Government should include older persons in policies - Omokaro
Dr. Emem Omokaro is the Executive Director, Dave Omokaro Foundation, DOF, an organization in special consultative status on Ageing with ECOSOC. She is also the president of the Gerontology Association of Nigeria and the co-chair and convener of the Stakeholders Group on Ageing Africa, SGA. In this interview Laraba MUREY spoke to the gerontology expert on proper legislation and other issues affecting the rights of older persons in Nigeria. Excerpts:
Please madam, can you describe the current position of older persons in Nigeria?
I will say issues of ageing and challenges older persons’ face is progressively getting clearer and better understood and I will make bold to say that now the perspective has shifted from older persons being seen as pure absolute responsibility of family, the state now understands that older persons are part of development, that they have right to benefit from outcomes of development.
Before now the rights of older persons were seen as a welfare program unlike other population categories that it is thought that there should be an agenda but that has shifted. We have been able to have to enhance understanding and capacity building to be able to mainstream ageing development issues
Yes, we are not there yet however I should say that now there is a formal technical committee on ageing which was facilitated by the world Health Organization, WHO.
So structures are in place mechanisms are in place to show that indeed progressively there is a better understanding and older persons will be eventually placed rightfully like other population categories.
legislation advocacy has been done to the National Assembly right now the Coalition of Society for the Rights of Older Persons, I sit on the board as a trustee and being one of the co-founders there is a bill of rights that is in the Senate then last year we went for public hearing on 3 bills but because the 8th Assembly fissile before they arrived at the conclusion we had to start afresh.
Among the bills there was one that would regulate the establishment administration and certification of Nursing homes, if we had the need of persons who would want to use the facilities, to regulate even the construction.
One of the bills was to establish the National Social Security Agency for vulnerable people and of course older persons are among the vulnerable population and that bill was to create an agency called the FUND.
You are an advocate for the rights of older persons in Nigeria, how has been your experiences?
Now it is getting easier to talk about older persons and get people to listen to you and be excited because they now found themselves to be in the data but when we started at first it was not easy that was because of the population dynamics in Nigeria and the fact that there are youths who are out of school seeking for employment, maternal mortality index, infant mortality index and infrastructural problems and everybody thought these ones should be priority, older persons are spent and tired why are you paying attention to them they weren't seen as rights holders.
We had a platform during my PhD, I won an award that was my first interaction with the National Universities Commission, and we signed a 4 year MoU, and I became a visiting lecturer. It was during these four years we started the seminars, the conferences. The challenges then were to sensitized people to get them interested because even within the academia we had persons who told us that it was a white elephant project.
We began to ask questions on older persons what are these challenges? What are the peculiarities of these challenges within Nigeria that is different from perhaps other countries? We developed curriculum for all levels of higher institutions.
Then there were challenges of how to get people to listen, to see themselves as ageing that ageing is a process, it is not about that old man out there every day we celebrate one another’s birthday forgetting we are also getting older. It is the statutory mandate of government to see rights of older persons as a policy issue. The challenge was not mainstreaming and training ministry but to ensure that they have a desk on ageing in each of the ministries so that the person you train becomes a focal person on ageing
What measures should the Government take to cater for the rights of older persons?
Government must first of understand that ageing is a process that you just don't wake up and become an older person, that older woman was that girl-child, so if that girl was growing there should be interventions to ensure that that girl-child has access to life course approach that will eliminate systematic drivers of vulnerability, old age will be blissful with sound health. There is no ideal society. So you find that the child grows up facing some sociocultural biases. We do not have policy interventions for that person with hearing disabilities, sight disabilities.
Primary health care is not functioning the way it should work so you find ill health, terrible nutrition among the older persons who become old, sickly, frail then poor.
Our primary health care can give good access even during long term care when they can no longer come out we can organize team of medical professionals once a week that's how countries like Cuba and Senegal are carrying out their geriatrics care systems which is very impressive.
Where is Nigeria on the comparable index when it comes to access to health, income security how many older people are covered by public pensions? Only 4% of older persons.
What are the socio- economic opportunities of investing in ageing?
I will first talk about ageism that’s when you lump everybody together like they are homogeneous and you generalise in a descriptive form this is who they are that is stereotypes. So older persons are often lumped together like they are all sick, they are all burdened like they have nothing to contribute.
So that is the stereotypes from which discrimination springs, government often think of older person as a burden and wouldn’t like to invest in them they will rather invest in children, youths, pregnant women and they will tell you why they because demographic dividend
It is not fully correct, older person will contribute to family, community and nation that is why when health insurance is provided, even they can buy into this health insurance and their children who are in the working population can save money.
60 percent of farmers are older persons and they are still farming and producing food So why it seems like the older ones are not contributing is because nobody is investing their means of livelihood, which will surely grow and they will earn money.
Geriatric market is opening up for services and product, we are still importing wheelchairs, walker even occupational therapy, that is the geriatric market.
How can Nigeria curb discrimination against older persons?
Advocacy is the easiest tool to stop ageism. Ignorance is what leads to prejudices. Are you aware of what the National youth corps has done? It has changed the mind-set of a lot of people because they are exposed. There is nothing like information and knowledge. Upgrading and including the older persons, giving them social protection is important. We have the N-power for the youth and school feeding programs, so what about older persons?
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