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Nigeria: Caring for the Aged . . . Task Before Nigeria

 

By Senator Iroegbu, This Day

 
Nigeria

June 4, 2007


We live in an ageing world. While this has been recognised in developed countries, it is only recently that the phenomenon has been fully acknowledged in Nigeria which is reflected in the NEEDS document. Nigeria has also come to the recognition that ageing is a global phenomenon affecting every man, woman, and child and that the steady increase of older groups in national population, both in absolute numbers and in relation to the working-age population has a direct bearing on the inter-generational and intra-generational equity and solidarity that are the foundation of society.

The increasing presence of older persons in the world is making people of all ages more aware that we live in a diverse and multigenerational society. It is no longer possible to ignore ageing, regardless of whether one views it positively or negatively. It is this noble cause that the International Federation of Ageing Nigerian (IFAN) is pursuing to mainstream ageing within the context of current global development initiatives.

Findings by the United Nations Programme on Aging have revealed that the world is getting older and in the next fifty years the number of the older people will nearly quadruple, growing from about 600 million to almost two billion people. Today, one in every ten people is 60 years and older. By 2050, one out of every five people will be an older person. And by 2150, one third of the people in the world are expected to be 60 years of age or older.

Developing countries will face the most difficult resource challenge, as they will be forced to deal with development and population of ageing at the same time. But as people live longer, healthier and more active lives, an ageing population also offers opportunities that must be harnessed.

In Africa and especially in Nigeria, old age is seen as a blessing. Old folks are revered and placed in the highest ladder of family strata. The level of importance attached to old age is such that communities without old people are frowned.

The challenge, however, is that in societies today, it is common to see ageing as a burden. This is because communities have not taken the necessary steps to tap from the blessings that come with growing old.

Meanwhile, the UN has taken the lead to address the challenges associated with this momentous demographic shift when, in April 2002, the General Assembly convened the Second World Assembly on Ageing in Madrid, Spain.
But 20 years later, as the world faces the profound ageing of its population, the second World Assembly on Ageing was held to help governments and societies plan policies that will ensure that older persons can continue to contribute to society in a meaningful way.

In addition, it reviewed the Vienna Assembly, and adopted a revised plan of action that will consider the social, cultural, economic and demographic realities of the new century.

The revised plan of action was intended to be a practical tool to assist policy makers in developing responses to the demographic changes taking place in their societies. The strategy stressed the need to ensure that ageing has a basic place in all policy agendas, both domestic and international, and in other major documents for social, economic and human rights development.

More important to be noted is that ageing is a lifelong process because individuals begin their ageing process at the moment of birth, and go through the life course accumulating a range of experiences that may positively or negatively affect their capabilities and well-being in later years, the UN said.

Age-adjusted policies and programmes that encourage workplace flexibility, lifelong learning and healthy lifestyles, especially during transitional periods, for example, youth to midlife, midlife to later years, can influence choices with accumulative effects. A clear priority target for old age policies are the younger generations, who may have to reinvent themselves again and again in fast-changing societies. They will need to cultivate healthy lifestyles, flexibility and foresight, continually upgrade work skills and maintain social networks.

Environments for growth, learning and moving toward creative fulfillment should be within the reach of all. What is being learnt today about the extraordinary range of abilities and interests of older persons can help in the task of creating such environments and remove obstacles for new generations.

Furthermore, ageing occupies connecting chambers within the development landscape, interacting with global patterns in labour and capital markets, governmental pensions, services, and traditional support systems, all which are further shaped by technological change and cultural transformations.

The course of population ageing is now worldwide and flows freely into social and economic support systems, which are directly influenced by the changing age structure. Support systems come in numerous forms that range from the formal to the informal. Some are based on local community membership and solidarity, some are cooperative ventures, and some private, company-based schemes and some are provided by the state and through welfare programmes.

The sustainability of these systems to manage risk or cushion support in both the developed and developing world is undergoing tremendous change. The ageing of populations is affecting the older-person support ratio (the number of persons aged 15-64 years per older persons aged 65 years or older), which is falling in both more and less developed regions like Nigeria, having important implications for social and economic structures.

In Nigeria today, there is general lack of plan and policies designed for our older population. Ordinarily, policies are designed with a youthful society in mind. From this point onward, policies for older persons, younger persons and those in between, must be designed with an ageing society in mind, society where soon, every third individual will be over the age of 60.

Hence, at the national and local communities, adjustments must be made to design in infrastructures, policies, plans and resources. Again, policy interventions that include social and human as well as economic investments, can prevent unnecessary dependencies from arising whether in late life for individuals or downstream in ageing societies. When judicious investments are made in advance, experts suggest that ageing can be changed from a drain on resources to build-up of humane social, economic and environmental capital.

This requires investing in the phases of life, fostering enabling societies, and creating flexible but vibrant collaborations in the process, through which the future building of a society for all ages can take hold in the present.

Recognition of the uniqueness that unfolds throughout one's life is core to igniting society's embrace of the contributions of its older citizens. The "package" of knowledge, wisdom and experience that so often comes with age is part of an inner awareness that cannot be traded, sold or stolen.

It should, however, be activated, amplified and utilised in all the crossroads, fields and storefronts of society, and in the windows of our creative imaginations, the UN said.


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