IFAN Remains the Viable Organ Fighting For Senior Citizens

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Ike Willie-Nwobu Coordinator International Federation on Ageing-Nigeria (IFAN) last year led the event markng the ‘International Day of Older Persons Observance’ hosted by Digital Bridge Institutes (DBI) and the Federal Ministry of Labour and Employment. In this interview with NDUKA NWOSU, Willie-Nwobu who has anchored the activities of the worldwide UN  assisted organisation for over one decade, gives an update on the problems and prospects of elderly people in the country.

You have been the coordinator of the International Federation on Ageing in Nigeria (IFAN) for more than a decade now. What is it all about?

The International Federation on Ageing (IFA), which was founded in Toronto Canada in 1973, has as its mission statement to make life better for the aged, the elders in society “by stimulating, collecting, analysing, and disseminating information on rights, policies and practices that improve the quality of life of people as they age.”

Since becoming the IFA coordinator in Nigeria,  we have made policy inputs spanning several administrations, raised funds and erected institutions meant for the aged. During President Olusegun Obasanjo’s tenure, he was very well disposed to initiating policies such as Pension Scheme reforms and benefits that were designed to cushion positive effects for elders. IFAN has always been the driver working to make better the quality of life of elders in Nigeria. Under President Obasanjo we had a week long programme and an awareness walk led by Mr President.

Right now we have a Senior Citizen as President at Aso Rock and we are hoping he would be disposed to re-awakening the noble aspirations of IFAN for our elders. Already this is happening with the  monthly payment of pension  benefits to retirees.

However there are other issues in terms of creating awareness and constantly reminding the people that a nation whose elders are exposed to the vagaries of ageing, a country that leaves its aged unprotected remains a laughing stock among the comity of nations
How did you get into Ageing?

I had an academic and commercial programme in Israel between 1997 and 1998. I attended a conference in Jerusalem, that fired my imagination and interest.  On arrival in Nigeria I made contact with different levels of government, connected to the United Nations institutions in the country and created the platform that powered the Ageing Revolution in Nigeria.  In 1999 President Obasanjo gave me a huge support and encouragement.

In addition I became the focal person for the United Nations in Nigeria for the ‘International Year of Older Persons in 1999.’  Obasanjo’s support was moral; he provided access and proximity to IFAN and its activities.  He understood governance; and had a huge capacity in synching with the needs of the aged and connected with the issues on ground.

What about President Mohammadu Buhari?

I have had three encounters with Mr President. We are hoping he will be open to IFAN in the days ahead just as President Obasanjo did especially through our end of year  rogramme-the 2016 International Day of Older Persons Observance.

What is the partnership between IFAN and the Digital Bridge Institute (DBI) on the one hand and the Federal Ministry of Labour and Employment on the other hand?

The idea is to create synergy, a kind of institutional marriage and consolidation of partnership among the three organs for information dissemination of elders in society. The DBI a brain child of the National Communications Commission (NCC) is recognised globally as an international centre for communication technology and has the requisite skill to drive research and data for the aged in Nigeria. Such information gives room for quick and accurate decision making. An ITU member, the DBI is a centre of excellence  and custodian of the National Digital Training Infrastructure, which has five campuses in the country.

Why the partnership with DBI?

We are in partnership with the DBI to promote what is known as the Veteran Information and Communication Management System, National Retiree Portals and the Retired Persons Information and Communication System. Both templates help to keep track of elders and the ageing in society, connect the elderly with those replacing the Baby-boomers-the millennials and the adult sector of society. This arrangement keeps a tab even on those growing into the club of the elderly just as the millennials are preparing to become adults. It is a chain that ensures no one is left out in the general scheme of things.

For us we are promoting and projecting a major study, a critical analysis and research in the country woven around the impact of telecommunication in the productive index of the country and how it affects the elderly in such areas as Pension and Health Insurance Scheme and other sectors of the economy.

Where does the government come in here?

IFAN has a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with the Federal Ministry of Labour and Employment in advancing the needs of elders. This MoU is anchored on three thematic areas: the Elderly Employment Scheme (EES), National Elderly Productivity Audit (NEPA) and the Elderly Social Response Initiative (ESRI.

Our theme for the 2016 International Day of Older Persons Observance is: “Ageing and Life Course.” It provides a major platform of cooperation among the three partners.

