Since its inception on October 25, 2011, the Ekiti State government Social Security Scheme for the elderly has been under serious scrutiny by various stakeholders in the state, who were in doubt of the government’s ability to execute it. MUYIWA ADEYEMI, Head South West Bureau, who has been monitoring the implementation of the scheme writes in this report that the government has not only been faithful with the implementation of the scheme but that it has also positively impacted on the economy of the rural communities.
THE joy of the elderly people that gathered at the All Saints Society Hall in Ilawe Ekiti last week Wednesday was palpable. They smiled to receive government officials that came to monitor their welfare and health. Some were seen in groups exchanging banters and discussing how Ekiti State government had in the last one and half years turned their lives around for better even when they had become weak to contribute to the economic development of the state. From a distance, another set of aged women led a song to acknowledge the gesture of Governor Kayode Fayemi, which they all chorused and there was a deft silence as the officials started to call their names.
These aged people are the beneficiaries of the Social Security Scheme of the state government. They congregate at the hall every month to receive their monthly stipend of N5, 000. From the appearances of the over 3, 000 beneficiaries monitored in Ilawe, Aramoko and Ido Osi, they are truly indigent aged people who see the stipend as a lifeline saving them from hunger and abject poverty.
Pa Rufus Idowu, 87, is from Oke-Omo, Idofin quarters in Ilawe Ekiti. He said he had stopped going to farm about 20 years ago because of ill health and old age and depended on his son, Damilare, who was the breadwinner of the family for survival. But Damilare died in 2006 in a ghastly motor accident along Lokoja-Abuja road and since then he had to rely on friends and relations to survive and at times support from them would not come.
He said: “Since the death of Damilare, I had lost hope of living any meaningful life. In fact I had been praying to God to take my life; you know it is an abomination to commit suicide here. When one of my friends came and invited me to register for this scheme, I was reluctant because I don’t trust politicians, but he insisted that I should give it a trial. I went for the enumeration and when I told officials the story of my life, the youth corps members that conducted the exercise gave me N2, 000 from their purse. And since then I have been collecting N5, 000 every month without working for government.”
Asked if the stipend is enough to feed him for a month, Pa Idowu, who lost his wife about nine years ago said, “in this rural community, it is sufficient to feed me. Most times I still save up to N400 per month because I don’t drink alcohol. But my fear is how long the government will pay us this money because we don’t render any service to them. But the only thing we can do is to continue to pray for Governor Fayemi and the people paying us.”
For 80-year-old Mr. Obafemi Awoluyi of Okemedo Ikere road, the scheme has been the best thing to happen to him in his old age. He said he was fortunate to be among the first set of beneficiaries and since then he and his wife have been able to feed well without having to wait for their children or relatives. With gratitude to the government, Pa Awoluyi said he would have wished the scheme were extended to his wife.
He said: “This is a big money for a peasant farmer like me. Even when I was still strong to go to farm, I knew the quantity of yam I sold to make N5, 000. But now, I don’t have to work before I get money to feed. But I would have been happier if my wife is benefitting from the scheme.”
Speaking on why his wife was exempted from the scheme, he said she just clocked 64 in January this year and the scheme is for 65 years and above but pleaded with government not to hesitate to replace his name with that of his wife whenever he died.
“Please help me plead with the government to transfer my stipend to my wife because I am old and may die anytime. I am making this plea because I know two people that have died but the stipend was not transferred to their wives or children,” he pleaded.
Radiant looking 75-year-old Juliana Awelewa from Aye quarters in Ilawe-Ekiti is an exceptional woman with business acumen. She said immediately she started to collect the money, she decided to go into selling of GSM recharge cards and have been making profit of between N3, 000 and N3, 500 per month.
According to her, “I was a farmer cultivating yam and cocoyam but because of age I had to stop farming. But when I started collecting this stipend, I thought of what I could do with it and I went for recharge card. In the beginning the profit margin was insignificant but now I make up to N3, 500 profit. So, I am having up to N8, 500 which is sufficient to feed me and my grandchild staying with me.”
