Nigerians have followed with keen interest the ever-changing developments around the Coronavirus (Covid-19) and it is with great dismay that discussions have not surrounded older people and other immune-compromised during this pandemic.
Naturally, as we age, our bodies and bodily functions also begin to fail as well as our body’s ability to fight infection. For the immune-compromised people, using masks, hand sanitizer and wipes are part of their daily lives and this is something that healthy people take for granted every day.
Older and immune-compromised person are the most at risk at this critical point in time and one cannot help but wonder what arrangements are in place for them. It shouldn’t take a pandemic to spur people into action or into caring about their lives. It is just sad that with the wake of the coronavirus, people are now mindful of hand washing, social distancing, covering their mouths when they sneeze/cough and staying at home when they are sick. We ought to do these things out of habit and not out of fear.
The situation of old people in Nigeria appeals for prompt intervention of law. Aged people in Nigeria are exposed to serious discrimination and depression and suffer inaccessibility to health services, separation and abandonment. Aging being a natural phenomenon rather than a (self-inflicted) predicament, prompt attention from Government is required for establishment of a specific Elder Law in Nigeria to cater for the wellbeing of the aged. The increase in the number of elderly people in Nigeria lacks attention from the government and this indeed cries for urgent consideration.
Elder Law, like other areas of law encompasses a wide range of issues and it cuts across all matters that directly or indirectly affect the elderly in the society. It is aimed at ensuring the provision of social services such as income, security, healthcare, housing, and legal assistance in order to positively influence the well-being and health of the elderly in our communities (as it is in most developed countries). It therefore tries to resolve all problems that are faced at old age which are inevitable.
In Nigeria, it was not until 26 January 2018 that President Buhari signed the Senior Citizens Centre Bill into law. The Law raised hoped for the elderly in Nigeria with the promise of to establish the Centre across all the States of the Federation. It is 2020 and nothing has been heard or seen about this promising Legislation neither has there been any Board set up to oversee the Centre.
Section 6 (a) provides that ‘’The National Centre shall identify the needs, trainings, and opportunities of senior citizens of the country and shall be responsible for the provision of recreational, sports, educational, health and social programs and facilities designed for the full enjoyment and benefit of the senior citizens in the country as well as provide guidance and counselling for senior citizens.”
While it is applauding that the Law is in place to cater for the elderly in Nigeria, it is disheartening that two years after, there is nothing to show for it.
As for immune-compromised persons, the legislation which provides for them is the Discrimination Against Persons with Disability (Prohibition) Act 2018. The Act prohibits the discrimination based on disability and imposes sanctions including fine and prison sentences on those who contravene it. It also stipulates a five-year transitional period for modifying public buildings, structures, and automobiles to make them accessible and usable for people with disabilities.
The law will also establish a National Commission for Persons with Disabilities, responsible for ensuring that people with disabilities have access to housing, education, and healthcare. The Commission will be empowered to receive complaints of rights violations and support victims to seek legal redress amongst other duties.
The enactment of the Discrimination Against Persons with Disabilities (Prohibition) Act was only a first step in the fulfilment of Nigeria’s obligations under the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD). Authorities should put effective measures in place for its full implementation to ensure equal treatment and participation of people with disabilities across Nigeria.
It has also been two years since the Law was passed and there is neither seen nor heard of the National Commission for Persons with Disabilities.
At a critical time like this, proper care and attention need to be given to old and immune-compromised people. This is because ageing and incapacitation due to genetic origin or not causes people to be less active, frailer, and more exposed to risks of contracting a disease, leading to prejudice or discrimination, social isolation, and, sometimes, abandonment.
As the Government is taking measures to stop the spread of this deadly virus, special attention should be given to the elderly and immune-compromised to ensure that they are kept safe and listed as high priority for medical attention when infected.
Augusta Yaakugh is an Abuja based Legal Practitioner, Rights Advocate and the Founder of Lex Community NG.