Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Where are Nigeria’s old people? By Elor Nkereuwem

Published:

There is nothing quite as heart-warming as seeing a wizened, bent over old man taking a slow stroll arm-in-arm with a female version of himself. I’ve often wondered what it is about the sight that moves my otherwise toughened demeanour. It came to me recently. I am not used to seeing such sights.

Back home I don’t see old men and women making their way through the streets, trudging along laboriously with their walking aids. They are not in the shops side-by-side with me, pushing along shopping carts; they don’t slowly make their way into the public buses; they don’t have special front row seats reserved for them in those buses. In Nigeria, most of the old people are either dead or safely tucked away in their homes in the village.

You see, in Nigeria, the average person dies at age 54 at best. Depending on the statistics you have access to, the average life span of a Nigerian is between 47 and 54. 2011 data from the United Nations Development Project (UNDP) says it is 51.9; the World Health Organisation (WHO) says it is 54; the World Bank says it is 52. Other ratings using different social indicators abound. Taken together, the result is disheartening.

Now if you want to dispute this by recounting how many aunts, uncles, fathers, or mothers of yours that died at a ripe old age of 80 or 100, please be informed that your relatives are a minority. These organisations did not gang up to peddle lies about Nigeria. They are the same ones that have told us how Nigeria’s Gross Domestic Product is growing by leaps and bounds, or not. And if we accept what they say about our economics, I dare say we ought to accept what they say about other social and human indicators.

In contrast to this shameful data, according to a 2012 report from the UK’s Office of National Statistics, the life expectancy of a male in England is 79 and for a woman, 83.

“The population of England and Wales is living longer than before,” the report, The Average Life Span 2012, stated.

No way am I going to compare the UK with Nigeria. Yet, one must wonder whether we should not raise an alarm over some things that can be made right but are not. The way I see it, it is not so much the fact that thieving leaders and civil servants have stolen our country blind, taking selfishly for the now and damning the consequences for tomorrow, it is the fact that I cannot think of any deliberate effort by the government and its burgeoning agencies, ministries and parastatals to ease entry into retirement and old age. Aside the pension funds scheme and all the controversies surrounding this policy, has anyone ever heard of social endeavours to cater for the older people in our country? Have you ever seen road signs asking motorists to watch out for the oldies making their ways across the road? Can an old person without aid make his or her way around on any of Nigeria’s public transportation systems, from those awful township death traps excused for mini buses in Abuja, to Fashola’s famous BRTs?

Or even more importantly, have you ever seen facilities that provide specialised care for the aged? I have seen two in my lifetime. One in Calabar─run by the Catholic Church; another in Abuja─run by another Christian organisation. Perhaps there are more but I would wager that they would most likely be private projects. If so, it is worrisome that there does not appear to be any overt effort by the concerned agencies or ministries to put forward policies that can give back to older citizens who have done their bit in contributing to Nigeria’s economy.

If a citizen is no longer productive, it should not mean that they no longer have the rights to enjoy what little of their lives they have left. Surely every person would desire to be able to move about and run little errands for themselves whether they are 20 or 70.

As it stands, it is safe to say that old people with mobility difficulties in Nigeria must stay put at home and if they must move about, they must do so with the aid of one person or the other. Simply put, the government knows that you are going to die before you are 65 and so will not make any efforts that would require such extensive considerations. If you do defy the government’s expectations, then you must find personal care from your rich children and wards. If your children have not quite succeeded in ‘making it,’ I guess your only option is to retire to the village where life is much slower and the conditions more suitable for people your age.

 

Elor Nkereuwem, a Premium Times staff, is currently in the University of St Andrews, Scotland, for a graduate degree.

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