DOZENS of mourners converged on the premises of Florence Odole opposite the St Micheal’s Primary School at Iju, Akure North Local Government Area of Ondo State on August 16 after hearing of her passing.
She was 82 when she died on August 15.
She was among the hundreds of aged people in the community who had spent their youthful years trading, working on the farm or as government employees. However, old age eventually retired them to their homes where they depend on their children, relations and society. Odole was lucky. She had successful children who cared for her till her death.
There are, however, scores of her peers who lack the support they need in the community, whether because their children struggle to feed and are incapable of supporting their parents or because they do not have children to help them.
This class of aged persons exist in every Nigerian community. They face hunger and diseases. Many are homeless. Others take shelter in dilapidated homes, looking frail, emaciated, starved and unkempt.
Because of poverty and lack of care, many aged persons in Nigeria live with preventable and curable ailments till they die. This situation is aggravated by inadequate doctors who care for the elderly in the country.
Some researchers note that as of 2020, Nigeria has less than 100 geriatricians to care for its elderly. Geriatrics is the branch of medicine that deals with care for the elderly.
Data from Statista puts the number of people above the age of 60 in the country at nine million.
Like every other state in Nigeria, Ondo state has its share of the elderly; however, they get little or no support from the government. This is, however, not peculiar to the state as such is the trend across the country.
Bridging this gap is what Kaleyewa House, a non-governmental organisation which started in 2002, seeks to do.
The organisation provides support through drugs, funds and groceries in the two largest communities in Akure North. The towns Iju and Itaogbolu jointly make up the local government headquarter.
Kaleyewa House, fondly called Kaleyewa, which means a befitting or comfortable old age, supports 265 elderly in Iju and 183 in Itaogbolu as of August. Their support sphere is limited to within local government due to funding.
The ICIR learnt that there are a few such interventions by other organisations in some of the state’s 18 local government areas, but only Kaleyewa House exists in Iju and Itaogbolu.
A project of the late wife of renowned public administrator Ladipo Adamolekun, a professor, the project has been the only support coming from outside the family for many beneficiaries in the communities.
Kemi Adamolekun, a doctor and mother of Yemi Ademolekun, an activist, started the project to improve the well-being of aged persons in society, said Dipe Adegboye, the volunteer supervisor of the Kaleyewa programme.
Adegboye is a retired secondary school principal and winner of the Ondo State Best Principal’s Award and a recipient of the Federal Government’s Best Secondary School Administrator in 2010.
He told The ICIR during an interview in his house that the late Adamolekun started the programme by reaching out to people from 70 years and above in their churches and homes with food, cash and drugs to make life easy for them.
“In the first year of remembrance of her passing, her husband and children vowed that the programme would not stop.
“The programme has moved from benefitting only the elderly at Iju to reaching those in Itaogbolu, our sister community.
“We bring these old people together and give them food items three times a year. We support them with medical checks and drugs six times a year.
“The food items are for vulnerable people. These are people that are bedridden, blind, and those who are too old to attend our programmes. We take the food to them in their homes.”
Medical checks for the elderly are alternated in the two communities monthly. Food items given to the elderly are rice, beans, maggi and salt. Kaleyewa also gives the elderly clothing and other home needs.
Adegboye said if an aged person attained the age of 70 and still lived in a rented apartment, Kaleyewa would rent an apartment for the person after confirming they are poor.
The programme brings the elderly together to share their experiences at a yearly get-together. It is usually a time for merriment and experience sharing for them. They play Ayo and other games.
He added that the programme, which is self-funded, got financial support during the administration of late Olusegun Agagu.
One of the beneficiaries at Iju is 89-year-old Joshua Adanlawo who has a wife and two children. Formerly a farmer, the octogenarian who joined the programme six years ago now depends on her children and family at home.
Victoria Owoseni is one of the oldest women in Iju. She is 98. A widow of over 20 years, she has been part of the programme since its inception.
A mother of five children and a farmer and trader in her youthful years, she could no longer walk to attend the Kaleyewa meeting to collect her food and drugs. They bring them to her at home.
Another woman at Iju, Tinuola Akande is over eighty years. She joined the programme six years ago. She gave birth to five children, but she has lost three of them. She has been a widow for many years.
Narrating how strong she was as a youth, she said no man rivalled her in farming.
Joseph Ojo Irumeji is a chief in Iju. He holds the title ‘Onibodi.’
He is over 90 years old and was a successful businessman and farmer in his prime years.
The father of eleven has two wives, but one has divorced him.
