Towards building volunteerism culture in Nigeria

It seems new though but had existed silently over the years. AYONI AGBABIAKA writes that government wants to extend the frontiers of volunteerism beyond its present borders.
Volunteerism is as old as life itself, for example, from helping an animal in distress to helping in fire or road accidents, none of the above is new to Nigerians. Is there, however any policy to guide its practice in the country?

Investigation shows that Nigerians are kind-hearted irrespective of religious standing, but experiences from law enforcement managers has forced many into their shells, therefore no one cares even in accident situations any longer. What can be done to change this trend? 
This is the question stakeholders asked at a recent thematic group on volunteerism and development powered by the Nigerian National Volunteer Service (NNVS) and the United Nation Volunteer, a volunteer management institution set up by the federal government to complement national development effort through the management of volunteer services of Nigerians both at home and in the Diaspora.

The essenceGovernment’s initiative in setting up NNVS is supported by the desire of Nigerians abroad to be involved in national development initiative similar to policies that have worked successfully in other countries.
The director NNVS department, Office of the Secretary General of the Federation (OSGF), Mr Babatunde Jaji, at the meeting of stakeholders/thematic group on volunteerism and development held in Abuja recently said, “The NNVS is also mandated to coordinate volunteering processes as tools to fight poverty in Nigeria, eliminate anti development factors, break down barriers and prejudices of tribes, religion and political affiliation that hinder national unity and the social-economic well-being of the people.
“For this purpose, a new director was posted to fast-track the department’s resolve to strengthen volunteerism so as to access its numerous benefits by evolving strategies for social development through the creation of awareness and raising the profile of volunteerism by organising  sensitisation seminars and workshops in all the six geo-political zones, establish offices at the state levels  desk offices at local government areas, building capacity of NGOs and volunteers to create knowledge in volunteer management.”It also included the engagement of youths in volunteer programmes for national development, working with corporate bodies in Nigeria on developing corporate social responsibility programmes that would encourage employers to support volunteering work, developing appropriate policies and legislations to outline the rights and responsibilities of volunteer recruitment/selection and coordinate the involvement of Nigerian volunteers in the Diaspora towards national development.The need for proper documentation

Further revelation shows the realisation that departments alone cannot effectively manage volunteerism because of non-availability of policy documents necessitated the efforts and activities for the review and validation of the draft policy before its approval by the government for implementation. The existence of the policy document shall provide the framework for proper management of volunteerism in the country.

Speaking further, he said, “I wish to emphasize that the department is willing and open to collaborate with relevant international and local organisations in all aspects of volunteerism in order to move it to the next level.”
The need to build the cultureAccording to Mr Emmanuel Agodi of NNVS, “Since inception, NNVS has been making effort towards building volunteer culture and harness its potentials for socio economic development.
“The task of promoting and implementing volunteer policies and programmes shall not be carried out by the department alone. It requires the active participation of relevant ministries, departments and agencies, international organisations/development partners, non-governmental organisations (NGO’s), community-based organisations (CBO’s), faith- based organisations (FBO’s), individuals/groups to successfully steer volunteerism to lay its expected role in national development.
“In the light of the strategic role of these stakeholders in volunteerism, the NNVS department considered it worthwhile to constitute a thematic group on volunteerism and development. The group shall compose of various agencies and organisations with direct and indirect stake on volunteerism and related matters.”

According to report, the department shall server as coordinating/lead agency in association with the United Nation Volunteer, Fresh and Young Brain Development Initiative (FBIN), Community Youth Volunteer Initiative (CYVI),  International Association For Volunteer Effort (IAVE), Foundation for Support Of Indigent Communities (FOSIC),  National Youth Service Corps (NYSC),  National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA),  FCT Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and a host of others.
Agodi says, “Other relevant members may be co-opted as and when deemed necessary. The lead agency shall provide the secretariat while the Voluntary Services Overseas (VSO) shall assist the secretariat. The group is expected to meet quarterly at a convenient location.”
The country coordinator, UN Volunteers Programme Nigeria, Veronica Obiuwevbi, says the International Volunteering Day is marked every December 5, saying this year’s theme is: ‘Empowering People and Ensuring Inclusiveness and Equality’.  According to her, the theme was borne out of the need to pay tribute to people who participate in volunteer services within their communities. She noted that volunteerism isn’t new to Nigerians but they often did it without knowing they were carrying out the act.

With the thematic group, she stated that UN wants to take the advocacy to the grassroots. “We want to catch them young to imbibe that culture through te creation of awareness in various media. We also understand that young people are so inclined to the social media, so we want to promote it through the various social media platform. “One more thing we are thinking about in going forward is introducing technology into volunteerism so that we can capture what people are doing at their various levels and feed back the national level. This is to ensure that people no longer do volunteerism without being recognised.FCT as partner
The assistant director, Social Development Secretariat in charge of volunteerism, Khadijah Ladi Umar, stated that, “Volunteering means people volunteering to help the society or other people without necessarily having any financial gain or any social gain. She however, stated that there is low acceptance of the act among Nigerians.

“I don’t think we have keyed into it. There is low information about volunteerism. Everybody thinks that maybe when they start working, they should gain money, but, just like they have said here, government needs money to also proactively take the lead for people to really come out and volunteer. 
I believe there are a lot of people out there who actually want to help people but volunteerism is in various facets. You can have people volunteer professionally like engineers, for instance, they can volunteer to build a bridge in a village where they have problem of crossing but before they volunteer their knowledge, they may not necessarily have the financial wherewithal, so the person that has the money would volunteer to sponsor the project at a reasonable price. So, you can volunteer depending on your strength; it could be your time, it could be your talent, it could be your knowledge or profession and it can be because you have the money to fund what other people have brought their time and knowledge to do for the society. So, it’s really a wide phenomenon.

On what the FCT is doing specifically to aid act, she said: “The FCT is trying to do a lot of things for volunteerism. We have youth uniform volunteer; what we are trying to do is to register them because one of the things they said among the problem they faced was that sometimes when there is an accident and they want to volunteer, they are afraid that the police could mistake them for criminals. 
So, we are trying to give them the kind of registration whereby if they choose to help people, they have an identity that can save them from unnecessary harassment for being there. We are trying to set up a training programme on a routine basis for those who want to volunteer but funding is still an issue. We as social workers have issues of people with drug addiction, depression, people killing themselves and all that; we want people to create awareness, we want to train people who would be in communities to take proactive measures in order to reduce all these menaces and also to help build communities.”

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