When academic training is trivialized: The agonies and pains of a Nigerian social work professional  

IT was Sir Malthus who identified that nations fail to progress because they have an economy that grows arithmetically while population grows geometrically. Most definitely, a geometrically increasing population will be left with no choice but to scramble for the paltry proceeds of an arithmetically increasing economy. The end becomes a war of all against all where man becomes pathetically brutish and nasty as put forward by Thomas Hobbes. Vulnerability, poverty and deprivation would definitely become imminent, and then we wish for a change in government, miracles from God or sometimes, outright death. 

No matter how difficult the world is and how pernicious the economy becomes, there are proven ways of survival. So we ask, why has Nigeria refused looking deep into history to see that nations progress because they achieve complementary significance between economic and social development? Why has Nigeria failed to consider through historical times the roles played by Rev. Sollys Charity Organisation Society and Jane Addams Settlement House in managing the pitiable social and economic consequences emanating from the industrial revolution? Why cant Nigeria ask itself, what should be so special about these people called social workers that developed nations and developing nations like South Africa and Ghana etc. have made an integral part of their development with the status of professionalization? Many questions can add to these being asked, but not many answers can be given.

In one of the defining moments in social work history that led to the professionalization of social work in the United States of America, Mary Richmond stated   The question now is how to get educated young men and women to make a life vocation of being concerned with the needy, vulnerable and the oppressed to make a life vocation of charity work. Richmonds 1897 statement galvanized the establishment of Applied School of Philanthropy which provided the American social space with well-trained social workers in varying fields of social interest ranging from schools, libraries, hospitals, airports, social welfare agencies, prisons, juvenile courts, law courts, community centres, psychiatric facilities, old peoples homes, administration and policy, etc. Consequently, social work became sanctioned with a professional status by law during the early/mid-20th century in the USA. Same fate applied to the UK, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and contemporary leading Asian and African nations like Singapore, India, Egypt, South Africa and Ghana.

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Nigeria had a very strong social work base during the colonial era. In fact, the colonial masters ensured that they married three important areas of human welfare in order to preserve our society. These areas were, medicine, religion and social work. While they gave medicines to our ailments and religion to our spirit, they never failed to provide care for destitute, indigents, homeless children, sociopath/psychopath, among other vulnerable and needy groups, and very importantly, they also challenged some cultural practices that dehumanize the human being. So, one would ask  with the social care and social work which the colonial master made an integral part of his governance structure, what must have happened onward? The truth is that the colonial master gave social work to non-social workers and the latter never appreciated it, thinking that anyone can offer such services. With such reckless handling of social work, which the United Nations attested to, a meeting of social welfare ministers of third world nations in 1968 was conveyed by the UN.

In lieu of that meeting, Dr. A. H. Shawky came to Nigeria in 1970 to study its social space and make recommendations on Nigerias social development. Very key to his recommendations was the training of social work professionals as well as legal sanction of the profession to drive to fruition the social development goals of the country at its three tiers. To accentuate the report of Shawky to action, the 1974 Social Development Decree came to be. University of Nigeria, Nsukka from 1976 became the citadel of training social workers at Diploma level, and in 1987 it levelled up to awarding Bachelors Degree. Currently, the school alongside other private and public tertiary institutions award up to Masters and PhD in social work. Thus, the country has lived up to Shawkys recommendation in producing plethora of trained social workers who are skilled in scientific helping and social protection. Sadly, these good number of social workers have not been given the platform by law to man Nigerias social development space. Rather, unqualified and untrained persons have leverage our supposed positions and making a mockery of them.

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It is strange that in this time and age, a country like Nigeria is yet to have a full fledge social work profession to guarantee it social welfare at all levels. It is stranger that we still ask to get clarified on the status of a noble profession that have successfully thrived in other nations of the world with its achievements to show at personal and structural levels. Can a social worker pose to be lawyer or who he is not trained to be? Why then do we allow people who are yet to understand the dynamics of scientific helping do what social workers have been painstakingly trained to do? Are we aware that in the training process of social workers as stipulated by its curriculum, 60% of training time must be spent in the field [prison, school, social welfare agency, research/policy, hospital, among other agencies]? The social workers you see in Nigeria go through these rigours just to give their all for a better society. Is it not criminal to train a man for a particular task and let another who did not go through such rigours take his job?

It is at this point the government must realize the evil and harm it is committing against itself. The government must know that all of its problems ranging from illegal migration, school truancy, illiteracy, terrorism, family breakdown, communal clashes, juvenile delinquency, illegal/arbitrary arrest, destitution, crime, among others, can be traceable to the absence of professionals trained to confront them. We hereby put forward to the government to approve the Nigerian Council for Social Work Establishment Bill 2017 to regulate social work activities in line with global best practices, and give to the country what it best deserves in social development terms.

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Written by Uzoma Odera Okoye Ph.D.

Professor of Social Work 

Head, Department of Social Work,

University of Nigeria, Nsukka. 

[email protected]

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