On May 31, President Muhammadu Buhari, approved the take-off of the National Senior Citizens Centre with the appointment of a 12-member Governing Board. Specifically, Buhari appointed AVM Muhammadu Alhaji Muhammad (rtd) as the Chairman of the Board with Mansur Kuliya, Dr Chris Osa Isokpunwu, Umar Abdullahi Utono and Dr John Olushola Magbadelo as member. Others are, Mrs Bulus Friya, Sani Ibrahim Mustapha, Professor Usman Ahmed, Arc Mrs Victoria Onu, Dr Dorothy Nwodo and Professor Mohammed Mustapha Namadi while Dr Emem Omokaro serves as the Director General.
The establishment of the Centre was in line with section 16 of the 1999 constitution as amended which 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”.
The bill establishing the National Senior Citizens Centre was passed into law as the National Senior Citizens Centre Act, 2017 to cater for the needs of senior citizens, those aged 70 and above. The Senior Citizens Centre, according to law establishing it, is supposed to identify the needs of senior citizens and take responsibility for creating recreational, sports, health, educational, counseling and social programmes for their benefit.
Other functions of the Centre include: to initiate, develop and implement productive activities and work schemes for senior citizens in order to provide income or otherwise supplement their earnings. It is also to promote and maintain linkages with sub-national governments for the delivery of health care services, facilities, professional advice services and training. Additionally, the Centre is to keep statistics of senior citizens necessary for agencies involved in the provision of welfare and recreational activities for Nigerians in that category.
Upon constituting the Centre’s Board, Nigerians, especially the senior citizens, expected to see it swing into action immediately in view of the pressing needs to cater for the elderly, most of whom are in dire need of support and care.
Statistics, however, indicate that through changing demographics 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.
Currently, according to available record, about 10 million of Nigeria’s current population are senior citizens. There is a projection that the increase in the number of older people will be rapid in the developing countries like Nigeria as Africa is projected to face the largest proportionate growth.
Even with this available information and as the number of older people keeps increasing, there are concerns about the type of attention this class of persons receive in most societies especially in Sub- Saharan Africa.
Obviously conscious of the need to bring the issues of the aged to the front burner while appreciating their contributions, the United Nations General Assembly, in 1990, designated October 1 as International Day of Older Persons.
We, as a newspaper, observe that problems facing older persons in Nigeria are numerous including the difficulty in getting their pension and other entitlements after years of service, for those who are fortunate enough to have worked in either civil service or some organised private organisations.
In fact, providing enhanced attention to the particular needs and addressing challenges faced by many older people is not an option but a necessity. The reason is simple, all of us, baring early death, will one day find ourselves in that bracket. It may be convenient to wish that away somehow, but it is inevitable eventually.
It is a common fact the situation of the elderly in Nigeria is pathetic as most of them lack access to good healthcare and suffer financial deprivation. A visit to the few old people’s homes that are available, obviously run and maintained by nongovernmental organisations (NGOs), will challenge the humanity in those who pretend that old age is far removed.
While we admit that ageing, old age and the vicissitudes that come with them are all realities of life, there is an overarching need for the government whose responsibilities include catering for the welfare of its citizens, to accord deserved attention to this special category of individuals.
We therefore urge the government to set all necessary machinery in motion to ensure a timely take-off of the Senior Citizens’ Centre in FCT and all the 36 states of the federation. There is clearly no reason whatsoever, for not according topmost priority to the welfare of the aged. It is sad that four years after the Act came alive; the elderly are still having the short end of the stick. And this is most unfair.