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Cooperatives, rural dwellers and low income workers

Rural dwellers and low-income workers in urban areas are most vulnerable to the incidence of poverty. This is evident in the rural landscape and worsened by the fact that the federal government’s assistance for rural development continues to decline. Therefore, it becomes imperative for an economic alternative that will be both responsive to rural needs as well as stimulate economic growth.

Most experts in the field of agriculture and economics are increasingly interested in alternative models for local businesses that will foster economic growth at rural and regional levels, thus building on the spirit of cooperation that is domiciled in such areas. Again, if development planning is to be successful, it should start from the grassroots levels. More so, development efforts concentrated on human resources and people at grass root levels should be mobilized to work together voluntarily so as to pool scarce resources at their disposal.

Indeed, such cooperatives play a pivotal role in rural areas, especially where privately owned businesses are scarce and government agencies and authorities do not provide essential services to meet the needs of the people. It is useful to appreciate here that the history of cooperatives is a long and fruitful one. They continue to provide benefits to members from historical times till date.

Co-operatives in other countries like Kenya and Canada contribute significantly to their national economies and could be a significant force in empowering rural communities, farmers, women and micro entrepreneurs throughout Nigeria

The concept of Cooperative has existed in Nigeria before the coming of the White men. Within the Yoruba Ethno-linguistic Group, it dates as far back as the 16th century in the name of ‘Esusu’; a Rotating Savings and Credit Association. This innovation is also called ‘Ajo’ by this Ethnic Group. However, almost every Ethno-linguistic Group in Nigeria has its own Traditional Cooperative Institutions.

These Traditional Cooperatives had been exported to other West African and Central African Countries, and they cover all human groupings from marketing, credit, consumer, building, group farming to craft workers’ societies. The first known of such cooperatives is The Agege Planters’ Union made of over four hundred Cocoa Farmers in 1907. However and although the Colonial Government did not recognise their activities, still they persisted.

Extremely varied and flexible, cooperatives have membership rolls that range from millions to only a handful. They have been founded by farmers, artisans, and credit unionists, among many others. Co-operatives in other countries like Kenya and Canada contribute significantly to their national economies and could be a significant force in empowering rural communities, farmers, women, and micro-entrepreneurs throughout Nigeria.

The big questions now are: can cooperatives bring about the desired change needed for the economic empowerment of the rural dwellers? Can they eliminate the disparity created by the rural-urban divide in such a way as to improve the quality of life and working conditions of people generally? The answer is in the affirmative.

In many communities, cooperatives are so resourceful in providing timely farm inputs to their members; they give vocational training and skills, participate in sanitation activities, combat social exclusion and offer community banking. It is important to underline that most cooperatives are not instruments of employment promotion, but enterprises that give their members economic services.

However, some factors hinder the smooth operation of most Cooperative Societies. These include the following: Limited Funds because membership and the registration fees are low, thus making it difficult for the Cooperatives to expand their activities beyond a particular level. This is in view of limited financial resources.

It is equally unfortunate that against the desired purpose, activities of cooperatives have been hijacked by a few rural rich men and women who manage the affairs of the Cooperatives for their own personal benefit to the neglect of the rural poor people.

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Therefore, such cooperatives have not succeeded in freeing the rural poor from the clutches of the money lenders, as they give loans only for productive purposes and not for personal or family expenses.

Moreover, excessive and strict government regulations affect their autonomy and flexibility, and this affects decision-making on some issues that need or warrant urgent attention.

It is hereby suggested that cooperative societies at all levels should be strengthened, controlled and owned by cooperative members themselves without undue government interference. Thus, government presence in this sector of the Nigerian economy should be limited to the training of manpower for cooperatives and developing national policies that will make it easier for cooperative members to group themselves properly and achieve maximum breakthroughs in their organizations.

Government should as a matter of urgency and priority, review the cooperative laws and regulations of the country regularly. This is in order to meet the desired needs and aspirations of the groups.

There is also the need to review the loan policies of all cooperative financing agencies such as the State Cooperative Banks, the Nigerian Agricultural Cooperative and Rural Development Bank, and create more rural branches of these banks throughout the country.

Finally, the government should establish cooperative units under the various Local government departments that will work together with the relevant state and the federal agencies concerned with cooperative matters. We only need to add here that all the suggestions and prescriptions above, should not just apply to those in rural areas. They should also be extended to low income workers in the urban areas. In this creative way, the Nigerian State would have been seen to be serious in building an inclusive society that is largely anchored on the tenets of Welfare and Social Justice.

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