How Retired Persons can Exert Public Influence and Win anything in Nigeria
After my article on Time for 25% Compound Interest on Pension and Gratuity Arrears was published by The Leader in June 2015 I received several congratulatory text messages. One of them asked a question I want to attempt to answer. It goes:
“How many times have they called for a rally of pensioners? I am not talking of confrontational rally but a forum where we gather to pray and pour libation as elders “
This question reminds me of the story about the options the Israelites faced when their journey to the Promised Land was delayed by the Red Sea. At that terrifying sight their leaders split into four camps arguing with each other. The first group called for mass suicide saying it was better to die by their own hands than to be murdered by their former masters. The second group said it was better to prostrate before Pharaoh and return to Egypt as slaves because it was what they were and would ever remain. The third group wanted war with Egyptians no matter how poorly armed they were. The fourth group advocated that praying for God’s deliverance was the only answer. Prayer to God would seem like a good idea in their circumstance but Moses warned them to be silent. It is not often that a prophet tells people not to pray. But there was a reason for Moses’ command. An important act had to be done. The Israelites were required to walk forward into the water. As frightening as those first steps must have been, they raised their feet, placed them in the water and the sea split. It was then that other opportunities opened up for them.
The lesson of this story is relevant today as it was then. The Red Sea between senior citizens in Nigeria and justice, care, respect and privileges from the operators of the system is their zero visibility created by their collective silence and inaction on the ills and needs of the society. As a result every government ignores them and some governors treat them, like dirt under their feet. World Children’s Day is observed by Nigeria. World Youths Day is observed by Nigeria. World Women’s Day is observed by Nigeria. But World Elders Abuse Awareness Day set aside for all nations to focus attention on the plight of old people is not observed by Nigeria. Also World Older Persons Day set aside for all nations to celebrate Older Persons is not observed by Nigeria. To keep them permanently disconnected there is no Ministry of Older Persons Affairs in Nigeria.
Just as the Israelites had no option but to step into the water before miracle happened, so it is that senior citizens in Nigeria do not as Elders have the option as to whether they will play or will not play an important part to remedy the ills in the society. They must play an important part. All they can decide is whether they will play that part well or badly. It is a desideratum if they want to gain visibility in the Federal and State Executive Council meetings as children, youths and women do.
The Nigerian Union of Pensioners and their partners are doing their level best for pensioners but being active leaders of retired persons involves greater act than organizing press conferences, peaceful demonstrations, distress letter writing and prayer. in churches and mosques over unpaid retirement benefits. These are about narrow issues of personal concerns. They are not about the role of Elders in the society. The greater act would be to harness the resources of retired persons for public interest.
It is easy to imagine the reaction of the Senator representing Georgia in the United States Senate when Jimmy Carter, the 39th US President from his constituency not only joined Habitat for Humanity as carpenter building houses for the homeless but also became the Sunday school teacher of his home church. Jimmy Carter studied woodwork at College and started teaching at the age of 19. He is an ordinary member of American Association of Retired Persons (AARP). Before Jimmy Carter, Howard Taft retired as President of United States in 1913 and went back to Yale University to teach law for many years in order to remain valuable in the society.
It is also easy to predict the reactions of members of the National Assembly, Governors and members of State Houses of Assembly and top party leaders to see that retired permanent secretaries, retired judges and retired professors in their constituencies are grabbing limelight from them by joining volunteer groups of retired persons who are creating awareness of foods and drinks which destroy health, or are teaching youths how to avoid the mistakes they themselves made or are educating the electorate how to make elected leaders accountable. Mr. President, the governors and party leaders will get the jitters and run after these evangelists of values. Thenceforth no government can come into power without active support of senior citizens. Pension and gratuity arrears will be history and lost values of justice, care, respect and privileges for senior citizens will be restored.
Time is passing quickly, and all of our indecisions and inactions have added up to create the pathetic life senior citizens are living today. We have to take complete charge of our communities with soft power of teaching values and make things change because things cannot change by themselves.
C.E. Ukaegbu writes from Port Harcourt Road, Owerri