The plight of senior citizens

In a country where one senior citizen dies in every 20 minutes as a result of many factors among which are poverty and lack of care, the policy of “Owo Arugbo” introduced sometime ago by the administration of Governor Kayode Fayemi of Ekiti state is highly commendable. A simple calculation shows that three aged people die every hour, 72 on daily basis and 26, 280 yearly.

The decision of the Ekiti state Government to revive the policy of paying monthly stipends of N20, 000 monthly to aged people above 65 is, indeed, humane. The policy was first put in place by Governor Fayemi in his first term between 2010 and 2014, was terminated by his successor, Ayodele Fayose. So far, over 13, 000 beneficiaries have been captured for the programme.

The plight of the nation’s senior citizens is further compounded by societal neglect. Government at all levels is not helping matters with regards to the shoddy treatment meted out to the senior citizens that have paid their dues.  Many of them on retirement are known to die of avoidable ailments, frustration and starvation because of delay or irregular payment of their monthly stipends.

Besides corruption which has permeated the public service, one other factor that fuels the invidious crime is the propensity of those in service to cut corners and amass huge wealth that would secure their future and that of their families.

As we have stated in our previous editorials on caring for the elderly, there is the need for Nigerians to have a rethink about being their elders’ keepers. Caring for aged relations has been an immanent African culture.

Unfortunately, the times have changed. Young people are no longer available to look after their old ones. Most advanced countries of the world at the point of their development were caught by this dilemma. Consequently, they had to come up with the idea of setting up the facilities, well equipped and manned by specially trained personnel.

The tragedy today is that we are losing the African custom because we have been caught in a clash of two worlds. One key factor that brought about the establishment of homes for the elderly in western countries has crept into Africa: personal commitments which make people (especially those aged 30 – 50) unavailable to cater for the elderly relations most of who reside in villages.

Young people are constantly migrating from the rural to urban areas in search of the proverbial Golden Fleece, thus leaving their aged parents and relations to fend for themselves in their old age. Besides, not many city dwellers are making it owing to joblessness, while the well-to-do ones are too busy to care for their elderly parents in the hinterlands who toiled in their active years to make life meaningful for them later in life.

Old age comes with its own peculiar challenges and traits which geriatricians refer to as second childhood. The circumstances that necessitate the advanced countries to set up old people’s homes could be traced to the longer life span of their citizens, which throws up a huge population of the elderly. Nigeria also has its own fair share of the aged persons despite our low life expectancy.

All tiers of government will do well to begin to consider putting in place a deliberate policy that will guarantee a better future for the elderly. This can be in form of setting up special departments in hospitals to handle cases that are age-related free of charge. Are there no paediatric departments that handle children’s cases in our various hospitals? This will be a prelude to the establishment of old people’s homes. The argument that such institution is a negation of our family value system is no longer tenable. Such institutions will be in a better position to properly take care of them. Gradually, they will begin to accept the homes as their home away from home. Our aged citizens deserve to live their lives to the fullest and devoid of the stress associated with longevity.

We commend the gesture of Governor Fayemi to other states. It is worthy of note that the Lagos state Government also has a similar scheme in place to assist the elderly.

Government at all levels should are enjoined to give priority to payment of pensions and other entitlements to retirees so that they can live comfortable life.

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