Social Innovation

This year's floods show it's time to rebuild Nigerian volunteering culture

Floodwater breaks a river bank in Lokoja, Nigeria.

Floodwater breaks a river bank in Lokoja, Nigeria. Image: Reuters/Afolabi Sotunde

Umar Mohammed Abdulmalik
Founder, Angels of Hope
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Nigeria

This article is part of: Centre for Urban Transformation

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  • Volunteering has great potential for boosting Nigeria's development.
  • Institutional volunteering encourages participation in socio-political processes that benefit the nation.
  • The government must improve the framework and foster a renewed culture of Nigerian volunteering.

Nigeria, despite its rapidly growing economy, remains in a state of conflict and fragility. Most Nigerian communities, rural and urban alike, are faced with multiple development challenges such as poor national resource management, low literacy levels and high unemployment.

The most recent challenge was climate-related: flooding. This year’s flooding episode in which over 600 Nigerian citizens lost their lives and thousands were internally displaced is a good case study for improving the status of volunteering culture in Nigeria. While waiting for the government to act in this situation, Nigerians in the neighbouring states could have volunteered to support to the victims, which can be done in various ways such as healthcare, food and shelter.

Most rural communities in Nigeria lack basic facilities and infrastructure such as schools, electricity, internet and decent access roads, which all help strengthen the country's economic inputs and markets. Without these amenities, the rural poor are cut off from communication and technological development and are left in a state social isolation.

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Volunteering can help bridge some of these gaps and begin improving the state of the nation. However, it is rarely practiced in this part of the world due to reasons such as economic impoverishment, lack of awareness of the importance of volunteering, and the belief that only the rich can afford to give their time.

To bolster Nigeria’s socio-economic development, citizens would ideally volunteer in order to supplement efforts by the government and NGOs. The lack of volunteering culture in Nigeria is depriving people of opportunities to develop new skills, extend networks, build their CVs and try new vocations. The worst-case scenario is that the lack of volunteering further exacerbates a high unemployment rate that forces youth into apathy, or crime.

One example worth emulating is a scheme to train orphans in basic IT skills. Today, out of a total of 107 orphans under the care of Angels of Hope Foundation, over 57 benefitted from the Sponsor an Orphan project and are computer-literate. A number of them have become computer engineering graduates, and some currently own and run cybercafes in Nigeria. Not only has volunteering in this case directly impacted the beneficiaries, but it also contributed to societal and economic growth.

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The ironic thing is that volunteerism has always been an integral part of the African culture, and Nigeria is not an exception (though it has been grossly neglected in recent times). But it has long existed here in such forms as care for the vulnerable and the elderly, participation in group community projects or provision of finance or other support to individuals, families or communities in distress.

Although volunteering does not always address complex institutional problems, a people-centred development strategy and institutional volunteering can encourage direct participation in socio-political processes that establish formal rules and laws, while also changing informal norms and attitudes that affect how citizens view and interact with governing institutions.

To be a high-volunteering country, we need to unselfishly give our time, expertise and effort to improve our communities. Not only will the country benefit economically and socially, but it will also build trust among rural populations, thereby reducing insecurity.

But in order to foster a broader culture of volunteering, the Nigerian government, in addition to establishing programmes such as the National Evangelical Missions Association (NEMA), NPOWER and Nigerian National Volunteer Service (NNVS), also needs to form policies that define the rights and responsibilities of volunteers and requirements for volunteer recruitment/selection, management and support.

Moreover, it must create awareness of the above bodies among government agencies for volunteering programmes, initiate citizen emergency response schemes and improve the structure of community policing.

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As a firm believer in the power of paying it forward, to me, the volunteering movement has been proven to be the easiest way to make a chain-reactive impact furthering socio-economic development in rural communities around the world. If Nigerian volunteering culture is revived and well supported, it will help improve the state of the nation in the areas of economy, education, peaceful co-existence, high employment rate, accountability, resource management, equity and inclusiveness.

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