Lolade Alexis Ogunbiyi
According to the International Co-operative Alliance (ICA), a cooperative society is an association of people that come together to pool resources together to engage in business or economic activities for the purpose of improving their welfare. The cooperative movement began in Europe in the 19th century, primarily in Britain and France. Robert Owen (1771–1858), a Welshman who made his fortune in the cotton trade, is considered as the father of the cooperative movement.
In Nigeria, the history of cooperative movement dates back to the 1930s. The most prevalent of such institution is the credit organization known in English as the ‘Contribution Society’’ but which, according to variations in language, has diverse terms such as ‘Adashi’ ‘Esusu’ or ‘Ajo’ and ‘Isusu’.
In 1935, the Nigeria cooperative society ordinance was enacted via the recommendation of Mr. C. F. Strickland which was fashioned out of the India cooperation society’s Act of 1912. The ordinance provided for recognition of cooperative as a separate business enterprise, prohibition of the indiscriminate use of the title ‘cooperative’’ and appointment of a registrar of cooperative to control and administer cooperative laws and fostering of cooperative development.
Without gainsaying, cooperatives are the forerunners of modern sustainability as displayed in their age-long principles. Cooperative enterprises have made positive contributions to sustainability through their ability to utilize the dynamics of human and natural resources within a given community for the benefit of such community and beyond.
Over the years, cooperative societies have clearly demonstrated that they are key actors to redefine the sustainable development models prioritizing social equity. The cooperative formula is seen as a solution that is not only durable but contemporary, resilient and relevant, and therefore significant in establishing a more solid economic development through their ethic economy, defense of the collective interest and the democratization of the entrepreneurial sector.
Cooperatives have a proven record of creating and sustaining employment also they help to improve the living and working conditions of women and men globally, make essential infrastructure and services available even in areas neglected by the state and by investor-driven enterprises.
Cooperative societies help members to develop a savings culture. Nobody can escape poverty without a savings habit. Anyone that spends everything on consumption is just a step away from poverty. Saving is made relatively easy with cooperatives because every member must contribute regularly without default. In most private and public organisations, such contribution is usually deducted directly from members’ income. So, irrespective of their needs, they are made to save as an obligation.
Cooperatives also offer members access to loans either in cash or in the form of goods. As it is difficult for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle, so it is for the average individual to get loan from banks. For low income earners, it is even worse, because they don’t have collateral. Even for those that can meet the conditions for bank loans, the loan may not come promptly as needed. But as a member of a cooperative, loan can be accessed promptly as your contributions serve as collateral while fellow contributors are accepted as guarantors. Also, the interest rate and repayment terms are not crushing as that of the banks. This easy access to loans has helped many people achieve improved welfare.
In many countries, political, economic and social changes have put pressure on governments to limit their involvement in economic and social affairs. The core idea of structural adjustment programs is a shift from public to private initiative, financing, management and responsibility.
The cooperative model of joint ownership and management is, therefore, increasingly being used by employees to buy out their own enterprises in the transport, service and manufacturing sectors, as a means of protecting and generating jobs in an era of continued downsizing resulting from globalization and technological changes.
It is in order to draw wider attention to the immeasurable benefits of cooperatives that the International Cooperative Day is observed on the first Saturday of July every year as established by the International Cooperative Alliance (ICA) and embraced by the United Nations (UN). The International Day aims to strengthen and extend partnerships between the International Co-operative Movement and other actors, including governments, at local, national and international levels.
In Lagos State, the number of registered Cooperative Societies has grown from one hundred and eight (108) from 1967 to well over fifteen thousand (15,000) with a net asset of N70, 731,066,384.90k (Seventy billion, seven hundred and thirty-one million, sixty-six thousand, three hundred and eighty-four naira and ninety kobo) according to the mid-year report of the Cooperative Department for year 2016. Aside this impressive financial profile, the Cooperative Movement in Lagos has been consistently supporting the state government’s policies and programmes in the areas of public transportation, job creation, housing and infrastructure provision.
In reciprocating these contributions, the state government has continued to provide the enabling environment for profitable investment of cooperative funds. The Cooperative Arbitration Panel and other advisory units of government have also been providing succor and financial security to the Cooperative Movement in this regard. One of the major reasons why the State Government established the State Cooperative College at Oko-Oba, Agege is to encourage the act of cooperation and increase the knowledge and skill of cooperative toward reducing fraud and conflict within Cooperative Societies in Lagos State. The College has trained over 5,516 cooperators in the last four year.
However, though lots of people have heard about cooperatives, it is just a few that are actually exploring the enormous opportunities they present. Even governments at all levels are yet to really comprehended how useful cooperative societies can be, particularly in stamping out poverty and improving welfare of the citizens. When wholly utilized, cooperatives can boost job creation as well as national productivity.
In our clime, cooperative societies remain one of the most potent channels of investment accessible to salary earners and other low income earners. As various homes contend with the reality of our nation’s dwindling economic fortune, now is the time for Nigerians to avail themselves of the immense benefits of cooperatives.