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Giving succour to the elderly

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…The Many Ways Government, Organisations, Others Can Help The Aged To Still Enjoy Life
Recently, the First Lady of Ekiti State, Mrs Bisi Fayemi, earned public commendations for an act of kindness she bestowed on an elderly woman in the state. The woman, Madam Racheal Jolaade Osho, a widow, said to be 110 years old, was abandoned by her relatives and friends who labelled her a witch after losing her three children over 30 years ago. She had neither good shelter nor ate good food not to talk of receiving adequate medical care. In deed, life was harsh and brutish for her. But Mrs Fayemi brought her sucour.

According to reports, the first lady renovated the woman’s building, furnished it, provided her with clothes, food and employed two people to take care of her. All who came across the report gave her thumbs up for making a hitherto dejected fellow to smile effusively.

An exclusive interview Madam Osho granted to one of the national dailies captures the impact of the first lady’s intervention. Her words: “My happiest moment in life is now. I’m happy with my condition now. Since my children died, I had not put on good clothes (until now). I have never been as happy as this since I was born. For the wife of the governor to visit me is remarkable. And not only did she visit me, but she also sat here and I put my head on her laps. She embraced me, hugged me, and put her arm around my neck. I was amazed. I thank her. I thank God for the rare privilege. This is my happiest moment ever. See, I now wear good clothes and people now count me worthy and come to visit me.”

There are thousands of the likes of Madam Osho across the length and breadth of this country who have been abandoned by people that they once loved and catered for simply because they are now old. Instead of reciprocating their love, people manufacture all kinds of stories against them to justify their action.

There are others who found themselves in such situations as a result of the vicissitudes of life. They have neither children nor relatives to look after them and so despite their frail frame occasioned by old age, they just have to fend for themselves.

But there are also others who are the architects of their own conditions. They denied their children love and proper upbringing and are simply reaping what they sowed. Many of them openly wish to die so as to be free from their sufferings; but death would not just come.

Elderly people in these categories no doubt need the assistance of the society. They need some kind of social protection that will ensure their minimal comfort while they still live. How can they get that? What kind of succour can come from the government, corporate bodies and individuals?

This report provides answers to these posers:

No Policy Towards Welfare Of Elderly People In Rivers
From Ann Godwin, Port Harcourt
In Rivers State, several things that require government’s attention like infrastructure and other amenities are being neglected but the elderly people in the state feel they are the most neglected.

Findings by The Guardian revealed that many old people in the state live in abject poverty, as their families have abandoned them, while some retired senior citizens do not receive their pensions regularly, thereby making life unbearable for them.

And there are no visible policies geared towards the welfare and health of such people. Some of the aging population who lost their children to death have resorted to petty trading while engage in begging to eke out a living. Meanwhile, others whose children could not afford to take good care of them were taken to the ‘Home of the Elderly’ run by the Catholic church in the state. Findings showed that the home was making serious efforts towards salvaging the challenges of the elderly in the state though not without hitches.

The home had challenges of dilapidated buildings until November 2017 when David Ibiyeomie-led Salvation Ministries built a two-storey structure equipped with modern facilities. The clergy, who handed over the building to the Catholic church was commended for demonstrating love to humanity.

A visit to the home showed improvement in the lives of the elderly people there. But it was observed that the home lacked adequate funds to carter for their medicals and engage more caregivers.

Apart from the home, there is no other centre or welfare package specially designed for the elderly population in Rivers State.

About 17 years ago, the administration of former governor Peter Odili initiated a Free Medical Services  (FMS) programme for elderly people and for children 0-6 years old. However, findings showed that low percentage of people benefited from the programme because the preconditions for registering and benefiting from the scheme made it difficult for the aged persons to access it.

However, concerned by the pitiable conditions of the elderly, some human rights activists in the state have called on the state government to initiate policies for the welfare of the aged. One of them, Constance Menu, in an interview with The Guardian said: “There is no welfare for Nigerian elders; no special care for them. They are the most neglected and with the economy of the country getting harsher, their conditions get worse. To eat or access medical care is difficult.”

