By Damola Emmanuel
A strident call has rung out to the Federal Government, particularly the Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs and Disaster Management, to speedily commence the process of implementing the provisions of the National Senior Citizens Centre Act.
The National Senior Citizens Centre Act, which came into effect in 2018, was established to cater for the welfare of the elderly, a demography of persons from age 60 and above.
Making the call at the monthly wellness lecture series (webinar) of the Ilesa Grammar School Class of ’74 Association, was a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, S.A.N, and the association’s legal adviser, Chief Mrs. Victoria Funmilayo Awomolo.
During the webinar, titled: The Law, The Rights And Hidden Benefits of The Elderly, Chief Mrs. Awomolo did a critical appraisal of the living conditions of Nigeria’s over 10 million senior citizens and lamented that four years after the Act came alive, the elderly are still having the short end of the stick.
She regretted that the Act, though designed to address issues that would make life in the twilight of age relatively comfortable and enjoyable for the seniors, the law is still in the cooler; inactive. No thanks to the gross insensitivity of those assigned by law to redress the appalling situation of the elderly in the country.
“The situation of the elderly in Nigeria is pathetic,” Awomolo lamented. “The conditions of most old people in Nigeria, people who used the best part of their lives to serve their fatherland, are appalling. Most of them are lonely. They suffer in silence. They suffer financial deprivation. They suffer a lot from unattended medical conditions. Most of them are not well fed, not well clothed, not well accommodated. They don’t have access to good healthcare.
“They suffer neglect and maltreatment. They suffer verbal and emotional abuse; even sexual abuse. All of these often lead to depression and, ultimately, death. Most of them, especially those living in our towns and cities, suffer so much they desperately want to go to their ancestral homes and wait for the end of life. Nobody seems to care. Some even suffer in the homes of their own children! This is regrettable. And this should not be the case.”
Awomolo, Regional Vice President of the International Federation of Women Lawyers, FIDA, for West and North Africa, then summed up everything and said she was not surprised that Nigeria earned the ignoble appellation of the 12th worst country in the world to be old.
The silk, however, assured participants at the webinar, comprising majorly members of Ilesa Grammar School Class of ’74 and their friends, that the situation was not beyond redemption.
She urged the Minister of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management and Social Development, Hajiya Sadiya Umar Farouq, to pick up the plough where she left it after inaugurating the board of the National Senior Citizens Centre, and appointing its Director General, and fully implement the provisions of the Act establishing it.
Doing so, she reasoned, holds enormous benefits not only for the elderly and retired, but also the youths. This is because establishing the centre across the country would create over 720,000 jobs.
Recall that the bill for the creation of the National Senior Citizens Centre was passed by the Senate in July 2017 two solid years after it was first introduced at the House of Representatives. But it did not get to President Muhammadu Buhari for his assent until December of the same year. Finally, the President signed it into law on January 26, 2018.
The National Senior Citizens Centre Act prescribes the functions of the centre to include, in the main: identifying the needs, trainings, and opportunities for senior citizens in the country and be responsible for the provision of recreational, sports, educational, health and social programmes and facilities designed for the full enjoyment and benefit of senior citizens in Nigeria, as well as provide guidance and counselling for them.
Its other functions include: to initiate, develop and implement productive activities and work schemes for senior citizens in order to provide income or otherwise supplement their earnings; promote and maintain linkages with states and local governments and other instrumentalities of government for the delivery of health care services, facilities, professional advice services and training; keep records and statistics of senior citizens necessary for agencies involved in the provision of welfare and recreational activities for senior citizens; and, perform such other functions which are necessary to achieve the purpose for which the centres are established.
Currently, about 10 million of Nigeria’s current estimated population of 212.8 million are senior citizens. Awomolo, the guest lecturer, submitted that the sufferings of this staggering population of the elderly would be drastically reduced if the country could formulate and implement a social welfare programme for them.
“Nigeria must work and implement a social security package for the elderly,” Awomolo, a former Chemistry teacher who later became the first female Senior Advocate produced by the University of Ibadan, declared. “If small countries African like Botswana, Kenya, Mauritius, etc, can do it, why not Nigeria, the so-called giant of Africa? If small Togo can have enabling laws that take care of its elderly, why not Nigeria?
“We must have a good data base for the elderly. The National Senior Citizens Centre should be built in the Federal Capital Territory, FTC, and all the states of the Federation, as provided for by the Act.”
The speaker also emphasised the need for individuals to plan for their old age and retirement while in active employment or doing their own business. They must not get carried away by the pecks of office but make sincere and honest efforts to provide for the rainy day. They should also prepare a will, itemising all their properties and allocating them to whoever they wish to inherit. This, she maintained, was essential in order to prevent squabbles among the family members after their demise.
