Usman Kazaure, an octogenarian, is fondly called “Old Soja” because of his career in the military during his younger days.
He had fought in Burma on the side of the Allied Forces during World War II, as well as on the federal side during the Nigerian civil war.
Usman feels nostalgic about those youthful days when he served his fatherland but he is particularly pained that at his old age, the society he served dutifully has failed him.
Like many other retirees, Usman, today depends on his meagre pension, which always came late and with much stress and hardships.
“For months at times, we do not get paid. We queue up at our old age for long hours before we collect our pension arrears whenever it pleased government to release them,” he moans.
These days, Usman busies himself telling folk stories and other tales of his exploits as a soldier to kids who care to listen to him. This keeps him busy and happy, as it affords him the platform to enrich youngsters with words of wisdom, which often come with age and experience.
Usman currently receives support from members of his family and relatives to enable him to keep body and soul together.
No doubt, the elderly in Nigeria constitutes a significant proportion of the nation’s population.
By a UN report after the 1st World Assembly on Ageing in Vienna, Austria, in 1982, nearly two-thirds of old persons live in developing countries. In spite of this, older persons are still largely excluded from the wider global, regional and national development agenda.
The report indicated that an estimated 737 million persons would be aged 60 years and above in 2009, while two-thirds of the figure would be from developing countries.
By official projections, the number is expected to increase to two billion in 2050, about 38 years from now. By that time, the older persons will undoubtedly out-number the children or the younger population.
Nigeria, on its part, is presently undergoing a demographic transition, with an increasing population of old people. The 2006 population census showed that there were 3.8 million males and 3 million females, aged between 60 years and above.
With a growth rate of 3.2 per cent in Nigeria, it is estimated that the figures will multiply in 2050.
No doubt, the rise in the population of older persons poses major challenges to the UN and the developing countries in particular. Central to these challenges is the near-absence of social security service for the elderly in developing societies.
For many societies as ours, ageing is perceived by some as a burden, especially as the societies fail to tap from the blessings that come with old age in form of wise counsels in the resolution of crises.
As part of measures to address challenges associated with the momentous demographic shift, the UN General Assembly convened the second World Assembly on Ageing in Madrid, Spain in 2002.
It sought to help governments and societies plan policies that would ensure that older persons could continue to contribute to society in meaningful ways.
In addition, it reviewed the 1st Vienna Assembly which held in 1982, while revising a plan of action that will consider the social, cultural, economic and demographic realities of the new century.
The strategy stressed the need to ensure that ageing had a basic place in all policy agendas — both domestic and international — as well as in other major documents for social, economic and human rights development.
Experts point out that ageing is a life-long process because individuals begin their ageing process at the moment of birth, through life’s course, accumulating a range of experiences that may positively or negatively affect their capabilities and wellbeing in later years.
According to Mr Ban ki-Moon, UN Secretary-General, “we must be vigilant in ensuring that the provision of social protection, long-term care and access to public health for the elderly is not undermined”.
Dr Saqik Umar, a political scientist, observes that in Nigeria today, there is general lack of plans and policies designed for the older population.
“Ordinarily, policies are designed with a youthful society in mind.”
Umar advises that from now on, policies for older persons, younger persons and those in-between must be designed with an ageing society in mind – a society where soon, every third individual would be over 60 years.
Blessing Ujeboh, heads the Geriatric Care Foundation, a non-governmental organisation that caters for the interests of the aged.
He identifies challenges faced by older people as mostly health issues, while boredom, which arises from loneliness is also there.
“There are health problems as high blood pressure; boredom with nobody to talk to and nobody to take care of their health.”
He stresses the need for a forum where government would be able to interact with older persons and assure them that they are not neglected.
A consultant geriatrician, Dr Adetoyeye Oyeyemi, also posits that care of the elderly is one of the things that make society a good entity.
Oyeyemi expatiates that research had shown that the care for the elderly is not adequate in Nigeria. He urges the government to look into the problems of the aged in the society very critically. Only recently, the Geriatric Care Foundation hosted a forum in Abuja to sensitise the government and the peoples on the care for the aged. Its theme was: “The Care for Senior Citizens’’,
At the forum, Oyeyemi explained that senior citizens were vital members of the society, who should be taken care of.
“Senior citizens are valued because they are the ones that lead nations and communities today.’’
He said that ageing and diseases were two different things, adding, however, that it was not true that as one grew old, he or she would have to be sick.
“We age because ageing is timed in our genes and because of the stress that our bodies go through. We are what we eat and so, elderly people should eat more of fruits and vegetables because these foods can make us live longer and prevent constipation.
“In this part of the world, we have preference for solid foods like pounded yam; but that should be eaten in low quantity with a lot of soup.”
The geriatrician encouraged the elderly to eat nuts and seeds that were without salt, like cashew nuts and peanuts.
Oyetemi also advised old people to strive to impart their life experiences and skills on the younger generations, while socialising more with the young ones, so as to laugh and smile, since the two emotional gestures are natural healing therapies. On her part, Ujeboh called on the government to look more into the issues confronting the senior citizens.
Dr Otaki Alanana, a lecturer with the University of Abuja, called on the Federal Government to subsidise the health bill of the elderly, so as to reduce the burden on their families.
He observed that nearly 80 percent of the elderly resided in the countryside, while 20 per cent lived in the urban centres. He added that the condition of elderly persons in rural areas had been worsened by modernisation and urbanisation.
Alanana explained that these twin-processes had enhanced mass migration of the younger population to urban centres in search of better living conditions, thereby making the elderly to suffer neglect from the younger population, who should have provided support for them.
Alanana said that much needed to be done in Nigeria to effectively implement national policies within the framework of the UN Resolution on care of older persons, which respects and values the right and choice of older persons.
He added that the absence of social advocacy for the elderly in Nigeria had not only compounded their problems but also affected their contributions to societal growth and development.
“Much needs to be done by government and other corporate organisations to include sustainability plans in the policy for the elderly.
“These are people that have put in their best for the progress and development of the country when their potential was at their peak.’’
Alanana explained that the aged were embodiment of wisdom, storehouse of knowledge, ideas and above all, custodians of family and traditional values, adding that they enforced discipline, promote unity and social solidarity.
He noted that they had capacity to disseminate wisdom and skills to the younger generation, whose development potential were at their peak.
Alanana said that providing and caring for the elderly would surely secure the future, as ignoring the elderly would put the future at risk. According to him, older persons should be given a strategic place by consulting them whenever the need arises.
He said that in developed countries, whenever there were issues on the economy, defence or politics, the elderly were often consulted and their advices had often helped to solve such problems.
He also called for an urgent review of the nation’s pension system, to eliminate the sufferings of the senior citizens and thus enable them to receive their pensions and gratuities with no stress whatsoever.
“Those who have disengaged from public service cannot get their pensions as at when due; some have died on queues, waiting for their pension and gratuity because there are no adequate measures to address the problems of senior citizens,” he lamented.
On his part, a senior citizen and former Nigeria’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations, Alhaji Yusuf Maitama Sule, said that the “new breed” must co-exist with the “old breed”.
“The ‘new breed’ without the ‘old breed’ will bring greed; the best organisation in the world is a combination of the old and the young.
Idris writes for the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN).
“You need the maturity, wisdom and the experience of the old, as well as the dynamism, radicalism and youthful exuberance of the young. The blending of the two makes a perfect organization,’’ he said.
Against this backdrop, many analysts insist that at national and local levels, adjustments must be made to design infrastructures, policies, plans and resources to cater for all age categories. (NAN Features).