Meju advised government to embark on data collection of the elderly in the state to enable it plan and set up packages for their welfare.

She added: “For instance, health facility can be taken closer to them considering that some of them are not able to trek far distances due to illnesses like arthritis. Government should enlighten them on their eating habits and make the environment habitable for them.”

Similarly, Mr. Sebastian Kpalap, Coordinator, Citizens Voice Initiative, said there was need for concrete policies on welfare of senior citizens.

He stated that even if there was an existing one, it should be reviewed with the present day realities. “Pensioners should be paid regularly and timely to enable them take care of themselves. Also, there is need for a welfare package for others who were not public servants.”

Kpalap said the policies should be backed by legislation to ensure they are well implemented.

Ekiti To Re-Launch Social Security Scheme For Elderly In October
From Ayodele Afolabi, Ado Ekiti
Ekiti State, like all other states in the country, has a number of old people who are in dire need of support. But unlike what obtains in many other states, poor elderly ones in Ekiti have not been left to their fate since 2011, when the state government instituted a social security scheme to help as many of them as possible.

The government, under Governor Kayode Fayemi’s first term instituted a social security scheme that ensured the payment of a monthly stipend to the vulnerable elderly in the state. By 2014, the scheme had accommodated 25,000 old people who had no other source of welfare.  In fact, the administration was about to set up an old peoples’ home to cater for the well being of those who are faced with extreme challenges at old age before its exit in 2014.

Under the immediate past administration of former governor Ayodele Fayose from 2014 to 2018, the social security initiative continued but it was not structured like what obtained during the Fayemi era. Most of the beneficiaries were card-carrying members of a particular political party. The original list of the beneficiaries under Fayemi’s first tenure was jettisoned and the political party in power had to nominate the beneficiaries.

Pa Ogundipe Olatunji, a resident of Odo Ado in the state capital, was born in 1948.  He trained as a tailor in his younger years and practiced his trade at Ilorin before returning to his hometown eight years ago. Since his return, his companions have been hunger, regret and pains.

“Since I returned home, I have not been doing anything because of old age. I have been living at the mercy of the people.  I don’t have many children,” the 71-year-old said.

Olatunji, however, urged the government of Ekiti State to re-introduce the social security scheme. He recalled that the N5,000 stipend he received from the state government between 2011 and 2014 enhanced his life a great deal.

Lady Theresa Igwa-il (left) with some of the elderly in her old peoples home in Makurdi, Benue State

Another elderly person in the state, Oluwadusi Ademola from Ikole Ekiti in Ikole local council, expressed regret that the elderly were made to live in misery, hunger and untold hardship, especially in the last stage of their earthly sojourn. Ademola, 68, said that though the last administration gave out stipends as social security for the elderly, those who benefitted were the well-connected ones. He lamented that the scheme did not get to the people who really needed it.

Seventy-two-year-old Madam Rotowa Ogundipe, who was a petty trader before old age set in, lamented that her three children could not even fend for themselves not to talk of taking care of her. She pleaded with government not to leave old people to suffer.

“I know that there is no money like before, but I want to beg our governor to remember the elderly people who voted for him. We voted for him because of how he took care of us before and we were full of expectation when he became governor. He must not dash our hopes and allow us to die of hunger,” she pleaded.

Responding to enquiries regarding the care of the elderly in the state on behalf of the state government, the Commissioner for Information, Muyiwa Olumilua, said government would re-launch the scheme in October this year, noting that it was part of the campaign promises prior to the 2018 governorship election.

“The Social Security Scheme made popular by Dr. Kayode Fayemi, which was initiated in his first term, known as ‘Owo Arugbo’ will be reintroduced during his second tenure. It was one of his campaign promises when seeking for the support of the citizens of Ekiti and he intends to fulfill each and every single one of them. Therefore, the scheme will be re-launched in October 2019.”