He joined Kaleyewa six years ago and has received everything given to the elderly by the organisation.
“Assuming the woman who founded this programme did not die, we would all be collecting a monthly salary. I cannot go to meetings again, but they still bring my food and drugs to me at home,” he told The ICIR.
At Itaogbolu, Alice Arowosafe was happy to have been part of the initiative for over 15 years.
The mother of five lost her husband 22 years ago. She is over 80 years.
“They are treating us fine. They give us things equally; even when we cannot come for the meeting, their staff always bring our portions to us at home.”
She was a farmer and trader when she could work. She said the last time she went to the farm was over 15 years ago.
Peter Okotore is also from Itaogbolu. He is about 90 years.
He joined the programme last year. He has a wife alive with ten children.
“You can see I can no longer go to the farm. I join whatever they give me with what my children give me,” he told the reporter.
He is among the oldest people in the community.
Comfort Elegbeleye is over 80 years too. A mother of five, she was a businesswoman and farmer in her youth.
She joined Kaleyewa in 2003 when the programme started in Itaogbolu.
“Kaleyewa gives us food and drugs. It looks after our welfare because its staff always check on us in our homes,” she said.
Another aged man who benefits from the programme is Williams Aderuku, a chief in the town.
Aderuku will clock 103 on September 17.
The father of the former caretaker chairman of Akure North Local Government Area, Olu Aderuku, the centenarian was a farmer.
He was Chairman of the Farmers Union, Akure Division and a former Chairman of the Farmers Congress in Akure North Local Government Area.
He was the first councillor of Iju/Itaogbolu in 1954 when the communities were under the old Akure Region.
He was elected under the National Council of Nigeria and the Cameroons (NCNC) party.
He joined Kaleyewa 19 years ago.
He had three wives. One died three years ago, and another died earlier this year.
According to him, he had always told the programme organisers that his children were taking good care of him, but they insisted he would continue to get his package because he is a foundation member of the initiative.
While commending the organisers, he said Kaleyewa was doing the work that the government failed to do.
The admittance age into the Kaleyewa was formerly 70, but it is now 75 says Adegboye. He explained that this was due to an increase in the number of people without a commensurate increase in resources.
The ICIR reporter also spoke with old people waiting to clock 75 years to enable them to join the programme.
Julius Oluwole Kogo is over 70 years, and he still manages to go farm. Even though he still farms, He looks forward to when he will become a recipient. So also, Abraham Ogbesotore can’t wait to clock 75 years to qualify for the initiative.
The bi-monthly provision of drugs and medical outreach by Kaleyewa is bridging a gap as the Medical Director of the state government-owned General Hospital in Iju-Itaogbolu, Olanrewaju Alewi, said many people in the two communities, especially the elderly, often lack the money to pay for their medical bills whenever they are sick.
He told the reporter that many aged people in Nigeria are neglected by their children and relations because of poverty.
“The funds are not coming for the elderly to buy drugs whenever they have health challenges, especially when they have hypertension, diabetes and other diseases they are supposed to monitor.”
The State Commissioner for Health, Banji Ajaka, a doctor, said the government’s care for the elderly was a priority.
“The elderly are included in the under-five free health care programme. When the elderly go to hospitals with their cards registered, they are taken care of free of charge,” he said.
However, Ajaka explained that only a few aged persons were covered with the free care services.
“The greatest problem the elderly people have is their mobility. Arthritis is the disease of the elderly. Some of them can’t move from one location to the other. It is important they are taken care of.
“Many of our social programmes take care of the elderly. Some of them are given stipends so that they take care of themselves.”
The commissioner said there were no elderly people’s homes in Nigeria, and nobody wished to take their parents to a home where they would live and receive care.
“We are not into that in Nigeria. But if we have some elderly people that don’t have children, then it is very important.”
Similarly, the state Commissioner for Women Affairs, Julianah Osadahun, also a doctor, told The ICIR that the wife of Governor Rotimi Akeredolu had a programme for the widows to support what her ministry and others in the state do for the elderly.
“… the governor’s wife has a platform where most of the aged in Ondo State register online to get support.”
She also notes, “There is also a day for the elders where some will dance. We do parties, organise luncheons and dinner for them, and you see some of them dance. Those who still have a spouse among them come with their spouse.”
“This story has been supported by Nigeria Health Watch through the Solutions Journalism Network, a nonprofit organisation dedicated to rigorous and compelling reporting about responses to social problems, solutionsjournalism.org”