Ageism is all around us . . .
In Nigeria older people face discrimination on a daily basis. Many young people do not want to have anything to do with the elderly. They are seen as an economic burden that has no value in our society. Some even feel that the elderly do not have a right to be alive. In some areas they are seen as witches who will bring misfortune to the family. Day after day they live with abuse from family members who deprive them of their right to better living in old age.
Younger people shun the elderly
For the past five years l have been providing succor to the elderly in my role as Head of the Age Nigeria Foundation. I cover both the city and rural areas. Quite naturally my brain cells are wired and connected to our elderly citizens. l feel the pain and agonies they pass through each and every day. In the cities no one wants to come close to them. When they beckon for help, young people shy away as if they just saw a witch in broad day light. The next second they bolt like a sprinter. No one wants to be a friend of the elderly in my community.
A driver runs over an elderly lady
l recall a recent incident in my neighbourhood in Lekki, a suburb of Lagos. An elderly woman in her mid seventies, still strong and active, was on her way home from early morning devotion in her church not far away. A young guy in a car, oblivious of his direction, engaged reverse gear. The elderly woman saw him and tried to avoid the vehicle but the driver behaved like a devil. His car hit her. It knocked her down and bruised her knee.
Blaming the victim
I know this lady because we attend the same church. She is blessed with good health in old age. She has no form of weakness in her bones and is very active. I was sad and angry to see her fall victim to a reckless driver. But the driver himself was even more furious. He insisted that the elderly woman was the cause of what befell her and said that he had never had an accident before. Although he tried to run away, he was apprehended and made to take care of the woman. This was a woman who a week earlier was with me in a religious retreat for three days. Fasting and praying together, I personally learnt a lot from her. Now I had to watch someone accusing her as if she deliberately caused the driver to hit her.
More Elder Abuse
Just yesterday in Lagos an 81 year old woman was robbed in her residential home. A two man gang escaped with a whopping 7 million naira, her jewelry and other valuables. Most of the money stolen was in foreign currency. Someone within her household gave the information to the burglars before they robbed this innocent older lady. Luckily they caught one of the gang members. l hope the woman’s valuables will be recovered in full. This is the level of aversion and emotional torture some in our society stoop to.
A lack of respect for the elderly in our cities
Due to widespread abuse, we cannot allow our elderly to walk freely any more. People strolling in the park shun them. If they dare to try and board commercial buses during rush hours, they can expect to be shoved aside with an elbow. Nobody sees the need to help them because they believe they are living in a fast-paced urban environment that does not accommodate older people. Gone are the days when young people will give up their seat for the elderly in a public bus. That sign of respect for older people in our society is a thing of the past.
Elder financial abuse is widespread in rural areas
In the rural areas older people go through hell. Most of them have children in the cities who send money back home. What happens to the money? From my involvement with them, I know that sometimes they just don’t get it at all. Many are short-changed, mostly by their carers who are often grandchildren or other family members.
Pensioners are the most vulnerable when they have unemployed children. Sons and daughters turn their parent into nothing more than ATM machines. They spend the money without consent. Little remains for the pensioner. This all happens under the pretense that their children or carers are helping them to withdraw the money from the bank. Most banks in rural areas are difficult to access and any older person embarking on a journey to withdraw money on his own may be going on a suicide mission. There are incidents of the elderly being abused physically for not letting go of an ATM card and allowing their child to withdraw cash for their own personal use.
These financial and physical abuses of older people are largely unreported because they are regarded as family issues. But it deprives our elderly of their possessions and comfort in old age. When they need urgent help, it does not come because people see them as stubborn old folks that should be in the grave.
Ageism affects every aspect of life
It is so sad. Ageism is all around us. In the church, the Mosque, and the hospitals. We see it in the workplace, households and even in government policies. While many countries have great respect for their older people, we in Nigeria seem to have lost this perspective. Ageism has become ingrained in our culture as it is now passed on to our children from parents who have stereotype against the elderly. This has to stop. We need to create awareness and engage the older people to combat ageism. The several negative perceptions about older people in the country are the major reason that our society does not hold them in high regard. We must put an end to these stereotypes and prejudices about the aged. We need to include them and encourage them to be active and involved in the social and economic affairs of our nation.
The International Day of Older Persons
Today our foundation – the Age Nigeria Foundation, join the rest of the world in Taking a stand against ageism. For the past two months we have promoted a series of consciousness-raising seminars and programs for the older people in Nigeria. They have told us about the ageist attitude and discrimination that they encounter every day in their old age. Today, older campaigners will embark on rallies in different cities and towns in Lagos and Ogun State of Nigeria, where we have a strong membership of older people engaged in ageing issues.
Engaging the younger generations to combat ageism
We will follow up on the rallies with a seminar, where the elderly, youths and school children will join together to discuss the devastating effects of ageism. it is going to be an inter-generational discussion to encourage close ties between the generations. We believe this is vital to stop ageism in Nigeria.
Other activities include a Mini-marathon race in partnership with Helpage International. Undergraduate students in tertiary institutions in Abeokuta, a city famous for its rock view in Nigeria, will run alongside older people who have shown interest in the race.
There will also be an essay and art competition on consciousness-raising for primary and post-primary school students in Nigeria. The topic – “my contribution to my nation when l am 60 years old”. In this way we will encourage them, as they grow up, to be mindful and resist negative perceptions about older people.
We are making an effort to reach government officials and persuade them to address the level of humiliation and deprivation that older people in our society are suffering. We will urge them to introduce policies that will eradicate the concept of ageism in our nation.
We will share the activities of the two day events in Nigeria on this popular blog. It will be all the more interesting because the International day of Older Persons coincides with Nigeria’s Independence Day celebration. The older people in Nigeria will have a fun-filled day enjoying our direct activities with them. It is a fitting way to mark this special day.
Mrs Oluwayemisi Oluwole founded the Age Nigeria Foundation in 2010 in partnership with Helpage International. She is a graduate in Agric- Economics and holds an MBA. A Business Continuity Consultant and Disaster Manament Consultant, she currently Manages four community based day care centers for the elderly in Nigeria. Find out more on Facebook.