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Abandoned by Children: pathetic stories of senior citizens living as beggars

On Monday, May 23, 2016, a heavy rainfall in Lagos lasted about six hours. But while every man and woman, child and even animal ran for cover, 66-year-old Abiodun Adekunbi sat quietly on the median demarcating the road around the popular Ijaye Bus Stop in the Ijaye-Ojokoro area of the state.

Sitting alone and motionless without making any effort to dash for cover drew the curiosity of many residents who saw her from afar as few people ran to her to urge her to seek shelter.
By the time the rain stopped, residents of the area had called officials of the Kick Against Indiscipline, who came to the scene to help the woman.But the elderly woman simply looked glumly on as she hugged herself. All entreaties by traders and passersby to encourage her to leave the rain fell on deaf ears.
Suggestions were made to give her food to restore her strength as she looked famished and tired. An official of Kick Against Indiscipline, Mr. Olusanya Temitope, bought a plate of rice and a bottle of soft drink for her, which Adekunbi accepted and promptly ate.
After the food, it became clear that she was an educated woman and one of our correspondents, who was at the scene decided to dig into her life and where she came from.
The elderly woman, who could clearly speak good English, told our correspondent in the earshot of shocked sympathisers who had gathered around her, that she had been sleeping on the street for months with the hope of locating her only surviving daughter whose whereabouts she did not know.
No one could have taken a look at Adekunbi and say she was once a respectable senior nurse at the Lagos University Teaching Hospital, Idi Araba, Lagos. But that is exactly the case.
She said her dream was to spend her retirement from the active service of the LUTH in leisure activities such as watching television, reading inspirational books and engaging in civic and religious programmes with her husband.
 “I dreamt of seeing my grand-children and assisting in nurturing them. I love children a lot. I would have loved to help in taking care of my grandchildren,” she said.
But 22 years after 66-year-old Adekunbi, a native of Iyin Ekiti in Ekiti State retired form LUTH, all she became was a homeless woman living off the street.
 “My love for children was why I chose to become a nurse – a profession I loved so much until I retired as a Senior Nursing Sister from LUTH in 1994,” the elderly woman said.
With sad eyes, that seemed to have seen a lot of crying, Adekunbi said all she had worked for and acquired in her many years of active service at LUTH had perished in her presence.
She said, “Neither my family members nor my daughter has bothered to look after me in my state of helplessness.
 “I am from Iyin Ekiti in Ekiti State. I had four children – three girls and one boy. Unfortunately, I lost the first three. The last one, Omolola, got married a few years ago. But I don’t know her whereabouts now. She only came to take me to her house in Agege immediately after she got married where I spent a few days with her, but I can’t locate the place again. I don’t know her telephone number and she has not called me.”
Asked if she could recognise the only surviving daughter if she saw her, she said, “Why not? Why won’t I be able to recognise my own daughter?”
There were initial doubts about her sanity when she was rescued but it became clear when she began to tell her life’s story that she was sane and lucid.
Adekunbi, who was shivering as a result of the heavy rain that had drenched her that day, vividly recalled the address of her former house. According to her, she left the house and started wandering the streets when she could no longer lay her hands on any food to eat let alone pay her rent.
She said, “I used to live in a one-roomed apartment at 5, Olatunji Aregbe Street, Ijegun, Lagos State. My landlord’s name is Mr. Olatunji. But paying rent is no longer possible for me. I have not even eaten anything for the past three days.”
Her explanation on how she had been surviving since she retired from LUTH drew out tears from sympathisers when she said that she had lost contact with one Mr. Atta, the man who she claimed was giving her information on her pension.
She said, “Immediately after we retired, we were informed that we would be collecting our pension in Abuja, but I lost contact with Mr. Atta, who was helping me with information and sometimes assisted me to collect the money. I have not been able to locate him for some years now.
“I also lost my two ATM cards and diary on the day my third child, Omolara, died, and I could not contact anyone as regards my pension. Since then, my life has turned from bad to worse.”
Adekunbi alleged that her late Edo State-born husband, Augustine, sold the only plot of land she owned which she hoped to build a modest house on after retirement from LUTH, to his mistress.
“This is not the kind of life I planned to live in retirement. I could not imagine that my husband could sell my land on Debora Olayinka Street, Igando, to his mistress. He died not long after he sold my land,” the retired senior nursing sister said.
For Adekunbi, all her life’s belongings are few scanty items she carried in a black polythene bag.
In the polythene bag were a pair of bathroom sleepers, a hand bag, bra and a wrist watch.
When one of our correspondents visited LUTH on May 24, 2016 to confirm if Adekunbi actually retired from the hospital, officials at the public relations unit of the hospital, said the spokesperson, who they claimed was the only person that could confirm the issue, was not around.
The officials, however, asked the correspondent to officially apply for the information being sought with the promise to get the information across to him when the hospital’s spokesperson was back.
But as of the time of filing this report, the hospital had yet to either deny or confirm that Adekunbi retired from the hospital.
Stories like that of Adekunbi raise a lot of questions about the care of the elderly and social services generally in the country.
Just last week, Saturday PUNCH reported the case of 62-year-old landlord, Alhaji Owolabi Jibril, in Ogba area of Lagos, who has been living in squalor and forced to beg for alms on the side of the road, saying he had been abandoned and forgotten by his children.
Family support for the elderly in Nigeria still remains a big issue considering the fact that there is no robust social scheme for the care of senior citizens in the country.
According to the United Nations Population Fund, around 2.8 per cent of the 403 million people living in West and Central Africa are made up of elderly people aged 65 and upwards. That is about 11.3 million elderly people who have to depend on traditional family care.
