The federal government recently declined assent to the Social Work Professionalisation Bill. HENRY TYOHEMBA reports that signing the bill into law would have helped in standardising and regulating the profession for effective service delivery in Nigeria.
‘Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s not,’ wrote American children’s author, Theodor Seuss Geisel.
Social workers who create protective environments for healthy development and well-being by reducing discrimination; promoting social justice; ensuring protection from family, separation, violence, abuse, exploitation and neglect; providing needed services; and caring for and supporting children, youth, families and communities are a part of the few who do care and can achieve this.
Meanwhile, in a country where too many people are made vulnerable due to poverty, social exclusion, inequality and social injustice, a strong social welfare workforce, according to experts is urgently needed.
This, according to them, would go a long way in achieving the SDGS, which outline strategies for countries to end poverty, improve the lives of children and families by addressing health, education, justice, migration and protection from violence.
Towards achieving this effectively, many stakeholders have called for a social welfare professionalisation bill.
Speaking in an interview with LEADERSHIP Friday, a UNICEF child right specialist, Mrs Maryam Enyiazu, said with good policies on ground, social workers can create protective environments for healthy development and well-being by tackling poverty, reducing discrimination, promoting social justice and providing needed services to care for and support those who need it most.
She said that, “The nation is yet to understand the need for social welfare workers in the country, noting that underfunding, lack of regulation and misunderstandings are key factors militating against social welfare workforce.
The social work regulatory bill titled, the House of Representatives passed “National Council for Social Work” in 2016 but the bill is still awaiting further legislative process at the National Assembly, before it goes to President Muhammadu Buhari for assent. The bill will however, be going through the National Assembly once again, as reasons for its rejection have been addressed by stakeholders.
Despite the fact that social welfare for children is one of the elements of Child Protection System, which plays a key role in preventing and responding to violence, exploitation, abuse and neglect of children, social workers in Nigeria have been characterised as “marginalised and poor,” by experts which make them powerless to speak out, while struggling for professional identity.
Enyiazu further added that one way to seek legitimacy and raise status of social work as a profession in Nigeria is through establishing a regulatory mechanism to ensure licensure, certification and registration. Without licensing and an ethical board to regulate and ensure standards, professionalism and accountability of social workers to the public according to her, will remain a challenge.
While social welfare like social protection reduces the economic and social vulnerability of poor and marginalised groups in developed countries of the world, such is not the case in Nigeria.
At a recent media dialogue on Social Work professionalisation Bill in Enugu, organised by the Child Rights Information Bureau (CRIB) of the Federal Ministry of Information and Culture in collaboration with UNICEF, the national president of Medical Social Workers of Nigeria, Abubakar Bichi, said although social workers are everywhere to assist in emergencies, the profession does not have an enabling law like its counterparts.
“We, the social workers are everywhere, we attend to crash victims, emergency cases, indigent patients and psycho-social counseling. Victims of war, natural disaster and flood are supposed to have social workers to give them psycho-social care because they are traumatised. We should imitate international best practices.”
To some of the experts, assenting to the social work professionalisation bill would help to enhance the quality of life and rights of the marginalised.
A lecturer of University of Jos, Dr Nancy Katu-Ogundimu, who spoke on social welfare/protection as panacea for peace in Nigeria said despite oil wealth, 54 per cent of Nigerians remain in poverty. According to her, it is important to establish the National Social Welfare Board of Nigeria to plan, implement and oversee national social security and welfare scheme.
“The goal is to provide a platform that would allow the federal government to address the social and economic difficulties faced by physically-challenged and indigent citizens,” she said.
She similarly linked social welfare of citizenry with social cohesion and peace in Nigeria saying that maintaining social welfare/ protection can make a positive contribution towards maintaining inclusive development and order.
She noted that a 2011 World Development Report (WDR) examined the links between conflict, security and development and found out that societies are vulnerable to conflict and insecurity when local institutions are unable to provide equitable access to justice and economic opportunities.
This means that lack of access or inequitable access to social welfare is a major trigger or driver of conflict. We can therefore say that having a social welfare policy is not only timely; it is very crucial for Nigeria.
Nancy stressed that Nigeria of today is currently facing one of the greatest threats to its economic, social, and political stability, from the Niger-Delta militants to secession threats by the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB), terrorism by Boko Haram, and sectarian conflicts in Plateau State, Fulani/herdsmen conflict. Signing the bill, according to her, would make a positive impact on the issues.
Speaking with the director of social welfare of the department of Federal ministry of Women Affairs and social development, Mrs T O Bamgboye, she stated that social development, which is a process of continuous improvement of the social structure, institutions, programmes, activities and the quality of life of human population including individuals, groups and communities in order to create a societal condition in which the rights of citizens are advanced and protected is given less attention in the country.
“In Nigeria, social welfare had existed as a component of the social development under decree 12 of 1974 alongside other components such as youth development, labour, community development, women and gender development and sports development. The disintegration of these ministries has really impacted negatively on the social development sector of the economy and the practice of Social Work in Nigeria,” she said.
To Ibrahim Conteh, the head of UNICEF office, Enugu, the bill for professionalisation of Social Work in Nigeria seeks to establish a regulatory legal framework to improve the standard of practice for anyone wishing to practice social work.
He said there could not have been a better time, “as the country copes with some socio-economic challenges that continue to undermine sustainable development for vulnerable children and their families.”
“Issues of high prevalence of violence against children, conflicts, terrorism, high number of out of school children, unemployment rate amongst other challenges, no doubt, highlight the importance of overhauling the social work profession in Nigeria to enable it play its critical role of supporting the vulnerable population,” Mr Conteh said.
Therefore, social work, as an academic discipline and profession, concerns itself with individuals, families, groups and communities in an effort to enhance social functioning and overall well-being. If given attention, they can go a long way to establishing peace and enhancing development in Nigeria.
In Nigeria, social welfare had existed as a component of the social development under decree 12 of 1974 alongside other components such as youth development, labour, community development, women and gender development and sports development. The disintegration of these ministries has really impacted negatively on the social development sector of the economy and the practice of Social Work in Nigeria