Amid An Intense Election Cycle, An Initiative Made Voting Easy For Nigeria’s Senior Citizens

Senior citizens at a Age Nigeria Foundation event. Photo Credit: Age Nigeria Foundation
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OYO, NIGERIA: Toyin Olukoya, 68, loves to vote. She has been an active voter in Nigeria’s election processes for some thirty years.

Olukoya became passionate about voting during her teenage years when she witnessed how a single vote made all the difference she needed, “… and I told myself that I would continue to be politically active, to elect the best leader who will create a soft landing for our coming generations.” 

But during the 2023 general elections, Olukoya stated that she became overwhelmed. This was due to the unusual clash of interests  between the youth and the older people.

“Never had I ever had my goal seriously threatened until the 2023 election cycle,” she explained, adding that the youths around Lekki and Ajah district in Lagos state, southwest Nigeria, wouldn’t allow her to independently exercise her voting rights. 

Toyin Olukoya speaking to The SolutionsPaper reporter at Lufasi Park, Ajah Lagos. Photo Credits: Yusuf Adua/ The SolutionsPaper

They repeatedly disrespected and mocked her, stating that the 2023 elections were not for “old cargos”. Their threats took a psychological toll on her, they said our time was over,” she told The SolutionsPaper.

Intense Political Clime

Nigerian youths were fully involved in the 2023 general elections—unlike the ones that preceded it. The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), revealed that those between the ages of 18 to 34 accounted for about 40 percent of newly registered voters and 35.75 percent were between the ages of 35 and 49. 

However, analysts have noted that the unprecedented interest of young voters in the elections was a deliberate scheme. Abiodun Bamigboye, the Coordinator of Campaign for Democratic and Workers’ Rights told The SolutionsPaper that the political class used the youth to rebrand the 2023 election as an ‘old versus young’ affair.

The youths have been excluded from the social and economic opportunities the country has to offer. Despite accounting for 70 percent of the population, more than half are unemployed. This makes them vulnerable to exploitation by the political elites.

Bamigboye adds that, “many political actors in Nigeria exploited the youths’ anger that had manifested during the 2020 #EndSARS protest to create an undue bout between youths and older citizens”

The bout became so intense that despite Olukoya’s belief that just her single vote could usher in the right leadership, the youths and the political environment perceived the exercise differently. The political atmosphere was such that it portrayed the country as a victim of older people’s unwise political choices.

Youths used social media platforms to escalate public outrage and call for responsible governance and accountability. While some urged other young people to exercise their voting rights, some of them portrayed their messages in a way that had adverse effects on older people’s wellbeing.

This led to harassment of senior citizens not only on social media but within communities where younger people began to warn older people against exercising their voting rights. This included 78-year-old Oluwafemi Idowu.

Idowu of Owode Local Government Area (LGA) in Ogun, a state also in the southwest, was in the midst of this unfriendly political environment. 

Despite being a retired police officer, he almost succumbed to the consistent threats by the youths around his community telling him that he had no business participating in the 2023 elections.

“Those children said we spoiled the country and we ushered bad leaders into power. As I was preparing myself to vote, these kids who wouldn’t call my son by name repeatedly told me that my time as a voter and partaker in my country’s political process was over. It was pathetic and demoralising,” he recounted to The SolutionsPaper.

Even so, the 2023 elections came with its unique set of challenges due to the cash crunch from the Central Bank’s cashless policy. There was also “no fuel or happiness to proceed to the polls. That some sections of the youths made the political environment more hostile for us was the nail in the coffin,” Idowu stated.

Age Nigeria Foundation Steps In  

Age Nigeria Foundation was set up to counter ageism– a form of discrimination against older people and to help bridge the gap between the old and young in Nigeria. Through a reorientation, realignment, recompense, rehabilitation and reimbursement process tagged as ‘The 5 Rs’, its members became encouraged to participate in the 2023 elections. 

Oluwayemisi Oluwole, the founder of the organisation, told The SolutionsPaper that the foundation had to step in because the older people needed support during the heat of the 2023 election cycle.

“We had divided all our members to different catchment areas for easy mobility,” Oluwole said. “So, every weekend, mostly Saturdays, we lined up different programmes for different weeks on a group basis and attended to their individual psychological concerns afterwards.”

The organisation divides all the members into small subgroups and assigns a member of the team to head each group for weekly meetings. From there, it ensured that none of them were left out.

“We ensured that we heard from all of them. They [older people] will tell us what they encountered in the past week and we will use any of the 5 Rs that suit their challenges”.

Oluwafemi Idowu, a beneficiary of Age Nigeria Foundation at Lufasi Park, Ajah Lagos. Photo Credits: Yusuf Adua/ The SolutionsPaper

Since the foundation was focused on providing succour for senior citizens during the election cycle, the support was psychological. It introduced a  mental support programme that involved placing daily phone calls to every member of the group who lives alone.

