PEOPLE’S PERCEPTION OF AGEING IN ABAK LOCAL GOVERNMENT AREA: THE CHALLENGE OF THE OLDER ADULTS
1.1 Background to the Study
The concept of ageing is a universal phenomenon that cuts across all facets of living things as a natural phenomenon. Atchley (1980) define ageing as a broad concept that includes physical, psychological, mental changes that occur in our bodies.
The perception of ageing and the older adults vary from one society to another. While some societies has positive perceptions of ageing, the other societies has negative perceptions. Ageing in African society is the concept that traditionally invokes the image of respect, reverence and the knowledge that is passed down from one generation to another (Abanyam, 2013). There is a general agreement that African elders have traditionally been treated with great respect in their families and the community. This tradition extends from known customs of pre-slavery civilization on African families and kinship groups. The ability of the elderly to recall cultural historical beliefs, legends, war and important historical events in family or clan has been especially treated as immense contributions.
The elderly Ibo of East Nigeria still enjoy reverences in their communities. The beliefs that the elders are closest to the ancestors help to contribute to the respect for the living elderly. Some societies provide health care for elders, social support, family care, government formulate policies and laws that protect the rights of elders; churches and religions give their support by providing medical day care program, visiting, shopping, meals and outreach program and they wished they lived forever Arth (1968).
In our contemporary society, the image of ageing becomes tainted. Some global societies that had great respect to their old population has now approached their old age with disdain and intolerance. The Fulani People of Africa move older people to the very edge of their communities – indeed very near to their future graves. They are already seen as socially dead and are held in low regard. In some developing nations in Africa, the older adults are branded witches and are persecuted, isolated and rejected Macionis and Plummer (2005).
Growing old in contemporary society is a challenge. Contempt and disrespect stem from the aspect of ageing against one’s will. The older people are being considered as being broken down, slow to work and virtually worthless individuals. This is due to urbanization, monetization, and globalization (Cohen 1994).
Modernization, industrialization and global influences have brought about certain changes in some societies especially in the south east and south-south zone of Nigeria. The western culture has greatly influenced the perception towards the older adults in Nigeria. Abiodun (2007) opines that the access to formal education has led to a reduction in the power and prestige given to the accumulated wisdom of the older adults. The direct linkage of educational attainment with occupation and income has altered the economic status of the older adults. The mutual obligation of the extended family system are being systematically eroded by the increasing emphasis on material success and individualism. The search for greener pastures in the urban cities has resulted in the neglect and abandonment of the older adults in rural communities without any form of care. The irregularity of gratuity and pension payment have exacerbated a care challenge for the elders. Thus, some communities without regard for elders subject them to all manner of suffering, human right abuses, domestic and verbal violence.
In Akwa Ibom generally and in Abak in particular, over the last three decades the older adults were valued and respected but in recent times there seems to be disrespect and abuses such as the killing of the older adults during political activities, exploitation of the older adults, neglect during times of sickness. With all these abuses on the older adults, they perceive ageing as a period of regret, torture and shame.
Apart from that, there are communities in Abak Local Government Area that have no social infrastructure such as portable water, electricity, health centre. This makes life extremely difficult and unbearable for widows and widowers especially between the ages of 65 and above. The older adults often suffer from sickness such as Arthritis, Heart disease, stroke, hypertension, Diabetes, cancers, blindness, deafness and schizophrenia. Their life is commonly associated with “fall”.
This study therefore is concerned with investigating the perception of the people of Abak Local Government Area towards the older adults. The older adults here include people from 65 years and above this is because old age has been commonly defined as beginning at the age of sixty-five (65) years (Flesch, 1986). In Nigeria, the Retirement Age Harmonization Act of 2012 puts the retirement age of Judicial officers and academic staff of tertiary institutions at 70 and 65 years respectively…(Maji, 2014).
1.2 Statement of the Problem
Growing old in the olden days in African society was quite different from what is obtainable in contemporary African society. In the traditional African society, olden people were highly esteemed because of the important roles they played by helping to integrate the society, preserve its cultural values, transmit knowledge and skills, settle disputes and educated the young. People in the traditional African society holds positive views about older people. They got the best available foods, drinks, and their judgment were highly valued and respected. (Abanyam, 2013). In fact, Mboto (2002) claims that the word Senator is a Latin word for the older people.
Giddens (2009) indicates that in traditional societies’, older people were often accorded a great deal of respect. Among cultures that include age-grades, they had the final say over matters of importance to the community. According to Asiyambola (2008), the role of elderly in nation building at the various stages of their life can not be overemphasized. They are the custodians of culture and traditions, mediators during conflict resolution and contributors in enforcing peace in their various communities. Today, the traditional institution responsible for the care-giving is being dismantled. This institutions, which is extended family is being dismantled and consequently, the ageing population is now facing a number of problems. These problems have brought some challenges to older adults. (Oluwabamide 2007, John 2010).
By neglecting the older adults, contemporary African societies have missed out on the wise saying which teaches ideas such as the evil of jealousy, selfishness, wickedness, hypocrisy and greed while inculcating virtues such as love, kindness, gentleness impartiality, fairness or justice and humility (Dzurgar, 2012:106). This was aimed at equipping the younger ones with the necessary skills and attitudes that would help younger people to function effectively in the society (Ering, 2008 and Abamyam, 2013). This was the case in all African societies
However, the problem is the perception of the children and adults about ageing and the older adults. Contemporary societies have successfully carried on the tradition of impertinence in many aspects by forcefully pushing and neglecting the older people out of the workforce as well as the community display of irreverence. This perception has been carried on by raising young people with negative perception of growing old or becoming old.
This perception has alarming misconceptions that remain as imaginary study to young people. It portray a negative image and hope from the generations that are moving next to the stage. Ageing has been linked to various problems ranging from maltreatment, ageism, neglect and exploitation. This is a problem to the ‘graying population’ and the society at large. It is therefore the task of this study to investigate the perception of ageing by the older adults.