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Nigeria's growth leaves elderly behind

By Christian Purefoy,CNN
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Nigeria's elderly take a stand
  • Elderly feel left out of Lagos' rapid growth and urbanization as three new city centers planned in Nigeria's capital
  • Nigeria's proposed budget for 2010 boosts pension funds to $1.7 billion to help pensioners
  • But many senior citizens say corporation has not paid pensions for 21 months
  • Many young Nigerians have little sympathy for the older generation
  • Nigeria

Lagos, Nigeria (CNN) -- Planners of Nigeria's capital city are plotting three new city centers, new railways and a highway.

But there is one group that says it is feeling left out of Lagos' rapid growth and urbanization: the elderly.

One example of this could be seen recently outside the National Railway Corp. office, where a crowd gathered, some using walking-sticks and others on wheelchairs.

The crowd of hundreds accused the corporation of not paying them their pension for 21 months.

"I feel very bad -- I'm not supposed to struggle to get my entitlement," said Henry Oyekan, 71. "Especially all the shoving that is going on."

Gbenga Ibitoye chimed in.

"We will pray for federal government to answer us in time to give us our money," Ibitoye said. "Because people are dying."

Company officials pass out paperwork for the crowd to write down their grievances, but nothing is resolved, some said.

At about the same time, a different group of Lagos seniors took their concerns to the legislature. The nearly 100 elders -- dressed in traditional clothes and head-dresses -- said they made an appointment with the Lagos House Assembly recently.

The group sat in a meeting hall waiting to talk to lawmakers.

"You're making your budget, building your roads but there's no provision for the old people and it upsets me," said Moses Iloh, 80, as he waited for lawmakers to arrive. "Today in Nigeria people have no plans for the aged."

The group waited for four hours, but the lawmakers did not show up for the meeting. Many could not contain their discouragement as they left the meeting without getting to speak their mind.

"Well -- I feel very disappointed -- but they said they are very busy," said Olubumni Okusanya, 69, one of the organizers.

Nigeria's proposed budget for 2010 boosts pension funds to more than $1.7 billion to try and alleviate pensioners' woes.

And maybe because of this, many young Nigerians have little sympathy for the older generation.

"Our elders are reaping what they have sown," one man said. "The elders -- the youth of yesterday, they are the elders of today -- so they are responsible for this misfortune we are having," another man said.

Okusanya said she will not wait for the government to look after her.

Using her military pension, she visits those in need and sometimes abandoned by their families. During the visits, she checks their blood-pressure and general health, and spends time with them.

Traditionally, elders in Nigerian culture are afforded great respect by the youth. But, Okusanya said, rapid urbanization and a worsening economy are eroding family and cultural ties.

"As they are looking for money here and there -- they have no time," said Okusanya, who said she will continue to get her message out to the younger generation. "We are not forcing -- we are sort of creating an awareness and wanting them to know that they are coming to get old too."