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Omokaro: Why ageing issues should be made a national policy

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The Dave Omokaro Foundation, (DOF), a policy development body, in collaboration with the International Institute on Ageing, United Nations-Malta, (INIA), just concluded a five-day intensive training programme on ageing policy formulation and planning in Abuja, with the objective of exposing participants to emerging issues in demographic transitions and population ageing. MOHAMMED ABUBAKAR, Abuja Deputy Bureau Chief engaged the Executive Director of the Foundation on the issues.

What is the ageing policy advocacy all about?
It is about observation of the status of the well being of persons that are 60 years and above in Nigeria. Secondly, it is about my experience with families that are burdened with care of their elderly ones, especially those who have dementia, those who have need for long-term care, but don’t really have access and the resources to finance such. Then also, it’s about my educational inclination. My doctoral thesis was on adult/children care of older parents. It interrogated the quality of traditional care and also how silent the policy of government’s development agenda has been on older persons issues.

There is a perspective that families should care, as well as an assumption that family is actually caring. My thesis was to investigate the quality of that care taken for granted; to ascertain whether there is actually reciprocity. Because, if parents took care of their children/wards, sent them to school and invested in their lives, it is expected that a responsible child should reciprocate by taking care of them, especially in their old age.

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However, through my findings, I discovered that though children really want to care, but there is a big gap between wanting to and actually being able to. This is based on such factors as their income and priorities, the family size, payment of school fees and the lifestyle among others. All these converge to compromise informal support system, which include urbanisation, migration of children to the urban areas, living arrangements, and the very fact that even most of these children are really not engaged in any productive labour to bring reasonable income. So, all these things combined make poverty something that stares older people in the face.

Concerning pension, less than four percent of older persons are enjoying it, because of the informal nature of the Nigerian economy. There are artisans, farmers, full time housewives and such people, who, when they can no longer work, due to old age and maybe poor health, have nothing to depend on.

My findings showed that old people’s primary source of income is familial transfers. Most of them depend on their children to send funds, which the children do, when they can. But it is not really a priority, which creates a gap. And this was what fuelled my passion. Having gathered the facts and data through my research, together with experiences from conferences, information and collated ideas, I decided that this was a mission I should pursue, as Nigerians need to know that the time has come. The increasing number of elderly persons also made me realised that it is a development issue.

You said ageing issue should be part of school curriculum in Nigeria…

The reason is that professionals are needed to undertake the issue. Ageing is multi-disciplinary, and the study of the ageing process takes information from so many disciplines, including the economy, which has to do with income and security. There is also geriatrics health, the socio-psychological aspect, as well as community development, supportive and enabling environment, which involves elder Law and even town planning, which has to do with making a city age-friendly. All these come together to give clear understanding of the ageing process.

So, how to go about developing a policy on ageing? There must be trained people, who have an understanding of the socio-economic and health implications of population ageing. How to get medical specialists, who understand geriatrics care? There have to be trained professionals and para-professionals in ageing and so on.

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What happens to elderly couples that are childless, how does the society come in?
When advocating that ageing be made a development issue and for there to be a policy framework for the ageing, we are considering that there are many elderly people in diverse situations. Not every elderly or ageing person has family. In such cases in Africa, it is expected that the kinsmen, extended families or communities would care. But it should not be left to chance, which is why there is need to develop framework. We have to begin with advocacy, with the sensitisation that the support system has been compromised.

For instance, if you go to the local government areas and rural communities, the people who should care are all in the urban areas. And even those in the cities, who really want to care, there has really been no sustainable system in place to enable them really care the way they should. Old people are prone to some chronic basic illnesses. How do you manage an older person in that situation, when, for instance, in the rural areas, they may not even have a primary health centre. The advocacy is not about taking responsibilities from families. Rather, it is to strengthen families to be able to care. How to do that is what brings about the issue of national framework on ageing.

Aside this, there is also the issue of sensitising our youths on the need to be health-conscious, so that by the time they are in their 60s, they hadn’t compromised their functional abilities already. It is a lifestyle thing. Ageing is a gradual process, so it is something you can project and plan for. People need to ask themselves such questions as: what are the risks involved in my being poor at old age? What am I doing today that will ensure that when I retire, I will have enough income to live on, even if other people reject me? By properly addressing these and more, a framework on ageing will begin to emerge.

So, firstly, such development must take a lifetime approach, because it is the same child that will grow to be 60 years later. Secondly, the development must assume human rights approach, because it is everybody’s right to be able to access health. It is everybody’s right to have an instrument or some products that will enable old age health insurance. But where a society just keeps quiet, as if the age band is stagnated, there is a problem. How do we ensure that employees are encouraged to save? If there is no thinking in that direction, you’ll see a situation, where when working youths eventually reach age 60, the little money they had made had been compromised, because they have to give it as health insurance to cover their parents.

How are you getting the authorities to buy into your idea?
That brings me to the Dave Omokaro Foundation, where we are interested in building capacity in ageing and issues of older persons. We have four initiatives that are interlinked. Firstly, there is the advocacy, where, over the years, we have formed strategic partnerships with statutory institutions and agencies that have statutory mandates on human development. For instance, in 2011, we signed into a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with the National Universities Commission, (NUC) to develop formal studies in gerontology and geriatrics.

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Based on that MoU, for the past four to five years, the Dave Omokaro Foundation’s Executive Director got a placement as a visiting scholar in NUC, and during that period, we have worked closely with NUC to develop curriculum in gerontology and geriatrics, funded by the NUC. This is because it is the Nigerian university system’s training faculty that is developing models of old age community centres and training the trainers’ syllabus and 11 universities were selected as pilots.

While all these were going on, the net was extended through conferences, workshops and seminars that were held over the past years. We brought in the lead relevant ministries, such as, the Women Affairs, Labour and the Health National Primary Health Development Agency. All these ministries and agencies were into the sensitization campaign. They were on the advocacy over the years and I want to say that going further, the Foundation has also signed a collaborative agreement with the International Institute on Ageing, United Nations, Malta, (INIA) for multi level trainings in Nigeria, which means, rather than one Nigerian going to that place yearly, as is the custom, we have agreed to have the training in Nigeria. This means that the faculty comes to Nigeria and together with our own local faculty; we can train a class of 30 to 45 people.

We just concluded one involving 26 people and they were all directorate cadre personnel, chosen from all relevant ministries, agencies and parastatals and for the first time, we had five days of intensified training in ageing policy formulations. We have been working very closely with WHO to encourage the Federal Ministry of Women Affairs and Social Development to pull out and dust draft policies they had in 2003, which were anchored by the Federal Ministry of Health and another draft policy designed in 2008.


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