“We hired psychologists to come speak to them and braced them up after hearing from them. The paid psychologists, alongside members of our team individually addressed their fears. Afterwards, we merged all of them together and organised light refreshing programme to soften the pedal of the one-on-one interaction.”

She further explained that, “from 7 p.m, we phoned every member whom we’ve captured to be living alone. We made that a routine because we discovered that those who live alone are always bored and are susceptible to attacks from these youths.”

After they had been reorientated and realigned to the society through the foundation’s weekly psychological sessions, it organised a monthly general session for every member of the group at Lufasi Park in Ajah, Lagos, to redress them.

“Once in a month, we mobilised all of them to Lufasi Park’s open space for political enlightenment, games, and soft exercises,” Oluwole added.

The foundation did so to update them on the changes in the voting process and get them physically ready for the voting activities. It also always rewarded winners of every game and those that fully participated in the soft exercises to keep their spirits high.

Other Members Go Through Therapy

Olushoga Oluwole, the group’s coordinator told The SolutionsPaper that the organisation has 350,000 members divided into two categories, those that have formal education and those that do not. 

“For the educated older persons, they got through to us on our website and social media handles. We use religious and conventional centres like mosques, churches and markets to connect with the uneducated ones,” he said. “There is no monthly programme that we will organise that we won’t get new members”

While the foundation keeps all of these running, Oluwole, the founder noted that some members’ psychological state had been severely impacted to the extent that the reorientation, realignment and recompense process does not work for them.

“For those, we referred them to our Centre for Independent Living at Ajah where they went for a month of mental rehab. We had psychotherapists to take them through daily.”

“They were used to voting in previous elections without hiccups. We had to rehabilitate as many as we could by reinventing their former selves through periodic elderly-friendly exercise, personalised coaching, music and therapy sessions. We pay the experts who come to do this for them from our pockets,” she added.

Some older people also needed stipends to transport themselves to their polling units, “so, we asked them what it would cost them to go to their voting centre and footed for their transport. That’s how the reimbursement comes in,” Oluwole explained.

The foundation also engaged INEC to help sensitise its staff in Lagos and Ogun states to give older people ease while voting.

“We pushed for it and had meetings with the Lagos State Commissioner for Social Development; engaged the Ogun state government via letters stating our demands; INEC; and interacted with many potential voters in Ibonwon, Epe, Aja, Lekki, Abeokuta, Ijebu Ode, Ijagun and other catchment areas in Lagos and Ogun states.”

So Did Members Vote?

Olukoya, 68, stated that she would not have voted in the 2023 election cycle if not for the organisation’s intervention. I owe my voting to Age Nigeria Foundation because they gave the lift exactly when I needed it.” 

Idowu, the retired policeman disclosed that the organisation suppressed every uncertainty associated with the election for him and other members with its awareness-raising weekly seminars.

“It is not my fault that God kept me alive,” he said. “Young people deliberately told me and many others that we had exceeded our welcome. I wonder if they did not know it is scornful and heart-wrenching because such calculated disrespect of the right to human person beats my imagination.” 

Omodele Amusa, 71, another member, said the organisation –after identifying more than 50 members who were adversely affected by the threats in her location— reintegrated them by introducing games as a means to rediscover themselves. She added that it was the highlight of the programme for her.

“They just wanted us to participate in the difficult process even when the odds were against every Nigerian with special needs. I even watched the official [presidential election] result collation broadcast alongside other older persons,” Omodele revealed. 

However, Oluwole, the foundation’s coordinator disclosed that it struggles with lack of adequate funds. The foundation had to close down its head office in the Ajah area of Lagos before they began a partnership with Lufasi Park whose management gave them a new office space free of charge. 

When The SolutionsPaper visited the Park, the coordinator noted that the foundation had done away with many of its programmes during election season because of inadequate funding. 

Age Nigeria Foundation members at Lufasi Park, Ajah Lagos. Photo Credits: Yusuf Adua/ The SolutionsPaper

“Just this year, we could no longer afford a luxurious office. We had to settle for this place. We have closed down our Lekki office, and we could even close more,” he announced. 

He added that It is also difficult for the foundation to mobilise most of its members because of their fragility, “the effort to transport older persons from one destination to another became tougher in the 2023 election cycle when fuel and naira [cash] were scarce.”

In the next six years, the leadership of Age Nigeria Foundation explained that they hope to have established branches across the 36 States of the country.

This story received support from the Media and Communications Development Foundation, a non-profit NGO working in the intersection of journalism and technology to spur civic action.

Editors Credit

Lead Editor: Zubaida Baba Ibrahim

Copy-Editor: Precious Ewuji

Website | + posts

Yusuf Adua is a multilingual investigative journalist passionate about governance, accountability, inclusion and covering the minority groups.



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