Increasingly, more elderly people are becoming vulnerable to the point of being homeless when such family care does not materialise.
Nigeria’s Global AgeWatch report card is instructive on the terrible plight of the elderly in the country.
With 8.2 million people aged over 60, the report says Nigeria has only five per cent of people over 65 receiving a pension. On top of this, it states that only a fraction of people aged 65 and above have relatives or friends they can count on when in trouble.
Unfortunately, for such elderly people, hunger and search for survival turn them to beggars and homeless people like Adekunbi.
She is currently in custody of the state government as our correspondent who spoke with her, monitored her case to the point when she was transferred to the custody of the Lagos State Ministry of Women Affairs and Poverty Alleviation.
There are many cases like that of this old nurse.
Last week, a Twitter user shared the photographs of a woman, who had lived under a trader’s table on the street for days at the Iyana Ipaja bus terminus in Lagos, as her relations who were notified of her plight allegedly refused to show up until two weeks after when our correspondent was told she had finally been taken away by some unidentified individuals.
Noticeably, every major city in Nigeria, has so many of such elderly people milling around bus terminal, abandoned and forgotten by family members.
Ibadan, the Oyo State capital, has an abundance of such cases.
Among the crowd of beggars milling around Iwo Road in Ibadan, the Oyo State capital on a sunny Thursday afternoon, nothing stood Mama Abeni out.  Like every other individual begging for alms at the bus terminus that day, anybody that passed by was a potential source of meal for her.
Her gaunt frame and hollow eyes socket were the telltale signs of a hard life. And truly, life has been hard for Mama Abeni. This much became clear when one of our correspondents approached her to tell her story.
She is popularly known as Mama Abeni among the regulars in the area and she requested she be referred to as that.
Mama Abeni agreed to talk only after assurance that she would “get something” from one of our correspondents.
She could not say what her age exactly is but looked like she could be in her mid-60s.
Mama Abeni explained that she came to Ibadan from Bida, Niger State, where she had lived with her husband, now late, for 40 years.
“My two adult children left Bida five years ago before their father’s death. After my husband’s death, I was alone despite being old and not able to do much for a living.
“They never returned to take care of me. Their father died three years ago and they were contacted. They came for the burial and left two days after, promising to come back and resettle me in Osogbo but that was the last time I saw them.
“I was selling kolanut but I no longer have the strength to go on. I was told that my children live in Ibadan. With no help from neighbours, I decided to come here to look for them through one of our relatives,” she said.
“Six months ago, I got to a house where I was told my daughter lived in. Nobody could tell me where she moved to. Here I am now, begging for what to eat under the bridge. I don’t know if my children are even alive because if they are, they would have visited me in Bida.”
Abeni told our correspondent that she slept in mosques and churches and bathed in a stream.
“I came here with nothing but I am trying to gather enough money through alms so that I can rent a room. If I decide to return to Bida, which family do I know there? If I go to Osogbo, our hometown, what would I do there? I have been sleeping in mosques and churches and I bathe sometimes in a stream around here early in the morning.”
Asked if she had not met any of her relatives while begging, Abeni said it was almost impossible because she had lost touch with many of them while living in Bida.
For every old man or woman, who is found begging for food or money to eat on any street, there is a family somewhere.
The streets of Ibadan are today flooded with beggars from virtually every part of the country.
Pathetically, among them are old women who said they had to beg to fend for themselves because their children abandoned them. They are mostly found in Mokola roundabouts and under the bridge in Iwo Road, running after every vehicle. Sometimes, they risk being crushed by vehicles. In their desperation to get money from their target, they even embarrass them by refusing to leave the side of the windows.
Gerontologist and lecturer of Sociology at the Lagos State University, Dr. Olanrewaju Ajiboye, explained that the increasing number of elderly people becoming beggars in the country is a danger sign for the society.
He said, “It shows the degenerative level of our cultural value. Elderly people were seen in those days in the African traditional society as the intermediary between the living and those who have passed. They were also seen as the repository of knowledge the society tapped from. Those who survive to reach such advanced ages used to be valued and respected. No decisions were taken without consulting them. Sometimes, their words were like laws. That was why the society, even outside their immediate families made it a responsibility to take care of them.
“But today, a lot has changed. Even though a lot more people reach advanced age now as a result of advancement in technology and medical science, yet the society value the elderly lesser and lesser.
“However, there is the issue of how well parents too train their children. If you happen to meet some of the children of some of those elderly people, they would have their story to tell also. There is what you call the principle of reciprocity. If you give your children sound education and good to them, their is the tendency that they will look after you when you become old.  But no matter what, it is always a bad thing to abandon one’s parents.”
Dr. Ajiboye said the government has also disappointed elderly people in the country as a result of lack of comprehensive social services for them.
According to him, pension, which is sometimes referred to as a form of social security is “mere paperwork” in the country.
The don said, “What is the percentage of people who have worked in the formal sector of the economy? They are just around five per cent, which is very insignificant. What about those who worked in the informal sector?
“It is unfortunate that when people become frail and are not able to work in Nigeria, the government has no provision for them. To make matters worse, I can say with certainty that there is no geriatric doctor or nurse in Nigeria. This is to show how seriously the government takes the issue of the elderly in the country.”

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