Gerontologists describe ageing as a process of growing older and accumulation of changes in human beings’ physical, psychological and changes in attitudes to social activities.
They observe the population of such people in Nigeria, who are more than 60 years of age, is growing faster.
In their view, policies on caring for the elderly in Nigeria have not been impressive, expressing concern that by 2055, there may be more than 70 million old persons, presenting a challenge of taking care of them.
According to them, in spite of urbanisation, caring of the elderly remains vital part of the African tradition and values.
Most retired senior citizens across the country have, therefore, raised concern about what they describe as negligence by relevant authorities on addressing the issues affecting the aged.
For instance, a retired soldier in Abuja, Mr Idris Abubakar, 70, said that his pension and other incentives accrued to him had not been paid as and when due.
He expressed displeasure at the approach by which the aged were being treated, insisting that there were no social security and old age grants, among others, in the nation’s policy.
He observed that some of the aged people had no social security, coverage on health issues, transport and other incentives, suggesting that if such incentives were provided, they would reduce the challenges of the elderly, especially the rural areas.
Abubakar called on the Federal Government to include the senior citizens in the scheme of social welfare and include such in the nation’s constitution to address the situation.
Similarly, the Executive Director, Dave Omokaro Foundation, Dr Emem Omokaro, called on the Federal Government and civil society groups to develop a special social security template for vulnerable citizens and include the aged in the Sustainable Development Goals.
She said such policy would be used to reduce the over dependency of the aged on family members.
According to her, identifying ageing as a development challenge in terms of health and poverty eradication would help in caring for the aged.
She also said engaging stakeholders that were interested in welfare of the aged would make it easier to evolve a policy action that would address the dignity and health of the aged.
“We want to see legislation and policy action for the health of older persons in the society.
“The perception of older persons should not be stereotyped and seen as welfare objects or that they have nothing to contribute.
“They should be seen as people that can contribute to the enhancement of the society,’’ she said.
Omokaro noted that the inclusion of older persons in the nation’s policy, as well as seeing them as an investment in terms of giving back to the society, would extend their life expectancy.
According to her, engaging the older persons in economic projects, agriculture and other business ventures, is also fundamental to their longevity.
She said revamping family business rested on the ability of the government to capture the aged people in the various empowerment programmes in the country.
“Over the years, the older citizens have accumulated experience; if they are included in micro-economy projects and with the skills acquired, they will be able to mentor the youth as well as supervise their projects.
“It is also necessary to herald a national campaign against ageism for everyone to significantly contribute to influencing support and a consensus for ageing policy,’’ she suggested.
Omokaro advocated systematic framework on ageing as well as having a social insurance security for senior citizens.
To address the challenges of the elderly, the President, Coalition of Societies for the Right of Older Persons, Sen. Eze Ajoku, said the coalition would want the rights of older persons to be included in the constitution such as right to social amenities and insurance.
“We also want their right to wellbeing in terms of health, accommodation, transportation and empowerment covered in the constitution.
“If these are considered and included in the constitution, it would alleviate the challenges faced by older persons in the country,’’ he said.
But Speaker of the House of Representatives, Yakubu Dogara, said the National Assembly had consolidated four private members’ bills to address the welfare of older persons.
At a forum to mark International Day of Older Persons in Abuja, Dogara said the bills included Bill for an Act to Establish the National Council on ageing which would provide social welfare services for the elderly as well as advance their cause.
“Another bill is for an Act to Establish Welfare Trust Fund Management Commission for the effective management of the welfare of the unemployed and people with disability.
“A bill for an Act to Provide for the Registration and Control of Orphanages and Other Institutions of Boarding and Other Related Matters is also being looked into,’’ he said.
Dogara stated that the house was poised to formulate legislations that would address the welfare of older persons in the country.
In the same vein, the Minister of Health, Prof. Isaac Adewole, said Nigeria would look at the issue of caring for the elderly in the context of the country’s social system.
“We have a strong social system where the family looks at the aged, but these are bound to collapse as our population expands.’’
“We need to have a policy framework as well as a strategic development plan to drive the concept to fruition,’’ the minister said.
Adewole said the Federal Government was committed to advancing the course of the elderly, observing that they were susceptible to non-communicable diseases such as hypertension and diabetes, among others.
He promised that the Ministry of Health would also invest in capacity building for health professionals and strengthening of department of disease control and prevention to have a healthy ageing population.
Offor writes for News Agency of Nigeria.