During my recent trip to Nigeria, I saw the persistence of the signs of a society that was ailing badly. It is no big surprise when the recession and depression that the people have lived with for several decades was then officially pronounced on the country. I always fear for the old people in the Nigerian population. You can tell that there are many things in Nigeria that gives one deep thoughts.
One day during my stay, I saw an old woman sitting in front of her apartment. She sat and gazed. It was easy to see through her. She pondered, I am sure, about the life she had lived in the past and just how incapable she had become. When I went to high school in the 80s, this woman was one of the most active women I knew. At one time she had a stall where she sold prepared food to several families in the neighbourhood. At another time she walked around carrying the food on her head. Things change too quickly in Nigeria!
Today, this woman is one of the several millions of old people scattered across Nigeria living from hand to mouth. Invariably the Nigerian society still largely believes that the burden of maintaining the old people should rest on the children, the grandchildren, or someone within the realm of the extended family. However, there are a few exceptions. For example, if you grew old as one of several Nigerian criminal politicians or their spouses, you have already stolen enough money to take care of your funeral and even unborn generations. Another example that is genuine is, if you and your family are doing well in a legitimate business, you will probably have a secured old age (if you plan for it).
Those who don’t do well at old ages in Nigeria are the norm. They include several pensioners who laboured at government offices and in the end had their pension looted by some greedy man or woman at the pension’s department. The Nigerians who age with disgrace include the category of the old woman who now sits and gazes and seems unaware of her immediate surroudings. She is probably hoping that one of her children will call on the phone or come home to settle some bills and take care of the next few days.
The category of Nigerians aging with disgrace is massive. Widows or widowers who suddenly lost their spouses could age with disgrace. It’s relative and dependent on several factors, some of which are beyond their control. A wealthy man can die suddenly without a will, and his widow from that moment could go on aging with disgrace. Sometimes, even in the presence of a will, the Nigerian widows still suffer because the extended family have no regards for the woman and chose not to respect the will.
There is absolutely nothing wrong when children or members of the extended family take care of their aged-ones. It is part of the African culture. But not all old people have children. Likewise, not all extended family are functional. Hence it becomes imperative that the government has a standard policy that caters for the old people in the population irrespective of their family situations.
How can Nigeria handle the plights of the category of her citizens aging with disgrace? One method is through education. Every Nigerian needs to be educated about pensions and savings. I was happy when I saw a book written by one of my former students, Mr. Babatunde Raimi. The book, “Planning Your Retirement,” contains step-by-step measures that people can take in order to secure their life financially after retirement.
This will be a tough challenge, because many Nigerians do not believe in saving money or taking insurance policies. It is not unusual that people are skeptical about savings because life expectancy is short, unemployment is high, and job insecurity is rampant. The financial institutions have been unreliable. Some banks have declared bankruptcy and people have lost their earnings and savings.The short life expectancy is a summation of the low standard of living and the general poor conditions of health/medical delivery system.
There are several old people, some illiterate, who run their own businesses and then fold up as old age sets in. They need help on how to plan their future irrespective of whether their small businesses will continue or not. Before they get old and become less restricted in their physical movement, they need help to plan their retirement. We can also think of the people who are illiterate but run successful small businesses during their productive years. If they cannot read, how can they be reached? How can we help them to plan their retirement?
The population of Nigerians aging with disgrace could be reduced drastically if the Nigerian government could stop the pension thieves once and for all. Pensioners don’t get a lot of money anywhere in the world, but in Nigeria it is worse because the value of the Naira is shameful. Added to the high cost of living, a pension that is promptly paid and regular, albeit little, still avails much in a place like Nigeria.
It is all too common to read about how pensioners have been robbed by federal ministers or some highly placed civil servant. There cannot be a rational basis why pensioners are unpaid and starved whilst their monies are tucked away in a private account of one criminal supposedly serving the government of Nigeria at the state or federal levels.
Nigerian pensioners live with shame and disgrace at their old ages mostly because the government continues to fail them as senior citizens. Those who steal or cart away pension funds need to sleep in prison for several years. They don’t deserve plea bargains.
In Nigeria, let us not forget that the problems we face are numerous and gigantic. I don’t think there is anyone who has all the list of problems documented. My arguments and essays are plain. When everybody starts to do the right thing, everything will fall in place for the good of all. But this message is hard to get across. Our diversity has become a pain, rather than a blessing.
Finally, it seems clearer now that the political system of government in Nigeria is part of the hindrances to growth and development. Therefore the calls for restructuring, true federalism, regional government, and even regional autonomy need to be addressed squarely and the best option adopted so that peace can return to this geographical region presently called Nigeria.
When there is peace, planning becomes easier and progress is certain.
[Photo credit to Adeola Aderounmu]
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