By Dimeji Daniels
“Longevity is a public health achievement, not a social or economic liability. On this International Day of Older Persons, let us pledge to ensure the well-being of older persons and to enlist their meaningful participation in society so we can all benefit from their knowledge and ability” – UN Secretary-General, Ban-Ki Moon on the 2012 International Day of Older Persons observed annually on October 1.
Kindness is not a constitutional requirement for leadership or positions of government, but just as nature, the Law of Nigeria recognises kindness as an integral part of human existence and survival. Above all other features, it is what separates humans from animals. This is why despite not stating that kindness is germane to becoming an elected leader, the Nigerian 1999 Constitution as amended has such provisions as stated in Section 17 sub-section 2 (b, c):
(b) the sanctity of the human person shall be recognised and human dignity shall be maintained and enhanced;
(c) government actions shall be humane;
Unfortunately, the debasement of governance has in so many ways eroded human dignity that Nigerians now find it difficult to wholeheartedly trust any leader with a kind heart. If they do not say he is being kind to secure re-election, they’d pin it on some ploy of his to siphon state funds by instituting human-centric programmes. One cannot blame our people as years of inept and myopic leadership have affected their psyche so much so that they forget that a kind leader is only spending their resources (commonwealth) to give them the dignity of humanity which, of course, is their God-given right.
This consciousness is what is being restored in my home state, Ekiti. I was recently driven to tears while watching the beneficiaries of the state social welfare scheme for the aged recount their ordeals and how the scheme had made their lives better. I was moved to tears because I know that in Africa we push unnecessary responsibilities to these old people rather than bear their burdens. Many of them rise very early to go into the bush to gather firewood which they could sell to feed themselves and their grandchildren living with them. Looking at them sometimes totter under the weight of the firewood would melt the hardest of hearts. And there are some, who in spite of their frailty, would still take up manual jobs at construction sites. So, listening to them bear testimonies to how the N5, 000 monthly stipend given them by the Fayemi administration had brought them succour drove me to tears.
Speaking on behalf of her father who was too fragile to talk, a daughter of one of the beneficiaries in Ikere-Ekiti, Ronke Omotayo, said she was unemployed and that the stipend paid to her father, Pa Michael Omotayo, by the Fayemi administration had been a life-saver. The money, according to her, took care of his drugs and feeding.
Mrs. Juliana Dada of Igbemo-Ekiti had a different tale: “Fayemi l’omo mi keji. Ko omo mi bati me o komi, ma muroogun. Eo ki Fayemi bati mu komi ni momu ijeun. Oun ni jemi ti ku.” Translated, it means: “Fayemi is my other child. The money given to me monthly by my child is what I use to buy my drugs. The one given to me by Fayemi is for my feeding. That’s why I am still alive.”
Another beneficiary in Igbemo-Ekiti drew the most tears from my eyes. Mama Wura Adeniyi spoke in Ekiti dialect: “ Ojojumo ni mo sadura I ko. Udi re a se pepe. Oso a ri, aje a ri.” Translated, it means: “I pray for him daily. He will not lose his seat. Witches and wizards will not be able to harm him.” “Upepe” in Ekiti means a paved surface where people can sit and relax. However, Mama Wura Adeniyi was not talking about the literal pavement; she was being metaphorical. Maybe if I paint the picture, it’d help to understand mama’s meaning. Imagine a man who wants to sit and somehow misses the chair and ends up landing on his buttocks on the floor. It can be very painful. Metaphorically, Mrs. Adeniyi meant that the governor would not lose his position and place in life.
Pa Afolabi Adeniyi on his own part said if possible Fayemi should become the leader of Nigeria. In Ijan-Ekiti, Madam Elizabeth Olowolafe said her husband was also a beneficiary and that she had been using her own stipend to buy drugs as she had been sick before the commencement of the scheme. To her, the programme was timely.
Mrs. Esther Ayodele of Ikere-Ekiti also caught my attention as she knelt down and touched the ground with her head, praying that the governor will receive God’s help and mercy at all times.