‘Old People Are Treated With Disdain In Benue’
From Joseph Wantu, Makurdi
In Benue State, many elderly people have remained in sordid condition. They are neglected and for some unfortunate ones, their immediate families and communities view them as witches and wizards. So, rather than celebrate them for enjoying God’s blessing of longevity, they are viewed by society as a curse and burden that could not be carried by their people. This negative perception makes many of the people in the state to be scared of getting old.

But as part of efforts to correct this wrong impression, in 2006, Lady Theresa Igwa-il, an accountant, established a privately owned old people’s home.  Located at the famous Judges Quarters in Makurdi, the Benue State capital, and surrounded by many power brokers in the state, a visit to the home indicated that it has seven inmates and 35 out-clients in its care but lacked the inflow of gifts from the neighbours.

Speaking with The Guardian, the Executive Director of the home, Igwa-il, said God inspired her to start the home so as to give succour to the elderly in the state.

“I employed 10 persons to run the home and all are being paid from the meagre income from my poultry farm. I have three nurses, one accountant, one programme officer, a driver and others. It was when Governor Samuel Ortom assumed office that he visited the home and donated a Hilux van to the home.

“All the staff are paid from the small resources derived from my poultry farm. We need grants but they are not quite coming. The governor pledged to be giving us N500,000 monthly but we are still waiting.”

She, therefore, appealed to the government and good spirited individuals and organisations to assist the home by way of giving the people under its care social security benefits in order to prolong their lives. She noted that old people are like libraries to the younger generations where knowledge could be tapped, stressing that they needed to be well catered for.

“We need intervention from government to care for the aged here in the state in the area of health care and monthly stipends as well as general up-keep,” she said.

Some of the inmates at the home who spoke with The Guardian lauded the founder for coming to their aid, noting that they would have died long ago if not for the care they were receiving at the home.

They lamented that some of them, who had no children, were brought in by their relatives and then abandoned. They also called on the government and other concerned individuals to assist them, saying some of them were interested in going into petty trading within the area but start-up capital has remained their obstacle.

Investigations revealed that though the state Ministry of Women Affairs and Social Development issued the operational license to the home, no other tangible intervention comes from the ministry towards the wellbeing of the elderly.

Some elderly people in Makurdi most of whom are senior citizen of the state, told The Guardian that they lived at the mercy of friends and neighbours. They, therefore, called on the state government to fast-tract the payment of the arrears of their pension allowances.

‘Old Peoples Home Doesn’t Gel With Igbo Culture’
From Charles Ogugbuaja, Owerri
In Imo State, there is no place designated as old people’s home. This is not to say that there are no old men and women who need or require the assistance or care from either the government or individuals.

But findings showed that the culture of the people forbids the elderly from vacating his/her ancestral home and family to sojourn in an old people’s home. Nevertheless, there is need for such structures in the state despite cultural beliefs against it, stakeholders said.

Some social workers and Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) in the state have therefore called for a special home for old men and women who do not have helpers.

An elderly man in Owerri, who identified himself as Papa Ekezie, said there was serious need for the state government and relevant agencies to scout for such people and provide succour for them.

His words: “This is an issue begging for attention in this part of the country. There are some men and women who are in need of this kind of care and support. I strongly want that to happen.

“Though some people have argued that it is not in the culture of Igbo people to do that, nobody is praying to belong to such category or group.”

For the Programme Director of Development Dynamics (DD), a non-governmental organisation, Dr. Jude Ohanele, it is the responsibility of the government to care for vulnerable old people.

“This is important. It is proper for the government to have a programme to take care of those who cannot help themselves. This is because some people in society have found themselves in such situations to be catered for due to no helpers.

“Care givers and social workers should also be engaged properly to undertake such responsibility. Non-governmental bodies and groups should pay attention to such in this state.”

The Special Adviser to Imo State Governor on Technical and Vocational Education and Training, Mr. Oliver Enwerenem, in his comments, concurred that old people in the state should be catered for, but noted that the administration of Governor Emeka Ihedioha was young and requires the patience of the people.

