly in our country.
For example in Nigeria, we urgently need a national Social Protection Policy specifically for the elderly and we need a government Ministry, Department, or Agency specifically dedicated to the elderly in Nigeria; both at the state and national levels.
What is your advice for children?
We all know we’ll be old one day, even if it currently feels very far away. My sincere advice is that children should not allow elder abuse and neglect to continue.
We all can, and we all must, put an end to elder abuse and neglect in our families, communities, and nation.
Today, it is our grandmothers and grandfathers, mothers and fathers who are suffering, tomorrow, it will be ‘us’.