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Volunteerism key to development in Nigeria
28 March 2007
by Senator Iroegbu

Abuja, Nigeria: The Nigerian National Volunteer Service (NNVS) recently gave out certificate awards in appreciation to the participants at the International Volunteers Day and examined the contributions and impact of volunteerism to national development.

This was in line with a global trend that volunteerism addresses problems of socio-cultural, economic and humanitarian nature, and acts as a peace building mechanism.

It was also in recognition that voluntary service has been used in most parts of the world to help development efforts, as a result of which the United Nations General Assembly proclaimed 2001 as the International Year of
Volunteers with the United Nations Volunteer (UNV) programme as the focal point.

With a theme 'Volunteers as Agents of National Development', the NNVS sought to increase the awareness on the importance of volunteerism and as well develop policies and legislation to encourage Nigerians to imbibe volunteerism as a catalyst for national development.

Traditionally, volunteerism is usually associated with any activity that is non-governmental which could be by individuals, or by groups that may decide to provide certain services that are not provided by governments.

According to Deputy Vice Chancellor, Tafawa Belawa University Bauchi, Abdulsalam Sambo, "volunteers driven by purely altruistic motives and religious, cultural and political objectives, build hospitals, classrooms, provide teaching aids, clean the environments, and take the responsibilities for the payment of teachers, doctors or other workers that supply services to the community".

Supporting Sambo's view, Professor T. Umeh of the University of Nigeria Nsukka saw volunteerism as, "a service through giving our selves, our time, our hands and feet, our ideas, our ability to help another person, our problem solving skills and our professional know-how for the well being of our society".

However, volunteerism is generally defined as the willingness of people to work on behalf of others without expectation of pay or other tangible gain, and a thought turned into action.

Above event was used to emphasise the fact that the sustainability of any development plan lies on how well it has penetrated and was able to impact on the lives of the people; majority of who live in the rural communities. This reality has thus strengthened the usefulness of volunteers who make up the bulk of manpower needed by development agencies to reach the communities.

This has also re-enforced the Copenhagen Declaration and Programme of Action that outlined the benefits of volunteerism to national development through vital contribution in three priority areas, social and integration, poverty alleviation and full employment.

This is in addition to its economic contribution to the countries that have maximised its use which is estimated at between 8% and 14% of Gross Domestic Product (GDP); which include a more cohesive and stable society where individuals articulate their engagement as citizens, build trust and reciprocity among themselves and also integrate into the society people who are excluded or marginalised.

Highlighting further on benefits of volunteerism as promotion of full employment by enhancing the employability of the unemployed people, Professor Ume said that "for those in search of paid employment, volunteering can boost self-confidence, provide access to the workplace networks and an opportunity for the development of specific marketable skills".

Above position was enhanced by the fact that the key element of volunteerism is employment generation; as new jobs are created by developing services that are later taken by over by the state and market and turned into paid jobs.

For example, the involvement of civil society organisations and the innovative response of volunteers worldwide in community development including the HIV/Aid epidemic has led to creation of thousands of paid jobs in the public and private sectors of the economy.

Nevertheless, according to the experts, these benefits can only be harnessed if a strategic approach and partnership between the government and non-governmental agencies is in place meaning that Nigeria must develop an overall, integrated strategy to promote volunteering in partnership with other key stakeholders from the voluntary and business sectors.

This explains the role by the NNVS and other agencies like the Voluntary Service Overseas (VSO), Afrigrowth Foundation, Federal Road Safety and others necessary to tap the wealth of experience, expertise, and opportunities of both serving and retired Nigerians, for the task of development confronting the country.

Similarly, Professor Okechukwu Ibeanu of the University of Nigeria Nsukka saw an urgent need to establish a joint commission of government and the voluntary sector to develop an accord, which will include among other things, clauses on joint activities between voluntary sector and government, best practices in financial, personnel and project management, social values to be promoted by the compact and the principles to drive it.

According to him, "parties to the compact will be, on the one hand, all the levels of government namely, Federal, State and local government, their direct agencies and other quasi-governmental organisations under them, especially NEPAD, which could become the driver of economic change in the country in the near future".

It was noted that since an entrenched tradition of communalism and volunteerism has always been in existence in Nigeria what is needed is for government and the NGOs to collaborate and facilitate the objectives of the establishment of the NNVS.

They concluded that since these NGOs rely on volunteerism as their guiding principle; corporate bodies, multi-national corporations, international organisations, developmental agencies, and now government agencies find it appropriate to collaborate with them in their task of community development and nation building.

Accordingly, Nigerian Government and the NGOs were enjoined to collaborate in bringing micro-enterprises development to the rural communities because local existence and passion for community development will provide them with a unique opportunity to better understand and analyse their problems and are able to provide temporary solutions before government comes in with a more enduring solutions.

More importantly, volunteerism can be used as a tool for national development through peace building. This is one important area that has been achieved with both local and international volunteers engaging in various forms of conflict resolution activity.

As the election draws nearer in Nigeria, volunteers are expected to work for peaceful conduct of the election by contributing towards capacity building, strength and depth of civic education of voters and their representatives. The focus is build the capacity of the people to volunteer as a social development strategy which will help to diffuse the recurrent social problems.