How do government policies impact on your work?

We are not looking to be spoon fed because the concept of big and centralized government is over and gone.  The bureaucratic roadblock has been overthrown.  Unknown to people, our country has been restructured.  States are in competition.  .

We are working and walking with the states, that are connected to the realities of the time and that FAN compliant.  All the IFAN projects are fundable, viable and visible.  I am very impressed with the present leadership in Lagos, Kaduna, Borno, Ekiti and Anambra States status and government.  With its huge resource base Lagos States seems to be a country within a country just like California n the US. With a highly modernised IGR, it offers a case study for the largely dependent states waiting for the federal revenue allocation to survive.

How do other sectors of government assist IFAN and its work for the elderly?

Since IFAN’s funding protocol changed, we have been operating along the line of  innovative public  and private sector partnerships; we work on joint venture transactional relationships with government, multinationals, the big and small national institutions, Foundations and individual contributions for big ticket transactions, medium and modest projects for tenured for the aged.

What other programmes do both organisations run?

We are project based with economic value content for the elderly and the aged, whom we chose to dignify as Senior Citizens and you it parades in its Hall of Fame, the accomplished in various sectors of as well as the less privileged among them.  Our programmes have project content and value tailored to the needs of the elderly: For instance, we hosted a programme in July 2002 on the Right of the Elderly with the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), which helped the Commission open the International Elderly Conversation and the World Elderly Right Dialogue and Connection.

I am impressed on what Professor Ben Angwe has done with the ideas and vision we placed on the table of his institution.
On November 6th 2012, we hosted a Media Dialogue Programme with the National Environmental Standard and Regulation Enforcement Agency (NESREA) on Environment and Longevity designed as a mobilization and sensitization strategy on the impact of the environment on longevity since longevity has a lot to do with the environment, nutrition and physical exercise.

What  other projects are you promoting?

This year we will be launching, facilitating and hosting six national strategic projects that will help enhance the case of the elderly and they include the National Elderly Care Space, National Elderly Parliament (NEP), Senior Citizens Games (SCG), Social Life Campus (SLC), Retire Retirement Programme (RRP) and the National Elderly Sensitization, Mobilization and Advocacy Programme (NESMAP).

Can you elaborate on some of these national elderly projects?

There is also the National Elderly Parliament (NEP): This is a conflict resolution mechanism aimed at harnessing the wisdom of elders using community resolution mechanisms whereas the Senior Citizen Games is a sports festival incorporating drama, music, arts and fashion for people and population from 60 years and above.

What is the social life campus all about?

Social Life Campus is an initiative of getting higher institutions to host homes and centres for senior citizens, the vulnerable population in a higher institution environment. These centre would be managed by youths – students and the idea is to generate dialogue and understanding of each other’s problems, an intergenerational relationship within three demographic groups-elders, youths and children.

We also have the Retire Retirement Programme defined as a change of job assignment; that’s our connection with Digital Bridge Institutes (DBI) in terms of digital skill and knowledge transfer.

What about the sensitisation programme?

The National Elderly Sensitisation, Mobilisation and Advocacy Programme (NESMAP) is an integrated documentary on the state and status of the elderly. Added to this is the Retirement Village programme, an economic elderly empowerment cluster design for
agriculture, an agro-industrial centre in six geo-political zones aimed at energising the entrepreneurial skill of elders, an innovative retirement village for retirees.

What is your relationship with the United Nations institutions in Nigeria?

In the beginning from 1998 to 2002, we related and collaborated with the United Nations Information Centre (UNIC), under Mr. Finjap Nginga, Bill Mouseke, Country Director (UNFPA), Professor Kuli and Dr. Mou, Country Director of the World Health Organization (WHO).They were excellent, humble, deep and reflective personalities that enjoyed and endured our criticisms and conversations.

Where do health experts come in on elderly or ageing related issues?

They implement policies and play an advisory role to elders. Physical exercise, a good natural environment, healthy nutrition and life style remain the best medicine. We are helping some state governments develop Geriatric Training Centres (GTCs) accommodating special needs of the elderly.

FAN remains close to the aspirations of the founding fathers. We are social investors with interest in health, humanitarian and the life support industry that ministers to the needs of the elderly.