Being elderly is a function of ageing – “a combination of biological, psychological and social processes that affect people, as they grow older”. It is a natural, as well as universal phenomenon that, inevitably, applies to all human beings. Presently, the population of elderly persons aged 60 years and above is increasing rapidly across the globe. This owes to several factors including reduction in birth rates; the fact that “people globally are living longer (more than ever before). In fact, most people are expected to live beyond their sixties, due to improved health facilities and technology. As at 2017, the World Health Organisation (WHO) reported that the total number of people aged 60 years and above had risen to 900 million by 2015. The same report indicated that this would reach 2 billion by the year 2050 – a 22% increase in the global population. With the demographic transition in this direction, it is apparent that most countries of the world are experiencing growth in the proportion of older persons in their national population – especially in the developed countries of the global north where higher quality of life obtains.
Recognised as the most populous country in Africa, Nigeria has a total population of 206 million people. Available evidence from this same report revealed that about 9.4 million individuals were aged 60 years and above. The report further affirmed that women constituted 46 percent of the elderly population. With a total population of over 206 million, it is imperative to note that the larger percentage of Nigeria’s population is made up of youths and adolescents while older population groups are constantly on the increase, expected to reach 2 billion by 2050 (Statista, 2020). With the slow growth rate of the elderly population, there is a high possibility for a quantum increase in the older generations in Nigeria due to improving health facilities. This is in agreement with a United Nations (2012) report on age and elderly care that projected an increase in the population of the elderly from 6.4 million in 2015 to 11.5 million in 2025, and an estimated total of 22.5 million elderly persons by the year 2050.
However, despite the positive projection from various credible institutions, ageing in developing countries like Nigeria is occasioned by precarious situations, financial incapacitation, lack of formal arrangements, non-support or provision for elderly care, and poor infrastructure to address peculiar problems the elderly. According to UNESCAP (1994), care and support of the aged require that sufficient welfare be provided at family and community levels by strengthening programmes channelled towards the mental and social development of the elderly. Mutual and elderly care entails community as well as institutionalized care or program that is developed for elderly people who are ill, in need of rehabilitation, or suffering from acute or chronic diseases.
In this discourse, the implicature of “mutuality” refers to the ability, capacity and willingness of older spouses to care for each other. This is most important, due to the intimacy that exists between spouses; ideally, they should be the closest to and best friends of each other. In building better families, businesses and society, the Institute for Work and Family Integration (IWFI) Nigeria, prioritizes and supports every positive dimension of mutuality between spouses, so that as they age, they continue to grow in love of each other in happiness. However, the quality of inter-spousal relationships during the life course of a marriage engenders mutual indebtedness that could influence couples’ willingness to care and be there for each other in old age, especially when either of both spouses is impaired, incapacitated, or disabled.
In view of the above observation, it is expedient for the government to implement national policy on the care and wellbeing of the aged in Nigeria. Such policy must cut across both gender and must be backed by strong political will for implementation. In addition, the government should respond to the dire needs of social security, from the perspective of pensions, that will prioritize elderly people who have retired from formal employment. Moreover, the media and social advocacy organizations need to intensify awareness, sensitization and campaign to encourage and promote mutual and elderly care as an alternative to the deficient social security in a developing country-context like Nigeria’s.