By Temi Bamgbose
The concluding part of the report reveals the folly of a nation without any social security system to prevent its people, most especially the senior citizens, from unforeseen eventualities. It also examines the various attempts to establish a legal framework for the establishment of some forms of protection for the destitute and how it seems all promises in that direction are mere political shtick.
Father is dead … father has gone to work… father is there…
Sitting under an umbrella with two children, three and five years old respectively, beside the bridge at the entrance of Lafenwa market in Abeokuta, Zenabu Ali says she sits there to beg in order to support the income of her husband, Ali. Zenabu does not speak any English, neither does she speak Abeokuta’s native language, Yoruba. She and her husband just moved down from Arewa, she sits at the market entrance to beg so as to provide support to augment the income from her husband’s wood-splitting and sand packing job.
A dark skinned, left-arm, amputee with a baby, had told us at Sabo Ibadan, that the father of her baby had gone to work, not explaining the nature of the ‘work’. Fatima, an out-of-school six-year old girl said her father is in Ibadan, but not in the beggar’s pavilion. Many of the girls also said their fathers were dead.
Children are gone… they no longer come home
The group of beggars that can move a grown man to tears when he sits alone and empathise is the one comprising of senior citizens, with or without disability, who have been forced into begging because of the disappearance (due to the death or sudden migration or lost contact) of their caretakers, mainly their children.
Iya Ilese represents this group typically. She appears to be in her early eighties, she appears very smallish, if not for the wrinkled skin and obviously sagging cheeks which betrays the loss of every tooth in her buccal cavity, she might have been mistaken for a primary school child.
She walks to motor parks and party venues in Ijebu Ode, Ogun State every day to beg for a living. UnfortunatelyIya Ilese may continue that way until she grows fatally tired and falls by the way side to beg no more, because of the fast growing anomic lifestyle in the Nigerian communities.
Her case is in the best position to question the non-existent social security system in the country. The old woman and many like her are common sights at motor parks. She — and the hordes of others — would not have been subjected to this humiliating plight if the country had any serious social security plan for its senior citizens.
Social security is the monetary assistance from the government for people with inadequate/no income or the provision for such ones and others who are disadvantaged by injury or old age sourced from contributions from workers and their employers. In developed countries of the world, the Social security is given utmost priority especially to provide for the elderly and save them the humiliation and hazards that result from street begging.
The Federal Government inaugurated a committee in April 2009 to devise how social security can be used to halt mass poverty in the country. Several deliberations were led by the country’s former president, Dr. Yakubu Gowon; and four months later, on 27th August the same year, the National Working Committee on Social Security Policy presented its report to then President Umaru Musa Yar-Adua, urging him to implement the policy by all means. Sadly it is five year now, after the policy’s first mention and it has remained unimplemented.
Since then, at least three other bills with the same purpose have been sponsored on the floor of the Senate: one in May 2009 by Ebonyi South Senatorial District Senator, Anyim Ude; and a second three years later in 2012 by Oluremi Tinubu.
There was a bit of noise making about implementing the scheme towards the last quarter of year 2014. Edo North Senatorial District, representative in the National Assembly, Senator Domingo Obende raised the hope of Nigerians in October 2014 by sponsoring a bill, tagged, an Act to Provide for the Establishment of the National Social Welfare Commission. But the hope was smashed when the bill could not scale the third reading, senators not being able to determine a source of funding for take-off of the overseeing agency. Shame.
A few days after Obende’s bill tripped, Minister of Finance, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, announced at a press briefing that the government was planning a Social Safety Net which would be specifically targeted at providing financial backup to the rural poor so that they could send their children to school and access primary health care, amongst others benefits. The minister had mentioned that scheme had been experimented in Kano State to see how useful it would be in sending the girl-child to school and it had been found to have significant positive effect.
Three months down the line, in an election year, with no guarantee that the government composition would stay the same, and no implementation has been seen.
Although vehemently denied by the federal government, World Bank statistics and the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) hold that there are about 100million destitute in Nigeria. The question raised by this realisation is that who cares about this people even if they are just a handful?
As stipulated in the constitution of the federal republic of Nigeria, it is one of the primary functions of the local governments to see to the plights of these people. Apart from that, there is also a Ministry of Women Affairs And Social Welfare in Ogun State, there is a department for rehabilitation only that, the facility for rehabilitation, a 2.2 acre land donated by the state government is still under construction in Orogbe Village, away in the outskirts of the state capital in the Moshood Abiola Polytechnic axis. For now, however, what the department does is to liaise with community leaders of migrant communities, most especially, to help keep their people from the streets.
The Director of the rehabilitation department in Abeokuta, in a casual “off record” chat had lamented that the bane of their work in rehabilitating the street beggars is that after giving medical attention to the ones requiring such, their families and guardians refuse to take them back, a form of social stigma that eventually leads the subjects back to a life of destitution on the streets.
In Ibadan, Hassan Hammed pointed out that the government built a place for the beggars outside the city limits but claims that all the beggars taken there for rehabilitation always end up dead, and that was the reason why they no longer seek government intervention.
Apart from the destitute protection bill there is no other form of legislation that concerns this people.
The plight of the destitute in Nigeria is sad, but sadder still is the plight of the female destitute, because in the scheme of things, she’s the lowest of the low. Her children are mere fodders for manipulation and a cycle has been established that ensures that they do not escape their ‘destinies’.
This is made worse by the nonchalant attitude of the government towards this minority. The only time attention is paid to them is during election periods when they are needed to boost the number of people voting them into power.
Leaving these people after interviewing them was a heart wrenching experience, because we would be contributing to the long trail of heartbreaks and disappointments, we would be seen as just another bunch of reporters out to use them to gain fame and make money.
One of their pleas is that they need homes to rest their heads; they need schools for their children. In fact they informed us that they have available land where a school can be established for these children. All they need are volunteers that will come in maybe once or twice weekly to teach reading, writing and arithmetic.
In the whole of Nigeria, there is barely up to 20 old people’s home and all of them are privately owned. Thus More old people’s homes, where senior citizens could be housed and taken proper care of in case they lose their caretakers to unforeseen circumstances should also be established. By all means, establishing efficient social security infrastructure should be given priority by the country’s lawmakers.
We are using this medium to appeal to the government and the good hearted people in governance not to only look into ways of helping this vulnerable segment of our society, whose numbers seems to be on the increase, but to establish institutions and laws protecting them.
[Additional reporting and editing by Ayodele Olofintuade]