Although there is no military conscription in Nigeria, since 1973 graduates of Universities and later polytechnics and other tertiary institutions of learning have been required to take part in the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) programme for one year; often referred to as the National service year. The motive behind this is to involve the country’s graduates in the development of the country by creating the Community Development Service (CDS) platform. The CDS under the NYSC programme challenges corps members desirous of confronting and tackling the myriad challenges besetting the society to take the initiative and ingeniously sort out ways to improve the quality of life and living standards of members of their host communities which ensures the accelerated growth of the national economy amongst others.
In October 2012, as a prerequisite to seeking employment in any part of the Federation (Nigeria), Paul Alfred, a 23 year old Nigerian with a Bachelor of Engineering Honours in Environmental Engineering from the University of Port Harcourt, Rivers State who has his roots in Igarra, Edo State, Nigeria, received his National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) call up letter deploying him to Kwara State, Nigeria and proceeded on a mandatory three (3) weeks orientation programme where he was subsequently posted to serve as a teacher at Okanle Fajeromi Community High School, Okanle, Kwara State.
It was while residing at Okanle community and serving at his place of primary assignment (aforementioned school) that he became troubled by the plight of Okanle and Fajeromi communities. He observed that the young men and women continued to migrate to urban centres to improve their health, educational and economic opportunities leaving behind a sparse population-predominantly the aged and a handful of youths. This subsequently resulted in the dearth of local economic activities which has had profound negative implications on these communities over the years; a situation which Paul reckoned might continue if left unabated. He also recalled that the relatively remote location of both communities (isolated in an un-tarred 6km road off Ajase-Ipo Highway, which is approximately 23km from the state capital, Ilorin) had made accessing various forms of trainings difficult for the locals.
While on a fact-finding mission to ascertain the root causes of the predicaments facing both rural communities, Paul Alfred identified that previous interventions in these communities focused solely on the transfer of knowledge (skill acquisition) without paying attention to other viable tools such as workshops, provision of local content materials and the establishment of equipped skill centres which makes for an effective and sustainable intervention.
For Paul Alfred, who at the University of Port Harcourt was a student leader and a member of SIFE (now Enactus,) a non-profit international student organisation that challenges tertiary institution students to solve real world problems beginning from their immediate communities, bridging the gap in access to training facilities and changing the status quo of Okanle and Fajeromi communities was a cause he was committed to chasing during his service year. This resolve prompted him to conceive a project he christened “IRONILAGBARA”; ‘Utilizing youth capacity building as a panacea for community underdevelopment’.
To avoid the pitfalls and shortcomings of previous interventions which he referred to as a“travesty of western solutions and theoretical approaches of previous interventions for rural community development”, he decided to design a locally tailored strategy which involved all modules and trainings conveyed via the local dialect- Yoruba- for efficient communication, while also involving Muslim groups, Church groups, self-help groups, youth groups, community leadership, women groups and elders to ensure that all parties recognised the value of the project and what it sought to inculcate into its target audience.
According to Paul Alfred, accessing funds to get this project off the ground was never much of a concern to him, not because of its availability but simply because he believed that by developing a funding strategy that is based on synergy he could talk organisations and individuals whose values resonate with the thrust of his project into buying the idea. A strategy that did pay off!
The project “IRONILAGBARA” which commenced between June-August has successfully established an Information and Communications Technology (ICT) Centre with three (3) computers (two desktop computers and a laptop) for members of Okanle and Fajeromi rural communities. The first in that zone to benefit from new knowledge societies, the centre which is open during the day, holds free trainings for members of the communities. The computers will remain the properties of both communities and will be managed by future corps members with the right expertise to ensure the centre keeps thriving.
The Paul Alfred initiative also set up a Training /Learning Centre that has hosted training sessions on various skill-sets such as cake making, pastry making, and soap production. It also doubles as a centre where trainees can hone their newly acquired skills while being provided with raw materials for production.
Rural farmers and traders of both Okanle and Fajeromi communities were not left out, as the Bauchi State-born project initiator and corps member, Paul Alfred has helped build a formidable partnership between a Federal Agricultural Institute- Agricultural and Rural Management Training Institute (ARMTI) and Okanle and Fajeromi Communities. This has paid dividends as an advocacy programme on a specie of sweet potato which was approved by the Federal Government of Nigeria for mass cultivation is being carried out for both communities and a demonstration farm has been established to cultivate that specie of sweet potato, which has the potentials to position both communities economically to benefit from the this lucrative crop. Another major stride of the partnership is the inclusion of Okanle and Fajeromi rural communities in an already existing programme – Village Alive Development Initiative (VADI) run by ARMTI which encourages a saving culture amongst agro enterprise managers (Farmers and Traders) and most importantly grants them access to credit facilities.
These happenings captured the interest of arguably the biggest Media house in Kwara State, Royal Times Online Newspaper/Royal FM who went on a fact-finding trip to Okanle and Fajeromi Communities. Paul Alfred was subsequently featured on Royal FM.
Former Governor of Kwara State and Senator representing Kwara Central, Senator Bukola Saraki has also recognised the difference the project is making in Okanle and Fajeromi communities and commended the efforts of this Corps member.
Paul Alfred is quick to say “It doesn’t take much to make a difference, anyone can, and we don’t all have to be bestowed with political power to cause a paradigm shift.” It wasn’t smooth sailing though, as he had to modify his initial programme of events due to the lack of funds at the early stages of the project.
He speaks of his experience as a student leader in SIFE at the University as revealing; “it made me see the inequities in life and common predicament besetting people, and how only locally designed approaches and empirical solutions can bring about sustainable change.”
Paul went on to say, “I am particularly humbled to witness the impact this project is having on the members of Okanle and Fajeromi communities, and how it’s increasing their quality of life and promises to improve their standard of living.” he continued “I look forward to the ripple effects of this project because that is exactly where its strength lies, to stimulate enterprise development and inspire urban-rural drift. It’s already a privilege to serve my Nation on the NYSC platform, but I am delighted to have been able to contribute my quota to national development and changing negative status quo for me will remain a lifelong commitment.” He doesn’t take all the credit either as he appreciates those who have assisted in birthing his dream, ” I am grateful for the support I received from the hierarchy of the community, headed by the Oba Raheem Olawale Oladaride the Olokanle of Okanleland, the young men and women of the communities notably Mr Jamiu Adigun (OMO Okanle Youth Movement) ,all of whom were as committed as I was to make this project successful.”
Paul Alfred can be contacted via email: firstname.lastname@example.org or Twitter: @paulalfred
Authored by Dada Bamise