CELF: Raising a New Generation of Selfless Development Agents By: Abdulrasheed Saadudeen


When the then military Head of State, General Yakubu Gowon, as part of the measures to mend the post-civil war wounds, introduced the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC); the initiative was applauded as a masterstroke that will propel the country to greatness. The scheme, as part of its objectives, is designed to serve as a platform through which fresh graduates learn and experience cultural diversity of over 250 ethnic groups by serving their fatherland through community service, collaboration, and volunteerism.

Since 1973, millions of youths who passed through the scheme had acquired “the spirit of self-reliance” and garnered the needed encouragement necessary to develop their skills for self-employment and also foster common ties, as well as promote national development and integration. While the NYSC is a scheme designed to promote social cohesion and spirit of self-reliance among graduates, there is no doubt that each of the thirty-six States of the federation, including the FCT, which are populated by different ethnic groups, are in need of a socio-educational platform like Countryside Emerging Leaders Fellowship (CELF), which will promote peaceful co-existence and all-inclusive development at sub-national levels.

Unlike the NYSC which seeks to promote social ties among the educated youths, CELF, among other objectives, is designed to promote grassroots development, using a bottom-top approach in which every Nigerian, irrespective of their socio-cultural and economic backgrounds, are offered a platform to showcase their talents and have their potentials nurtured. Specifically, secondary school leavers are empowered using a four thematic approach viz. self-development, entrepreneurship, community
development and environmental sustainability.

Since its inception in 2020, CELF participants, known as fellows, are being carefully and systematically selected across the sixteen local government areas of Kwara State. With a team of community educationists and development facilitators who are CELF volunteers, the selection process of fellows has been transparent and merit-based. One out of three students with best results in SSCE, after they are subjected to paper-based exam as well as interview, is selected to represent a school. For a local government area, two fellows from two public-owned schools are selected from each of the sixteen local government areas of Kwara State. For each of the three editions, thirty-two fellows across the sixteen LGAs are trained on development process.

The fellowship is reputed to have been promoting some of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), including, but not limited to, gender equity, functional education, reduction of hunger and poverty, as well as environmental sustainability. Fellows are not only exposed to the nitty-gritty of community development, but they are also being empowered to be self-reliant through entrepreneurship. The goal of the CELF promoters is to raise a team of development facilitators across rural communities in Kwara State and beyond.

As CELF continues to evolve, more glamorous features are being added to it. Specifically, not only is a new theme—environmental sustainability—added to the existing three thematic areas, the third edition of CELF is also being garnished with a new interactive session tagged ‘The Master of Craft Chat, (MCC). With a robust curriculum and contents, CELF facilitators’ crop of intellectuals, serial entrepreneurs, SDGs and climate change advocates of national and international repute. Their rising profiles and recognitions, home and abroad, speak volumes about the integrity and success of the fellowship in the last three years.

The avalanche of support and endorsements CELF has been receiving from stakeholders is attributable to the measurable impacts the fellowship has on fellows in particular, and communities at large. In addition to various supports and donations received from individuals, groups and corporate bodies; part of the success stories of the fellowship is the award of scholarships to the most outstanding fellows in every edition by public office holders and the government. Specifically, the senator representing the Kwara Central Senatorial District in the 9th National Assembly, Dr Ibrahim Yahaya Oloriegbe awarded scholarships to three most outstanding fellows from his constituency in the maiden edition, while sixteen most outstanding fellows, one from each of the LGAs in Kwara State, are being sponsored by the Kwara State Government to study any course of their choice in a public-owned higher institution of learning.

Without discounting the contributions of other donors, partners and supporters, who are too numerous to mention in this piece due to want of space, their supports, since the inception of CELF, is duly acknowledged and highly invaluable to the success of the fellowship. With their support, CELF has continued to improve in leaps and bounds, becoming a widely acknowledged community development brand with high-impact on human development.

As CELF 3.0 kick-starts, all is set as the fellows arrive camp. It is desirous that all hands must be on deck for this laudable initiative to remain sustainably relevant. Organising a 14-day camping requires and deserves every support CELF can receive from all and sundry. It is therefore pertinent for all the stakeholders to rally round the fellowship in order to take it to greater heights.

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