Wednesday, February 22, 2017

The vanishing culture of volunteerism in Nigeria


According to Dictionary.com: “Volunteerism is the policy or practice of volunteering one's time or talents for charitable, educational, or other worthwhile activities, especially in one's community.” Volunteers are driven by passion to leave a noble legacy of service to humanity. Talking about the power of volunteerism, United Nations Volunteer Programme observed that  “People the world over engage in volunteerism for a great variety of reasons: to help to eliminate poverty and to improve basic health and education, to tackle environmental issues, to reduce the risk of disasters or to combat social exclusion and violent conflict. In all of these fields, volunteerism makes a specific contribution by generating well-being for people and their communities.” UNVP went further to emphatically state that attainment of the 17 United Nations Sustainable Development Goals by 2030 is impossible without people offering free services to support it.

Indeed, national development is unattainable without some measure of volunteerism. This is because government alone cannot bring about desired development. Neither is the organised private sector whose motive of establishment is purely profit making. This is why there is need for non-governmental, not-for-profit organisations better known as NGOs to bridge developmental gap. The NGOs comprising of Community Based Organisations, Faith Based Organisations, Foundations and the wider civil society play critical roles in any country’s developmental agenda. 

Aside the aforementioned UNVP, other examples of voluntary organisations include but not limited to Voluntary Service Overseas which is an international development charity with a vision for a "world without poverty" and a mission to "bring people together to fight poverty".  There is also International Red Cross Society whose affiliate in Nigeria was founded in 1960 and has over 500,000 volunteers and 300 permanent employees. Other examples of voluntary organisations include the social clubs like the Boys Scout, Girls Guide, Boys Brigade, Dangote Foundation, MTN Foundation, Rotary Club, Lions Club, and many more.

Individuals can also go it alone. Helping disaster victims through voluntary blood donation or moving victims to hospitals is one of such ways.  Whistle-blowing is also act of volunteerism. Helping the physically challenged and the aged to cross busy roads, assisting with traffic control when there is congestion, supporting the rebuilding of dilapidated public infrastructures such as schools or hospitals, offering scholarship to indigent pupils and students, offering pro-bono services as a lawyer, giving free medical support to people in hard-to-reach rural communities, fixing bad roads with personal resources, providing free security services are some of the ways individuals can key into acts of volunteerism.

I was one of the two guests invited to discuss “Volunteerism and National Development in Nigeria” on a programme entitled “The Hub” on Galaxy Television, Ibadan last Friday, February 17, 2017. The programme hosted by Daisy Olowu has as a co-discussant, Mr. Babatunde Vaughn. In the course of the interaction, it was discovered that the culture of volunteerism is vanishing in Nigeria. The reasons are not far-fetched. One of them is that the economic meltdown has incapacitated many people from offering voluntary services. Take for instance Party Agency. Party Agents in an election are supposed to be volunteers who would protect the interest of the party at different levels of the electioneering process such as electoral materials distribution points, Polling Units and Result Collation Centres. Unfortunately, unless the party or candidates are willing and ready to pay for the services of this crop of agents, they will decline to serve. That is why it’s only affluent political parties and candidates that are able to deploy party agents at elections.

Another example is that of National Youth Service Corps. It is supposed to be a voluntary service but many of the mobilised corps members hardly provide the services expected of them during the year-long exercise. The mobilised youths considered the monthly allowances paid by government as too paltry and the conditions of service too unsavoury; hence they cook up all manner of excuses to dodge offering of quality service even if they are mandatorily mobilised.  It would seem the core value of service to humanity has taken a new meaning considering the way and manner youths of today placed primary importance on pecuniary or financial gains. Even when they pretend to offer voluntary services, they tend to look for ways to exploit the situation. There are those who under the pretext of helping disaster victims scout for what to pilfer from the victims of such unfortunate incidents. I was shocked to learn of how some individuals and organisations who raise funds and source materials purportedly to help internally displaced persons divert such resources for their personal aggrandizement. This is preposterous!

People are making a career of Non-Governmental Organisations today when in actual fact, with the exception of administrative staffs who are working full time; others are supposed to have their primary jobs and only volunteer part of their free time to work in the NGO office. Thus, aside economic depression, high rate of unemployment had affected people offering volunteer services. Since no other jobs are available to them, they decided to make a career of enrolling for volunteer service. I must hasten to say that offering voluntary service as an intern is a capacity building initiative and can prepare a volunteer or intern for better employment opportunities; however, the primary motive of a volunteer should be altruism or selflessness. Where the motive is different, such service does not qualify to be voluntary.   

It is important for more Nigerians to embrace volunteerism. As espoused in this piece, it’s an act of service to humanity. Everyone can volunteer something. You can volunteer your time, energy, money, skills and many other resources.  It’s all about making our society a better place to live.