In his contribution, the President of Ilesa Grammar School Class of ’74, Mr. Shola Oshunkeye, urged the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, as well as the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission, ICPC, to get tougher on rogue public officials who steal pension funds and bring the full wrath of the law on them.
“The Federal Government must stop treating pension thieves with kiddies’ gloves,” Oshunkeye said. “Whoever manipulates or deeps his hands into pension coffers must be given the maximum penalty prescribed by the law. The hottest part of prison should be reserved for these of the incalculable damage their irresponsible acts bring to retirees. Courts trying pension thieves should not allow frivolous technicalities to obstruct speedy dispensation of justice to the criminals.”
Elder Funso Dada, a Chartered Accountant and immediate past President of Ilesa Grammar School Class of ’74, opined that the elderly need not fold their hands and wait for death. They should engage in activities that could help them stay afloat financially and maintain good mental health. For instance, he said, they could invest in acuity and other profitable insurance activities, buy shares of good companies, invest in real estate, be active in church, and keep constant touch with their old friends.
Prof. Abel Idowu Olayinka, a Professor of Geology and 12th Vice Chancellor, University of Ibadan, agreed with the guest speaker on all points.
He recalled that the Federal Government commenced the current contributory pension scheme in 2004. And with this both the employee and the employer contribute to the pension entitlement of each staff. The pension entitlement of each staff, before the commencement of the 2004 Pension Reform Act, used to be converted into bonds. However, there are currently two major problems associated with implementation of the Pension Scheme.
First, the staff are kept in the dark as to how much is due to them from the date of employment till 2004. It remains a sort of black box in which one is not sure of the content.
Second, when employees retire eventually, gratuities are not paid while the monthly pension entitlements remain unpaid for upwards of two years after the staff had exited paid employment.
“A situation in which the income of an individual drops to zero on account of retirement is not the best way to treat senior citizens who have spent decades in government employment,” Olayinka said. “The National Pension Commission and the Pension Fund Administrators should remove all the bureaucratic bottlenecks standing in the way of retirees.”
Elder Ropo Fasoyiro, a London-based businessman and strong member of Ilesa Grammar School Class of ’74, thanked Chief Mrs. Awomolo, SAN, for her erudition and passion in bringing the plight of the elderly into focus, and advising on ways to make life meaningful for them even in the twilight of age. He urged people and communities to be kind to old people as “old age is not a disease.” Rather than turn away from the aged, they should show love and compassion, remembering that someday, old age would knock their doors too. Fasoyiro urged “people to always focus on what is important in life and contribute their best to humanity while they still have the ability to do so.”
Dr. Paul Olomolaiye, another member of Ilesa Grammar School Class of ’74, is a Professor of Construction Engineering and Management. He is also the current Pro Vice-Chancellor for Equalities and Civic Engagement at University of West England, Bristol. He, like other speakers, lauded Awomolo, saying her delivery could not have come at a more auspicious time.
Olomolaiye emphasized the need for people from 40 and above to be positive about writing their wills and never see it as anything negative. He charged his colleagues who hadn’t had written their wills to call their lawyers immediately and put their final testament on paper. “There is nothing ominous about doing this,” he said. “Neither does it signify imminent death. In any case, death is a reality that will come when it wants to come.”
Contributing, Prof. Samuel Ola, Consultant Gastroenterologist/Hepatologist and Physician at the University of Ibadan, advised senior citizens to take care of their health, observe healthy living, exercise frequently, imbibe good dietary habits, and make their doctors their best friends. Ageing, old age and the vicissitudes that come with them are all realities of life, he stressed.
Rev. Mrs. Adenike St. John, an educationist and wife of the Presiding Elder of His Dwelling Place Church, Asero, Abeokuta, thanked the guest speaker for the lecture, emphasizing that the theme would benefit not only men but women also.
On the imperative of a person’s final testament or will, Rev. Mrs. St. John posited: “There is no evil in writing wills because it ensures order at the demise of the owner,” she posited. “I believe God approves of it because God loves good order.” She challenged Nigerians to show more love and care for the elderly. “People should not suffer any indignity on account of old age because getting old is not a crime.”
At the end of the lecture, the association announced its readiness to partner with relevant government agencies, the Coalition Of Societies for the Rights of Older Persons in Nigeria (COSROPIN), a coalition of all associations, civil society organizations, non-governmental organizations, faith-based organizations, and retired senior citizens groups, to work for the welfare of the aged.