At a time when there is hardly any credible programme for the care of the aged in the country, Anambra State recently instituted a social security scheme for its indigent elderly citizens. The recent launch of this scheme in Awka, the state capital, adds Anambra to the list of few states that have taken up the challenge of doing the little they can to ameliorate the plight of their aged poor. This exemplary concept, which is already in place in about two states, will see indigent Anambra oldies receiving a stipend of N5000 from the state coffers monthly. The allowance is expected to be used to provide the most basic necessities of life for the aged. It rightly recognises the responsibility of states to provide succour for elderly persons who lack the wherewithal to care for themselves.
At the unveiling of the programme, Governor Peter Obi said it is targetted at indigent citizens of the state aged 75 years and above. In addition, prospective recipients must be without any form of support and they must not be pensioners. About 30,000 indigent elders reportedly benefited from over N1 billion cheques that were distributed at the launch.
We commend Anambra and the other states that have taken up the challenge of caring for the elderly who are one of the most vulnerable segments of any society. They have demonstrated the importance of building a more caring society. The government has a responsibility to care for this category of citizens who have no children or relative to care for them. Social welfare schemes of this nature will go a long way in addressing the problem of destitution in the society. Other states that have not considered it fit to institute such programmes should do so.
This welfare scheme underscores the essence of governance as a human enterprise designed to articulate and implement policies that will improve the lives of the citizens. In a democracy, leaders are supposed to be creative thinkers who must respond wisely to the concerns and problems of the people, especially the less privileged. Unfortunately, many state governments ignore this basic responsibility, preferring to deploy public funds to projects that are of little value to their citizens.
It is heartening that the Obi administration has put in place a machinery to sustain the scheme and ensure that successive administrations in the state do not reverse or abolish it. Gladly, the scheme is to be guided by a law entitled Anambra State Indigent Relief Law. The bill for this law was passed by the state House of Assembly in June, and the governor assented to it in July, thereby ensuring the continuity of the scheme. The state government has also opened a special account for the project, with assurance that enough money has been set aside to cover the N5,000 monthly stipend for beneficiaries till December 2014, to ensure that the scheme takes off smoothly.
It is good that the Anambra State Indigent Relief Law provides for tough penalties against those who may abuse the scheme. For instance, section 7 of the law establishing the scheme prescribes N50,000 fine and or six years’ imprisonment for defaulters. This includes anyone who may claim to be above the stipulated 75 years and above. There are also sanctions for anyone who gives false information to aid an intending recipient. However, the effectiveness of this scheme will depend to a large extent on its implementation after the exit of Governor Obi, who will leave office in March 2014.
We, therefore, urge those in charge of the scheme to be diligent, accountable and transparent in its execution. The success or otherwise of the plan in addressing the plight of its beneficiaries will determine its adoption or rejection by other states in the country.
As good as this initiative looks, however, the authorities in Anambra must beware of the tendency for such programmes to be abused. This is because the sad reality of the Nigerian situation is that funds earmarked for such noble initiatives are oftentimes misappropriated. This should not be allowed to happen with this scheme. The scheme must be properly monitored and the penalties provided for its abuse should be strictly enforced.
Although the view has been expressed in some quarters that the stipend of N5000 monthly for the beneficiaries is too small, we recommend that the scheme should be properly implemented first, and the amount reviewed in due time as the state’s finances may allow.
This programme for the aged poor in Anambra is a meaningful step towards a more comprehensive welfare scheme for the elderly in our society. Government at all levels should rise to the challenge of caring for the aged and the other vulnerable members of the society.