She continued: “Since the death of Chief Obafemi Awolowo, we never thought we could have a government that would cater for the poor but Governor Fayemi is a God sent politician to banish poverty and put smiles in the faces of the old people. This is the first time we are feeling the impact of government and this gesture is coming without asking for any obligation from us. But we shall continue to pray for him because once he remains our governor our survival is guaranteed.”
To Pa Oluwatoba Agbasola, the stipend is not only sufficient for his feeding, he also has enough to buy hot drink to keep his body warm. “After eating in the morning whenever it is raining or the weather is too cold, I will buy a sachet of Chelsea hot drink that keeps me warm. I drank local gin (ogogoro) before but Fayemi has changed that with our monthly allowance,” the 78-year-old man said.
Not less than 20,000 indigent elderly people have been benefitting from the Social Security Scheme of the state government since it formally took off in Ise-Ekiti, the headquarters of Ise/Orun Local Government Area on October 25, 2011, where Fayemi distributed cheques to beneficiaries. The scheme is being supervised by the State Ministry of Labour, Productivity and Human Capital Development which was created by the governor to generate more jobs for the unemployed and improve the living standards of the less privileged.
To make the enumeration and screening exercise a success, the Ministry held consultations with the local government caretaker committee chairmen, traditional rulers and ward development officers in the 16 Local Council Areas. A workshop was also held for 400 members of the Ekiti State Youth Volunteer Corps who served as enumerators for the exercise.
The Permanent Secretary, Ekiti State Ministry of Labour, Productivity and Human Capital Development, Mrs. Funmi Ajayi, told The Guardian last week while monitoring the payment of the stipend that about 500 out of 20,000 beneficiaries have died in the last one and half years and disclosed that the Ministry is already working on how to replace them.
She said that the programme was very dear to the governor who most times ensured that the stipend was paid even before civil servants collected their salary. She added that the Ministry at inception of the programme devised a method to ensure that they take the cash to the doorstep of the beneficiaries through what she called Community Cash Programme (CCP). Ajayi said the process to select the beneficiaries was thorough because it was meant for the indigent elderly people that are not receiving pension or having children that will cater for them.
Besides the stipend, the aged people in Ekiti State also enjoy free medical care in all government hospitals. These gestures, no doubt, have increased the life span of elderly people in the state.
A community leader in Ido who spoke to The Guardian on the effect of the scheme said government has been able to record success on the programme because it does not have political colouration. He said there was even a protest from the members of the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) that more members of the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) benefitted than ACN members in the programme.
According to him, “the effect of this programme goes beyond feeding the aged; it has impacted positively on the macro economy of our community. As at last count, not less than 200 aged people from this small community are benefitting from it, meaning that about N1 million is coming here every month because they spend the money to buy food and occasionally GSM recharge cards. We noticed that food items sell more and farmers are happy because people have cash in their pockets to buy their produce.”
A government source disclosed to The Guardian that about five states had sent their officials to Ekiti State to under study how the government has been implementing the welfare scheme said to be first of its kind in sub Saharan Africa despite the lean purse of the state.
Speaking on why government is spending so much on the aged people, Fayemi had noted that, “it is painful to note that across the length and breadth of Africa, poverty visibly walks on the street with impunity. Of the many identifiable strands of poverty that is confronting the developing world is the one associated with old age when one’s strength and vitality is lost and the bones are irredeemably weakened. Not too long ago, those who fall in this vulnerable category, the aged, were taken care of by a social system that is effective in making life more enjoyable though with little to share. Today, civilisation has eroded the system; it is now everyone to himself and God for us all. In the process, people lived the latter part of their lives in abject poverty with attendant diseases, emotional breakdown and frustrating social disaffections.
“Even if it is impossible to re-enact, in absolute terms, the good old days of fending for our elderly through our extended family system, it is the determination of this government to reduce old age poverty significantly. This is the essence of this scheme designed to provide for our people in their old age in various communities in the state.”
-------------MUYIWA ADEYEMI, GURDIAN, FRIDAY, FEBRUARY 22, 2013