Tue. Jul 23rd, 2024

How Nigeria’s Continuing Engagement Bureau Programme Can Help Its Over 14 Million Senior Citizens, By Abiodun Salako

Few days to the bowing out of former President Muhammadu Buhari, the Director-General, National Senior Citizens Centre (NSCC), Dr. Emem Omokaro, unveiled the Continuing Engagement Bureau (CEB) Programme in order to collect data on retired civil servants and professionals, among others, and link them with agencies of government or organisations that may need their knowledge and wealth of experience.

Although Dr. Omokaro said that the programme has provisions for older farmers and artisans in both rural and urban areas, it is fundamentally targeted at senior citizens, who are retired professionals. The launch of the programme by NSCC and what it aims to achieve is indubitably exciting, but long overdue. According to a Nigerian Living Standard Survey carried out by the National Bureau of Statistic (NBS) in 2019, Nigeria has about 14.9 million older persons. It is quite interesting to know that of these 14.9 million older persons, over 50% of them make up retirees whose knowledge, skills and intelligence have gone to waste in a country that’s greatly in need of mentorship and knowledge transfer in its workplaces. 

In the United States, the number of older adults in the workforce has been growing. Among adults ages 65 to 74, the workforce participation rate was 25.8% in 2021, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. That share is expected to even grow to 30.7% by 2031. In the 75-and-older age group, the portion in the workforce is expected to reach 11.1%, up from 8.6% in 2021.

Prior to this publication, I’d interacted with a couple of retired civil servants – well above their 50s – who still felt the urge to contribute to society in their profession. One of them, Mrs. Akanke, who served 30 years in Lagos’s education sector, has a master’s degree in education. She had risen up to the post of Headmistress before retiring. Mrs. Akanke spoke passionately about Nigeria’s education system. She was sharp not just in mind, but physically agile. With that, it is safe to say that she could make an impact under the CEB programme when it becomes functional. 

Unfortunately, most retired civil servants in Nigeria, like Mrs. Akanke, end up shelving whatever passion, ideas and knowledge that remain within themselves and run small businesses. Any Nigerian who knows or has retired civil servants as acquaintances can attest to this. The fact that over 50% of retirees eventually jump into running small businesses doesn’t of course mean that some of them don’t find satisfaction or some form of fulfillment in doing so, but that many of them don’t find satisfaction or fulfillment in having a small business. It’s a case of what’s at hand is better than what’s completely out of reach.

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs plays an important role in human endeavour and the journey to becoming. His fifth and final level of needs centres on self-actualisation needs. Self-actualisation revolves around the realisation of an individual’s full potential, self-fulfillment, seeking personal growth, and peak experiences. At this level, people strive to become the best that they possibly can be. 

Of course, the need for self-actualisation can manifest in different ways, which may include acquiring more skills, utilising those skills and knowledge, pursuing life dreams and seeking happiness. For many retirees, being able to still use their skills and knowledge puts them well on the path to self-actualisation. It imbues them with the feeling of building something, of remaining valuable not just to themselves, but the society. Thus, they can form from the obscurity of life after retirement a definite sense of purpose and fulfillment. Sadly, the federal government and state governments haven’t created enabling environments to allow people of all ages to express their unique gifts and use their knowledge. 

Most retired senior citizens in Nigeria have not climbed up the hierarchy and sipped from the wine of self-actualisation. I daresay it is a rare phenomenon for us here. Self-actualisation is a lifelong process that many get to only experience in their old age. There is a need for a greater purpose in what we do, a sense of achievement and accomplishment within our work, and the connection we have to a greater meaning. Working is one of the best ways to attain self-actualisation and for senior citizens, it gives them a sense of self.

Consequently, the CEB serves as a field where retired senior citizens can use their passion, intelligence and skills to contribute to the growth of a company. Human beings are natural builders. We build our homes, love, values in society etc. Building allows us to flourish. We relate with other people who are also building, expanding what we are and could be. This way, senoir citizens can self-actualise and explore the fulfillment that comes with ageing. 

Besides, the best way to stay healthy is to keep moving. And that’s especially true as we get older. But regrettably, inactive people are more likely to develop health problems like heart disease, diabetes, and arthritis. Retirees who transition from full-time work into a temporary or part-time job experience fewer major diseases and are able to function better day-to-day than people who stop working altogether, according to a study published by the American Psychological Association. Other studies have linked working past retirement age with a reduced risk of heart attack.

When people retire, they often worry about their mental sharpness declining, with dementia being a primary concern for many retirees. Research shows that people who stay active and engaged mentally are less likely to develop dementia and another cognitive decline.

