In developed countries such as the United States of America (USA), citizens engaged in volunteer work are held in high esteem. They wear badges of volunteer organizations with pride. But the reverse is the case in Nigeria and other developing countries where individuals are bugged down by daily struggles, making it difficult for them to engage in any form of volunteerism.
This and other factors probably explains why Man O’ War, Nigeria’s oldest uniformed volunteer organisation only managed to stay afloat with much younger paramilitary outfits who resorted to staffing their members attaining national relevance. It therefore came as no surprise that the organisation established in August 1960 under the supervision of the National Citizenship and Leadership Training Center Abuja, is restructuring its operations so as to return to its glory days. The decision to reform the Man O’ War to enable it meet up to expectations was taken during a management meeting of its supervisory body held in Keffi, Nasarawa State last year.
All through its years of existence the Man O’War has been run by state commanders who report to the management of the Citizenship and Leadership Center. One of the decisions reached at the Keffi meeting was to appoint a National Commander for the Man O’War who will implement far reaching reforms. The lot fell on Ikenna Chidoka an Abuja-based businessman who was in November 2011 appointed as national patron of Man O War. The Citizenship and Training Center looked inwards by appointing Chidoka who until his appointment as National Commander was the Chief Executive Officer of Kadochi Limited, the franchise owners for Berrylux Paints. He is also the founder of Change 180, a youth organisation that campaigned for free and fair elections during the April polls. Change 180 equally invested time in rallying youths against all forms of electoral violence.
Speaking on his mandate, Chidoka says he will not be re-inventing the wheel, rather, he simply will work towards returning Man O’ War back to reckoning as a model for youth volunteer organisations. “You can be rest assured that one thing the Man O’ War will promote throughout my tenure is the fact that you can build a nation through volunteerism. The culture of volunteerism is a common feature among Most of the countries we admire and aspire to be like in terms of development. In these countries you see youths helping in building schools, community centers, among other developmental endeavors by donating their time and skills. The idea of youths lazing around, doing nothing and they turn around to ask for change is inimical to development. Youths must give their time to productive endeavors such as Man O’ War. I am not saying that there aren’t youths who have made themselves useful to their communities, of course there are, but we want to help multiply the number of people who will embrace volunteerism. We will start by mobilizing the youths in the rural areas, we will also engage the youths in the urban areas”.
According to the new Man O’ War commandant, his vision for the paramilitary outfit could be achieved through hard work and discipline. “I want to see a Man O’War that is respected. I hope to see an organisation that contributes positively to nation building and socio-economic development. We want to play a key role in reducing youth restiveness that is manifesting itself in forms such as terrorism, violent crimes and kidnappings. We want to properly staff Man O’War members so that they can in turn mobilise people especially the youth. A good example is the Christmas Day bombing at the St. Theresa Catholic Church Madalla, Man O’ War members were the first to get to the scene because like I said we have members in almost all the local government areas in the country. Our members helped in stabilizing some of the victims because they can administer first aid”.
Chidoka is already walking the talk as his first move was to get Man O’War a well equipped head office in Abuja from where states commands can be properly coordinated. Seated in his office with members coming in for instructions intermittently, he averred that as much as his organisation wants to be forward looking it will not negate its founding ideology because it is still relevant in the present time and the future. “Our target is to go back to the original concept of Man O’ War which is community service especially in area of community policing, community profiling and community intelligence. The move to return to our core values is timely especially when you consider the recent upsurge in terrorism and kidnapping in the rural areas. So what we intend to do is galvanise our members to work with the local vigilante groups to gather information, to prevent crime and assist the police with relevant information.”
In the chore of the 12-day Man O War training program carried by the Citizenship and Leadership Training Center are courses designed to make attendees majority of who are members of government paramilitary agencies such as the Nigerian police, the Federal Road Safety Commission (FRSC) to be self-reliant and courageous. With “Integrity, courage, self-reliance and being mobile” as Man O War’s motto, the National Commander who is a month old in office acknowledges that there is need to double on the number of female members of his organisation as women are quick to imbibing these qualities and are better positioned to pass them down to the next generation.
For him the new look Man O’ War will be better positioned as a gender-friendly organisation. He noted that, “Gone are the days when women are seen as the weaker sex. Countries that have succeeded in reducing poverty and creating wealth did so by empowering the womenfolk. We have a woman in our national command and we also have two female state commanders. There are plenty of female members in our clubs in schools. However, our plan is to properly re-position the Man O’ War to be gender friendly like every other modern organisation. We hope to increase the number of female enrollees by improving on our programs that promote women empowerment. We have programs that train people on skills they need to run small and medium scale enterprises, so, we will build on this just as we will improve on training for trade or businesses that women are more disposed to”.
It has become pertinent to make Man O’ War an organisation that empowers its members not one that is looked on as the nest of struggling youths, Chidoka pointed out that, “If you look at the new programs we are trying to implement, we have a seven pronged approach. There is camping and training, social engagement, mapping, compass work, fire fighting, community security, agriculture piggery and horticulture. However, the goal is for our members to take home skills that will be useful to them in life.
“In terms of capacity building, intellectually we are trying to contribute in terms of literature of the culture of our people. There is hardly anywhere you go to that you don’t find members of Man O’ War. So we want a situation whereby our members will write on what the lifestyle and culture of the people. At the end of the day what we want is first hand information and proper documentation about the people of Nigeria. I believe that the literature we generate can be used by researchers in future”.
Enumerating ways by which he will shake off the toga of a lackluster organisation, Chidoka said he will work closely with Ministry of Youth Development. “We are definitely going to be working under the supervision of the Ministry of Youths Development. We are particularly fortunate to have Mallam Bolaji Abdulahi as the man in-charge of the ministry because of the direction he has taken which strengthens the ideals of Man O’ War. You must have heard that the minister is carrying out his pledge to send National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) members in areas and sectors where they are needed such as the Agriculture. We in the Man O’War already have been working in the field of Agriculture and rural development. We have always promoted the culture of patriotism among the youth; all we have to do now is to run with the minister’s vision of making our youth self-reliant and patriotic Nigerians. We have what it takes to do this”.
The National Commander is also looking towards ensuring that standards are maintained by blocking the loopholes through which unscrupulous elements have exploited the acceptance of Man O’ War by the public. “We are going to be strict about the operations of Man O’War because we’ve had fake Man O’ War members who exploit people. When we used to wear green uniforms similar to that of the Nigerian Army, we had cases of people posing as Army officers to exploit innocent citizens. Such persons have been expelled. Now, we wear light brown shirts over dark born trousers this is because easy identification is crucial to us. We are a volunteer orgnanisation that exists to assist the people not to intimidate or irritate them. Henceforth, we are going to enforce the law that all intending members of the Man O’ War must attend the Leadership and Citizenship training. It’s a 12-day foundational course based on which we build on creating the sense of pride in being a Nigerian”.
A Man O’ War member should lead the way in emergency situation because they have basic training on how to help reduce the number of casualties.
“My experience in business, I have travelled far and wide, I have participated in youth politics. I have seen what youths can do when they channel their energies into negative things. The only way to stop youth restiveness is by engaging the youth in productive activity.
“Of course they will be challenges but I would like to call them surprises and surprises do come, that is why we have to be prepared like our sister organisation, the Boys Scout. When challenges come we will tackle them and move forward to other things.