Statistics indicate that across the world, almost 700 million people are now over the age of 60, and by 2050, it is projected that two billion people, representing over 20 per cent of the world’s population, will be 60 or older. It is even projected that the increase in the number of older people will be the most rapid in the developing countries like Nigeria, as Africa is expected to face the largest growth rate. This is attributable to an improvement in human development services that ultimately lead to enhanced longevity. But even as the number of older people keeps increasing, there are concerns over the type of attention this class of persons receive in most societies, especially in Sub Saharan Africa. In parts of this area the aged are regarded as a burden and hardly get the type of attention they truly deserve. Undoubtedly however, providing enhanced attention to the peculiar needs and addressing challenges faced by many older people is not an option but a necessity.
Perhaps it was as a way of appreciating this fact and as a mark of bringing the issue of the aged to the front burner, while appreciating their past contributions, that the United Nations General Assembly, in 1990, designated October 1 as International Day of Older Persons. In Nigeria, because the date coincides with our national day, it is rarely observed. But beyond marking the day as a sign of respect for the aged, what are the policies in place to support the senior citizens? It is sad that policies supporting people in later life such as pensions, educational and employment opportunities, free healthcare and subsidised transport do not exist. Without any equivocation, promoting active ageing is fundamental to ensuring that not only years are added to life, but also that life is added to years. This newspaper recalls that early this year, the current administration came close to starting an initiative that could help boost quality of life for the senior citizens when the president signed the Senior Citizens Centre Bill into law.
The law, which provides for the building of senior citizens centre in the Federal Capital Territory and in states that are interested, is seen as a respite for the nation’s nearly 9.6 million senior citizens. The functions of the centre include identifying the needs of senior citizens and taking responsibility for creating recreational, sports, health, educational, counseling and social programmes for their benefit. It is estimated that the centres have the capacity to generate about 720,000 jobs when established across all the states of the federation. This therefore suggests that they will benefit not only the senior citizens. But since the president assented to the bill, nothing has been heard from the federal government about this promising legislation or plans regarding its implementation. It is interesting to note that section 16 of the 1999 constitution as amended provides that the state shall direct its policy towards ensuring “old age care and pensions, and unemployment, sick benefits and welfare of the disabled are provided for all citizens”.We observe that problems facing older persons in Nigeria are numerous, principal among which is the difficulty in getting their entitlements after years of service, for those who are fortunate enough to have worked in either civil service or some organised private organisations.
Sadly, this difficulty, which is often at a time they are no longer able to fend adequately for themselves, has contributed in no small measure to increasing the number of deaths among the aged.
Equally worrisome is the fact that as a nation, Nigeria has a pension scheme that covers an insignificant percentage of the entire labour force.
It is estimated that only about 7.9 million workers are captured in the pension scheme. This figure is a far cry from the Pension Commission’s understandably ambitious vision of having no fewer than 20 million contributors by the end of this year. Worst still, there are worries that even the Contributory Pension Scheme, which was introduced in 2004 by the President Olusegun Obasanjo administration to increase efficiency in the national pension regime, has not really lived up to expectations, as the Pension Commission (PenCom), Pension Fund Administrators (PFAs) and the government often violate certain provisions of the act. Report of most states defaulting in remitting their equity contributions to the scheme is rife! Lamentably at retirement, getting pension and other entitlements necessary to helping older persons live relatively fulfilled lives is a herculean task. Unfortunately, this has contributed to exacerbating the incidence of graft and other sharp practices being witnessed in the nation’s civil service, as most workers are tempted to dip their hands into the public treasury, cut corners and do all sort of things to save for the proverbial rainy day owing to fear of the uncertain future that awaits them upon retirement.
Although we are in no way trying to justify the culture of graft, which appears to be the defining feature of our civil service, we submit that the failure to plan effectively for older citizens is a contributory factor. It is crystal clear that something is fundamentally wrong with how we take care of our senior citizens and there is no better time than now to take an urgent look at plans for this very important class of persons. We therefore urge the government at all levels to set all necessary machinery in motion to ensure timely implementation of the Senior Citizens’ Centre Bill and ultimately accord topmost priority to the welfare of the aged.
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