The voluntary sector in nation building

volunteer-vectorTHE new administration of President Muhammadu Buhari needs to harness the vast potential that the Voluntary Sector (aka the Third Sector) has to contribute to the development of this country and to nurture our young democracy. Nigeria is teeming with millions of hardworking, intelligent, resourceful and caring people who have a diversity of ambitions and a lot to contribute to the Nigerian Project. The seemingly gargantuan problems in this country are just challenges which Nigerians are more than capable, and are indeed, able to solve. I subscribe wholeheartedly to the Vision 2020 and I believe that the Non Profit Sector’s capacity building and revitalisation should be prominent in the road map to 2020. This is an achievable target.

It is a reality that the government alone cannot directly solve all our problems. Given the heterogeneity of our needs as a people, the government cannot practically meet every need within the constraints of its limited resources. In the same vein, for purely economic exigencies, the market or the private sector will only provide solutions to those problems or challenges that have the potential to yield profits or provide some economic return on their investments. The Third Sector is, therefore, there to fill the gap between the private sector and the government. Besides, there are those who cannot fend for themselves (even in the most developed nations of this world) either as a result of long-term health problems, disability, old age or indeed chronic poverty. To this group, the market/private sector is not the solution whilst the government can only do so much.

I will define the Third Sector as Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) that are value-driven, including community and village self-help organisations, which principally reinvest their surpluses to further social, environmental and cultural objectives. This is not limited to those organisations registered with the Corporate Affairs Commission, but include a diversity of not-for-profit organisations of different sizes and objectives such as farmers’ cooperatives, social enterprises, registered trusts/foundations and service delivery NGOs.

The Third Sector is a vital component of any fair and enterprising society where individuals and communities feel empowered and enabled to achieve change and to participate in the designing of solutions to their problems. Third Sector organisations, when adequately supported within an enabling environment give voice to under-represented groups and the vulnerable members of society, they are agents of social change through effective and unbiased campaigns, promoting enterprising solutions to social and environmental challenges, creating social capital through strong, active and connected communities and transforming the delivery of public services.

The Third Sector has the potential to make an enormous contribution to our society, our emerging economy, the environment and job creation. Millions of young Nigerian graduates and school leavers would benefit from an organised, formalised and a well resourced third sector, providing them with volunteering opportunities where they can learn new social and employment skills whilst at the same time, making a practical difference in their communities. A well-organised and resourced third sector would provide the much needed platform and legitimacy to attract thousands of Nigerians in the Diaspora with different skills who are keen to commit a week or two of their time annually to volunteering in Nigeria.

The third sector has a crucial role to play if Nigeria is to achieve its strategic objective of becoming one of the top 20 industrialised countries in the world by the year 2020. To perform this role, there is a need to put the necessary resources in place to build the capacity of the sector. In positively devolving power to the local authorities, this was doubtlessly premised on the undeniable fact that local governments are closer to the people and places. By devolution, we would legitimately expect more fundamental improvements in public services; and to make better use of public money; to give people greater power and influence over their lives, their services and the future of places where they live; improvements in the quality of life and economic performance of cities, towns and villages.

The third sector in Nigeria is unfortunately, largely dependent on foreign aid for its survival. A large number of altruistically driven and purposed NGOs are scrambling for the meagre resources that flow through the international aid agencies – especially those involved in civic participation, poverty alleviation and human rights campaigns. Any successful modern democracy needs at its heart, a thriving and diverse third sector and the government must create the space and opportunity for it to flourish by investing in it. NGOs can often be the drivers of civil renewal and can act as catalysts for positive change at the local level. There is a need for the government to set up local (community) endowment funds which will act as seed money and with the right advice, support, co-ordination and management, this is bound to grow to provide future support to NGOs and other community organisations operating within this sector.

NGOs need be supported to have effective strategies to develop the ability of local people to participate in society, local democracy, decision-making and shaping of public services. In the words of Sir Michael Lyons (May 2006) “the ultimate purpose of local government should not be solely to manage a collection of public services that take place within an area, but rather to take responsibility for the well-being of an area and the people who live there, and to promote their interests and their future. Place-shaping should both reflect the distinctive identity and aspirations of the people and area, and function as a means of safeguarding and promoting their well-being and prosperity.”

• Akin Olukiran is the Chief Executive Officer of the Institute of Voluntary Sector Management (IVSM) and can be contacted at

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1 Comment
  • amador kester

    To build a nation we need volunteers and only the pastors and imams can preach this better to sink in.Not everything is salary even in highly capitalistic nations lije usa.Thus we need volunteer teachers,volunteer roadmaking engineers or youths to repair village roads,volunteer free food jitchens for the needy,free sevice days by private hospitals,