In a study carried out in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, it was discovered that compared to those who have been working after retirement, those without jobs were found more likely to be depressed. The study also showed that older adults who went back to either full-or part-time jobs after being retired mostly due to retirement age would benefit more. The same applies to retirees in Nigeria. In another study conducted on the prevalence of loneliness and association with depressive and anxiety symptoms among retirees in North Central Nigeria, the study revealed that the prevalence of loneliness, depression, anxiety, and anxious depression were relatively high among the older retirees. 

While we seem averse to the mere idea of loneliness in Nigeria, the truth is, loneliness affects a large section of our population. Moreover, loneliness gets worse especially for older people. Retirement for Nigerians comes, often, with a lot of inactivity — mentally and physically. It’s not uncommon for retirees to feel “useless” in being a functional part of society and their families. One great way for retirees to battle this is by staying social and returning to some form of structured work is a well-advised form of socialising. 

Not only does working give retirees something to do, but it also allows them to interact with other people within and outside their age bracket frequently. This can help them stay connected to the flow of the new world and reduce their risk of isolation. Some of the best jobs for retirees looking to keep their minds sharp are roles that require active problem-solving, such as consulting, teaching, or working in customer service. Part-time work is another great option for retirees as this allows them to earn an income while having more free time to enjoy their retirement. 

Dr. Omokaro had mentioned that the programme would not only strengthen senior citizens’ access to the labour market but would also provide a platform for interactions, and life-long learning opportunities while supplementing income and reducing poverty, redundancy and loneliness among senior citizens. It is clear that the CEB will have a multifaceted effect on retirees and there should be proper documentation and surveys carried out to measure the impact and reveal gaps to be closed.

Another important facet of the CEB’s impact is reducing poverty among senior citizens by creating employment. The National Bureau of Statistics (NBS), last year, said that 63% of Nigerians were poor due to a lack of access to health, education, living standards, employment and security. Inflation has skyrocketed and it is predicted to go even higher. Many senior citizens cannot make ends meet and depend on their children to survive. Some resort to begging, while others expect or solicit support from their friends and relatives. It is an aberration for an age group that is a potential force for development.

In the United Kingdom, there is a pool of older workers that represent untapped potential. The government has encouraged businesses to look at the older end of the workforce as research shows that the baby boomer generation is the fastest-growing demographic within the workforce. Some top companies employing older workers in the UK include Boots, National Express, British Gas, Unilever UK & Ireland Ltd and Aviva.

Meanwhile, the United States government has the Senior Community Service Employment Program (SCSEP), a community service and work-based job training program for older Americans, authorised under the Older Americans Act in 1965 by President Lyndon B. Johnson. The programme provides training for low-income, unemployed seniors. In its private sector, well-known companies such as Aetna, Home Depot, Macy’s, Starbucks and Wells Fargo employ older citizens. More than 1,000 employers in the country signed the AARP Employer Pledge to promote equal opportunity for all workers, regardless of age. 

So, for the CEB to spill into the private sector, Public Private Partnerships (PPPs) are crucial to making this programme work as many workers are not public servants. The initiative must embrace every retired worker in both private and public sectors. It must religiously work towards eradicating age stereotypes for older people in Nigeria. The battle for the death of age stereotypes and the birth of senior workers needs to be fought with legislation. For instance, the Labour Act, which is the main extant legislative authority in relation to Labour, does not make provision against age discrimination or ageism with respect to recruitment, retainment or promotion of employees. Indeed, the Act is in urgent need of a reform and requires necessary amendments.

Moreover, age stereotypes limit employment opportunities for older people as employers often view older workers as being less productive or technologically competent than younger workers. Some employers largely assume that older people are set in their ways, are inflexible, and are unlikely to adapt to changing job requirements. Thus, they lose the opportunity to fully utilise the years of knowledge, experience and skill that older workers bring to the workplace.

In the U.S., most older workers are still eager to learn. Some two-thirds of workers over age 50 are interested in additional training. Furthermore, hiring managers gave older employees high marks for loyalty, reliability and productivity, according to a 2009 report from the Sloan Center on Aging & Work. Older workers also do not switch jobs as often as their younger counterparts and they excel when it comes to maturity and professionalism — resulting in an impressively strong work ethic. 

The NSCC’s CEB is a highly promising and viable programme that will have a direct effect on the emotional, mental, physical, social and psychological areas of senior citizens. The Centre should ensure that the CEB doesn’t become a shadow of its lofty goal along the way. It will have its hurdles, but hurdles are meant to be surmounted. In addition, data is very much important in order for CEB to achieve its true purpose. On-ground and localised interaction with retirees is also equally pertinent. Large scale awareness in local, regions and national level is one of the foundations of getting retirees interested and involved. Many retirees in Nigeria still have a lot to give in their respective industries and have been simply waiting on a platform to do so. The time is engage senior citizens is now.

Salako is a Journalist and Editorial Assistant at UK–based Divinations Magazine. He can be reached on Twitter @i_amseawater and email: [email protected].

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