October 1st is a very remarkable day for us at Dewdrop Foundation (DDF) and Centre for Gender Economics Africa (CGE Africa). Today is the 60th anniversary of our country Nigeria, a celebration of our independence as a country. Interestingly, Nigeria has not only turned a year older, it has joined the Seenagers – persons aged 60 and above. Happy birthday Nigeria!

Today we also celebrate the International Day of Older Persons with our project beneficiaries, i.e. the elderly population, as well as the World Decade for Healthy Ageing in Nigeria (2020-2030).

Globally, the number of people aged 60 years and above, is increasing and is estimated to accelerate in the coming decades, especially in developing countries. Living longer is a remarkable achievement; older persons are living human treasures and valuable resources who sustain intergenerational ties. As a result, it is very important for them to be included in all development plans. Poor planning for the aged impacts all facets of the society such as labour and financial markets, education, housing, health and social care, social protection, transport, information, communication, family structures and intergenerational ties.

In recognition of the importance of older persons to any community, Dewdrop Foundation and CGE Africa, are currently implementing an 18-months project funded by Oxfam/Voice, which focuses on curtailing elder abuse in 11 communities in Enugu State. Enugu State was selected as a pilot because of the rate of elder abuse in the State, as well as the lack of legislation to protect the elderly and improve their welfare. The total selected project communities are eleven (11), namely, Umuode, Akpuoga-Nike, AmechiIdodo, Isigwe Ugbawka, Ndiagu-Owo, Ogonogoeji Ndiuno Akpugo, Ogbeke/Ukuruta Agbani, Ojiagu Agbani, Ishienu Nkerefi, Akwuke and Akwuke-Uwani.

The project also creates platforms (safe spaces) for older persons (Seenagers) to speak up about issues of concern to them. Findings from our baseline survey established that older persons experienced physical, emotional, neglect, sexual and financial abuse. Nearly 3 in 10 older persons across ten communities reported experiencing some form of abuse and/or neglect. Emotional abuse was the most common type of abuse observed, followed by neglect, then financial abuse, sexual abuse, and physical abuse. Of those who were physically abused, many of them had broken bones.

To date, the lives of over 1000 elderly persons in Enugu State have been touched by the project. 11 safe spaces have been established for them in their communities, 20 young people from the community (community mobilizers) have been selected and receive monthly training that enables them to actively advocate for and sensitize others about elder abuse and care of elderly persons (including common mental illnesses associated with ageing (such as dementia), 150 caregivers in rural communities have been trained to care for and uphold the dignity of older persons (40 of them received the International City and Guilds Diploma Certificate in Health and Social Care), a policy brief for criminalizing elder abuse has been developed as an advocacy tool in the State. In partnership with Pieta Caring Mission for the Poor, several Covid-19 awareness and prevention programmes were carried out for over 230 households from 14 communities, intergenerational social activities were also carried out through a walkathon and an art competition. Consultations are currently ongoing to establish a community of practice comprising local and regional organizations and individuals promoting the welfare and wellbeing of older persons.

More than ever before, the health and welfare of older persons is on the front burner today. The Covid-19 pandemic has affected the lives of the aged around the world as they are the most susceptible to the virus. Additionally, according to the World Health Organization (WHO), most older people live in developing countries. In 2020, for the first time in history, people aged 60 years or over will outnumber children under 5 years. By the end of the Decade of Healthy Ageing (2020–2030), the number of people aged 60 years and older will be 34% higher, increasing from 1 billion in 2019 to 1.4 billion. This calls for concern, judging by the development plans of many developing countries.

The Decade for Healthy Ageing provides a new opportunity to address the gender power relations and norms that disproportionately influence the health and well-being of older women and men and the intersectional links between gender and age. Planning for healthy ageing MUST therefore be inclusive, taking in the needs of men and women alike.

Dewdrop Foundation and CGE Africa call for the implementation of sensitization campaigns and caregiver trainings on dementia – as one of the causes of elder abuse – by State healthcare systems. We also call for the establishment of a platform for key players who will champion the cause of the ageing population (State Committee on Elder Care) and sustain the guidelines for providing care, recognition and respect for older persons in Enugu State as well as other States in Nigeria.

By Nneka A. Egbuna
Assistant Programme Coordinator, Dewdrop Foundation