Nigerian leaders must be counselled to touch masses positively – Prof Egbochukwu

In this interview with DONALD IORCHIR, in Abuja, National President of the Counselling Practitioners Association of Nigeria [CASSON], Professor Elizabeth Omotunde Omoyeme Egbochuku, discusses how the leadership of the union has been working to reposition the counselling practice for national development, impact counselling on leaders of the country to perform well, among others.
Excerpts
Your members have gathered in Abuja for a national convention.
We were told that the meeting was to have been held in Jos, Plateau State, why did you move it to Abuja? We are here to observe our international conference which is held annually.
CASSON is an association devoted to helping people out of several traumas and near impossible conditions.
Every year, we organise conferences for members to interact and share ideas about their work and challenges.
This year’s conference was initially scheduled to hold in Plateau but because of the comfort and safety of our members, we shifted it to Abuja which graciously agreed to host the meeting.
The major reason for shifting the venue was the security challenges in the country especially in the far north including Plateau.
Counselling is one of the growing professions in the country which has not received its pride of place or the necessary recognition which it deserves despite the large number of practitioners in the country.
Shifting the meeting to Abuja implies that your leadership does not have confidence in the security arrangement in Jos.
Did you sensitise members especially those in the north to ascertain how they feel about this decision? In fact, the complain against hosting the meeting in Jos started from members in the north.
They were the ones that agitated that the meeting should not hold there under the prevailing security situation in the state.
It was when the complaint became much that we sought the opinion of other members and received a unanimous approval to shift the meeting to a more secure, central area which is Abuja.
The national executive did not just take the decision to move it on its own.
We consulted the 36 states chapters of the association and Abuja before deciding.

Several Nigerians are stressed up at the moment due to many factors, chief among them being the harsh ecomonic situation in the country and the killings which has become a frightening affair.
Can you tell our readers what the counsellors’ association has been able to do or intends to do to give hope to the citizens of this country to restore confidence in the nation? This year’s conference of CASSON was planned to dwell on peace, national transformation and healing.
So, we want to heal the nation because many people are hurting throughout the country and in all the six geopolitical zones.
This conference was planned to help in the healing of the nation.
It is also unique because we chose Professor Josiah Ajiboye, the Registrar of the Teachers Registration Council of Nigeria as our keynote speaker.
We also lined up other eminent scholars to address the gathering.
We are not here to indict the leadership of the country or to tell them how to do their work.
We just want to let everyone know that the situation where the country has continued to move without peace does not augur well for development.
The country is not at peace and something drastic must be done now to remedy the situation.
The people, including our leaders need counselling to perform well.
Our leaders need to be taught how to take adequate care of the people.
The form of leadership has been responsible for the numerous civil unrests, like the Boko Haram insurgency and it is a serious problem.
The leaders need social reformation counselling.
It will help a lot of them perform well in office.
Nigeria is a great nation.
There is need to heal this nation.
Politicians need to know when they go for elections next year that it should not necessarily become a do or die thing.
Bill on counselling Whether a Yoruba, Hausa, Ijaw or Igbo man becomes the leader, or president, it does not matter.
The most important thing should be that the person who wins is a Nigerian and the winner most know that he should be a national leader and not just someone leading a section of the country.
Our leaders need counselling to help them improve on their method of leadership.
We have reached out to the National Assembly and we are hoping that before long we would be invited by the lawmakers to tell them how to do things better.
We are not interested in telling them how to operate but to counsel them to know that Nigerians are human beings and the lawmakers should relate with us as humans.
Many of them need to be taught how to touch people in a positive manner.
Our position papers after the conference will be sent to several arms of the government.
We have a bill on counselling at the moment at the Senate and when it is passed, we hope to professionalise the association.
The minister of health invited us to throw more light on the bill because the government thought it was clashing with the bill on psychiatry.
We went to his office and explained to him that counsellors, like psychiatrists, are people in the helping profession but we are different.
Counselling is a growing profession in the country but it has not been given the recognition it requires to enable it grow like other professions like law, accounting and medicine, among others.
What is your leadership doing to ensure that the profession gets the recognition it requires? The bill in the Senate when passed will help us a lot.
It has passed through the third reading now and we are hoping that it will soon be passed into law.
We are advising the lawmakers to heed to this request and quicken action on the bill to enable the president sign the law.
We have organised skills training for our members to make them better counsellors.
When our counsellors are better trained, we would make more impact in the country.
We have more than 4000 members but the absence of the law regulating the counselling practice has made it difficult to organise the members properly.
We hope to start registering and re-registering members every two years as a professional organisation.
More than 2000 have so far registered for the conference.
When the bill is passed, any member that refuses to register with us will not be allowed to practice anywhere in the country.
People will even look for us to become members as soon as the law is in place.

There are various forms of counselling such as career counselling, vocational, marriage, health, spiritual, trauma, adolescent, psychotherapy, sports, psychiatric, child and old-age counselling, among others.
Are you saying that with the law in place you will be able to bring all these counsellors under the same umbrella despite the numerous classifications of their practice? All the counsellors you mentioned will form the bulk of our membership.
They are all counsellors.
So, none of them will separate from our organisation because if they do so, they will be sanctioned.
Now, many schools do not know the importance of having career counsellors even though the education curriculum recommended it.
What are you doing to enforce the employment of counsellors in schools to guide the young ones in choosing careers? It still boils down to the absence of a bill.
We must however commend the ministry of education which has helped us in this regard.
The minister is in full support of our organisation and the bill.
The ministry has insisted that federal institutions must employ at least two skills counsellors and we are pushing that even private schools should be compelled to have counsellors.
At the universities, we have counselling centres manned by qualified counsellors.
Their work is very important to the education sector.
What is your leadership doing to eliminate quackery and pretenders in the counselling profession or will you allow what happened in teaching profession, where everyone who can talk to children calls him/ herself a teacher, to also happen in your association? We would properly regulate the profession when the bill is passed so that people who want to practice must have minimum entry qualification.
We are expecting that by October this year, the regulation will start and apart from having a university education in counselling, we would also require that people who want to practice must attend the practical training we organise periodically.
For the fake ones who may continue to deceive the public with their practice, we know that once there are human being, it may be difficult to prevent some people from engaging in illegal business.
We will do the best we can to minimize the presence of fakes among us and we would also educate the populace to know that one must be licensed and properly trained to practice.

Please take a look at the suffering of Nigerians living in Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) camps in the north and south.
Has your association developed any plans to reach them because they require trauma counselling? In 2015, our members paid a visit to Borno State and we supplied them with some food items and also counseled them on their situation.
We wanted to proceed to Sambisa Forest but the military advised against the trip, saying that the place was not really safe for visitors yet.
We have continued to stay in touch with them in Maiduguri and even in Edo State, where I come from, we have IDP camps there and we have visited them also.

What advice will you give to practitioners who have not yet joined your association and those who are not practicing the profession the way it is meant to be practiced? Well, my advice to such people especially those who have not joined us is that they should know that CASSON has moved to the next level.
We are no longer where we used to be two years ago.
We are moving to the next level and that level is professionalism.
We are rolling like the rolling stone and gathering momentum as we move on.
We also advise the government to relate with us and stop employing people who are not in our association.
Lawyers and members of the medical profession are already enforcing this regulation.

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