A country, any country, starved of the elderly, and the irreplaceable presence and wisdom they bring is sitting on a keg of gunpowder. Nigeria’s risks this terrifying possibility.
Nigeria’s population remains somewhat depressingly on an upward trajectory. Having hit 217 million people in November 2022, Nigeria expects to approach 250 million people by 2050.
Nigeria’s surging population growth amidst soaring poverty risks leaving entire generations behind. It is a frightening prospect.
One of such generation is the elderly, who are having a particularly tough time in Nigeria.
For those aged 65 years and above, it is increasingly appearing that to be aged in Nigeria is to be accursed. In the midst of crumbling healthcare, dilapidated infrastructure and non-existent social security, to be aged, to risk the challenges that come with old age, is to risk everything.
Nigeria is used to leaving people behind. Whether it is out-of-school children, or women and girls, or people living with disability, or the poorest of the poor among them, Nigeria has refined the dark art of leaving people behind.
This state of things, which invariably seems cold and even callous, means that the disparate parts of the Nigerian society have hardly been able to gel together, leaving a society that is deeply fractured, and broken.
Life expectancy in Nigeria is low, with wide gaps open in the quality of life people live and just how long they expect to live. It is through these intergenerational gaps that people are now experiencing what it really means to be old and worried in Nigeria.
It should not be the case that those who age in Nigeria also have to feel caged by the failures of the country to carry everyone along. Likewise, it certainly does not bode well, especially in a country that needs everyone to be on the same page, so it can meet its multifaceted challenges head on.
To give the elderly space and a voice in Nigeria, legislation is important as is the political will to bring the core aspects of legislation to fruition.
Nigeria is not lacking in legislation that protects the interests of the elderly. What has been sorely lacking is the political will to bring legislation to fruition.
It is also sad to know that Nigeria has not followed the universal blueprint of establishing homes for the elderly. There’s also no serious commitment to rein in those who abuse the elderly.
There is also the constant and cutting cloud of superstition hanging over the elderly in Nigeria. In many communities, instances of horrific abuse against the elderly have been documented by those who freely but erroneously associate old age with witchcraft. This too must end.
The key to creating a safe space for the elderly is to recognize what they bring to the table. Wisdom comes with age and is not something that can be picked up like groceries from a superstore.
In a country where a gripping intergenerational clash and crisis is leaving many people cut off, there are lessons to be learned from Nigeria’s elderly.
It is easy to dictate the intergenerational tension that holds fast and firm. It exists in the way the elderly lament that the country has no future with the current crop of young people, and the way young people lament that the country was irredeemably lost under the watch of the older generation.
Maybe, if Nigeria begins to properly take care of its old, the country would finally begin to find the critical connect between the old and new that is crucial to any wholistic development.
The elderly deserve maximum protection in Nigeria so that in swing out their last days with dignity it will become clear to all once and for a that old age is a blessing.