There is the belief in some quarters that elderly people are worthless in today’s increasingly industrialised and fast-paced world and there are politicians, especially from the opposition in Ekiti, who have said giving the aged monthly stipend would amount to nothing during election for they assume that the present administration in the state embarked on the programme to curry the votes of elderly people. They argue that most of the elderly persons will be too weak to make it to polling units on election day. Their position is in tandem with my earlier observation that governance has been debased to a level where every good act must either be to curry votes or to siphon state funds. To most politicians, if it is neither of these two, it is a no-go area.
After reading the Ekiti State Senior Citizens’ Welfare Law 2012 and the United Nations’ position on the issues affecting the elderly, I could glimpse into the mind of those who conceptualised the Ekiti social welfare scheme for the aged. The United Nations states that it is assumed by many that there are high birth rates corresponding with high death rates, but the prevailing trend is that there are low birth rates and low death rates.
The United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs states that “one out of every ten people on the planet is now 60 years of age or older. If the current trend of lowering birth rates and lowering death rates continues, by the year 2050 one out of five people will be aged 60 years or older and by 2150, one out of every three people will be aged 60 years or older.
Additionally, the oldest old are the most rapidly expanding segment of the elderly population. Currently, the oldest old make up 11 percent of the 60+ age group and will grow to 19 percent by 2050.” What this means is that the elderly population is not as minute as many erroneously think and it seriously behoves any responsible government to plan for this sector of the human population. According to the United Nations statistics, the world population of older persons will total 2 billion by 2050. This, I know, is why the Fayemi administration has instituted the social welfare scheme for the elderly.
In the statement of UN Secretary-General Ban-ki Moon on the celebration of the International Day of Older Persons on October 1, 2010, he revealed that “in sub-saharan Africa, 20 percent of rural women aged 60 and older are the sole supporters of their grandchildren. These caregivers, who take on added and often unexpected responsibilities, typically with little or none of the necessary resources, desperately need social services, especially social pensions, so that they and their families have a chance for life beyond mere survival.”
Ban-ki Moon stated further that the key interventions to addressing the needs of older persons are “granting universal access to social services; increasing the number and worth of pension plans; and creating laws and policies that prevent age and gender discrimination in the workplace. With five years left before the 2015 Millennium Development Goals deadline, it is time for Governments everywhere to institute financial, legal and social protections that will lift millions of older persons out of poverty and ensure their rights to dignified, productive and healthy lives.” This is what the Fayemi administration has done through the Ekiti State Senior Citizens Welfare Law, its free health missions and the monthly stipend to the elderly, in line with acceptable and responsible global trends, far ahead of any government in Nigeria, including the Federal Government, and in sub-saharan Africa.
The Fayemi administration is aware that not all the older persons can make it to the polling booth on election day. In fact, it is aware that not all of them can make it to the points of payment of the monthly stipend. That is why section 5 subsection 4 of the Ekiti State Senior Citizens Welfare Law states that: “Where a person is by reason of illiteracy, age or disability unable to understand, appreciate or exercise any of the rights, duties or obligation under Law, the Commissioner shall provide the assistance to the person for the purpose of benefiting under this Law. Such person may for this purpose appoint a third party whose name and other details shall be noted on the Register.” This was what happened in the case of Pa Michael Omotayo of Ikere-Ekiti whose daughter Ronke Omotayo was appointed to help him collect the stipend every month.
To ensure that no qualified person is left out, the Law also states in section 11 that “The Commissioner shall for the purpose of this Law (at least once a year) conduct periodic enumeration exercise to review the Register of Beneficiaries prescribed under section 4 of this Law.” This provision is to remove the names of those who have died and to include the names of those who just qualified.
In line with the observation of the United Nations, Section 2 sub-sections 2 (c) (d) (e) of the Law states that: “the objectives of this Law are to:…
(c) Provide for a system of welfare assistance including free health care and payment of welfare grants to beneficiaries under this Law and thereby achieving a minimum standard of living for the relevant elderly people;
(d) be an effective tool to reduce old age poverty, destitution and vulnerability and invest in human capital development;
(e) prevent social exclusion, rights abuse and discrimination of elderly persons.”
The world is globalized, though most Nigerian leaders are oblivious of this fact, thinking that universal statistics do not apply to their locale. Ekiti is, however, lucky to have a governor with a global perspective, who is wise and visionary enough to prepare for the future, even though he knows he would not be around forever. The opposition in Ekiti, however, reasons differently as everything for it always boils down to votes and elections.
Daniels writes from Ado, Ekiti State.