He said the administration had started articulating people-oriented programmes and policies that would address the needs of the people.

Enwerenem said existing laudable programmes put in place by past administrations would be sustained, calling for the partnership of individuals and groups that mean well for the state.

‘Platform That Takes Care Of Indigent Elderly Is Desirable’
From Tina Todo, Calabar
Most indigent elderly people in Cross River fend for themselves through hawking, petty trading in order to have food on their tables. Some of them have been tagged witches or wizards and subsequently neglected by their families. As such, a lot of them live in solitude and almost die unnoticed.

When The Guardian visited Pope John Paul II Home for the Needy, Elderly and Physically Challenged in Calabar owned by the Catholic church, an elderly man in his 70s was playing draught alone. When he raised his head and saw me, he said, “come and play with me.” I smiled at him and responded that I didn’t know how to play. He laughed and continued with the game. Such is the lonely life many old people in Cross River are subjected to.

He later introduced himself as Pa Johnson, saying afterwards, “my daughter, I don’t have slipper. Look at the one I’m wearing; it has worn-out. Please will you get me a new one?” That was all he said as all efforts to get him to talk about himself proved abortive.

When The Guardian visited 83-year-old Mrs. Lucy Asuquo in her apartment in Calabar, she decried how elderly people in the society have been neglected.

Asuquo, who is a pensioner, said she has only one son who has been providing for her feeding and medical care since her pension money had become very irregular.

“I am a pensioner. My pension started in 1983 and since then we used to have governors, we didn’t complain. But this particular one we are complaining seriously; he is not caring for elderly people in the state. I have only one son; all his money is used in buying drugs and food for me. I should have been helping with my pension but the pension is not regular so everything is on him alone,” she said.

She, however, called on the state government to create what she described as a platform that would cater for the aged in the state.

“I cannot work in the farm again. Some elderly people that are still strong are trying to get their feeding from the farm; apart from that, there is no other way! As I am sitting here, I am not feeling fine; all my bones are weak. I cannot work in the farm. Government should do something about the aged in the society; they should help us. There should be a platform that takes care of us. There are some aged people in our society that do not have anybody to take care of them. When the government shows concern for them, we won’t have some of them wandering about or dying with little care or none,” she added.

Investigations showed that the state government has no welfare package for elderly ones in the state. The state Ministry of Sustainable Development and Social Welfare that is supposed to be in charge of the welfare of the aged said lack of funds disallowed the agency to deliver on its mandate.

Director of Social Welfare, Miss Uquak Elizabeth, stated in an interview that the state government through the ministry had a welfare programme for the elderly which held every October, noting that since 2015, the ministry had not been able to host the programme due to lack of funds.

Uquak, who spoke on behalf of the Permanent Secretary, Mr. Takon Asu, said in addition to the suspended annual event, the ministry also planned “to build relaxation centres for them across the three senatorial districts. All these will be done as soon as funds are released to the ministry.”

She commended religious organisations that have homes for the elderly in the state, saying: “I must commend the Catholic and Presbyterian churches for caring for the aged in our society; those churches own most of the homes we have in the state. Bateba Street in Calabar South is owned and managed by the Catholic church. They also have the Leprosy Home in Obubra local council of the state. We call on other organisations, religious bodies and individuals to borrow from what the churches are doing for the needy, orphans and the elderly ones in our society. Government cannot do it alone.”

‘We Task Ourselves To Care For Our Old People’
From Isa Abdulsalami Ahovi, Jos
In Plateau State, there is neither a government ministry saddled with the responsibility of catering for old people nor an old people’s home. Sources close to the state government said that since the state was founded, it has never contemplated the idea of having any programme towards enhancing the welfare of elderly people.

The source added that it has been so because the people of the state do not want their aged ones to be a liability on outsiders, saying that they would rather internalise the whole responsibility without having to advertise poverty outside.

“We don’t advertise our poverty outside. Rather, what we do is to keep our old people, men and women, inside and task ourselves, the offspring, how to take care of the aged in the families. What they will eat in the morning, afternoon and evening will be our responsibility, including the water they will bathe with everyday.

“We don’t shirk our responsibility. We try as much as possible to ensure that our old people do not go out there in the streets to beg. You know, it is a shame for a family to be associated with begging. Unlike in some communities, begging does not thrive in Plateau State. It is even an abomination and a source of shame for any family to flaunt begging in the state.”

However, a community leader in the state, Chief Danjuma Jonathan, said it was left for individuals in the state who feel touched by the plights of elderly ones to contribute to their welfare. He mentioned people like the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) governorship candidate in the state in the 2019 election, Gen. Jeremiah Timbut Useni, who is known for his philanthropy in this area.

Another philanthropist, according to a source who does not want to be named is Ambassador Chris Giwa who was once the General Manager of Plateau Football Association. He described him as a giver who does not want to know where the beneficiaries of his kind gestures come from.

However, a public commentator in Plateau State, Daniel Peters, said for the concept of old people’s home to work in Nigeria, it must be legislated upon.

Peters noted that old age was inevitable if somebody is blessed with long life, hence the need to properly care for old people.

A woman in her 90s who is living alone in a one-room apartment in Jos, Mama Bayo, narrated her story to The Guardian: “I had seven children but they all died. They did not die the same time. Even the last one who was the eldest died at the age of 70. He thought I would die before him. So, there was no proper arrangement as to take care of me later.

“The other six lived recklessly. They were into drugs, cultism and gangsterism. It is not good to wish your children dead as a mother. But I wished they left and God answered my prayers and they died for disgracing the entire family. Somebody who God sent to me gave me where I am presently living. He takes care of my feeding without any grudge.”

We Want Befitting Living, Not Befitting Burial, Says AKECA
From Ayoyinka Jegede, Uyo
Akwa Ibom Elderly Citizens Assembly (AKECA) has called on both the federal and state governments to put up a policy, which will take care of the elderly’s health care, accommodation, feeding and transportation, among others, as being done in the western world.
National President of AKECA, Obong Ememobong Essien, made this known in an interview with The Guardian in Uyo, Akwa Ibom State capital.

Essien, 77, an American trained psychologist and doyen of Public Relations said the culture of giving old people befitting living before befitting burial should be embraced by all and sundry.

He said that without elderly citizens, the society would remain in perpetual calamity, stressing that citizens should endeavour to avoid being callous to the welfare of the aged as nobody wants to die young.

Ememobong noted that caring for the aged attracts God’s blessing and is reciprocal.
According to him, an aged person who is no longer physically capable of caring for himself/herself must have help, saying that how the help should be provided has become one of the major problems facing the Nigerian society.

On AKECA, whose motto is ‘Old People God’s Blessings’, Ememobong said the principal aim of the group was the provision of welfare services  to old people and to work assiduously for the general interest of all categories of people towards behavioural modification.

He said over 250 aged people attend the meeting of the group every first Saturday of the month including 125-year-old Chief Okon Akpaetuk, who comes from Ibiono local council area. He said the forum has retired permanent secretaries and civil servants as members, adding that the group has been seeking for government’s assistance for the elderly to enable them live comfortably until their death.

He stated that though the state government has a listening ear for the elderly, much was needed to alleviate the impoverished lives of some less privileged aged ones in the state. He said the forum had requested for the establishment of an old peoples home in the state as obtainable in civilised countries and believes the government would grant the request.

The State Commissioner for Agriculture and Women Affairs, Dr. Glory Edet, on his part, said the government has been assisting the elderly in the state in various ways.

She said: “Akwa Ibom State government does not joke with the elderly. Sometimes the governor meets with them because in this state we believe that instead of organising a massive burial for somebody when he/she dies, it is better to use the money to take care of the person while he/she is alive. We buy food and non-food items for them to also assist them.”


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