Co-operative society, to many, especially the enlightened and the rich, is seen as a primitive method of savings meant for the ‘haves-not’ in their midst. Its emergence meant nothing except the low income-earners and traders who have embraced the concept as a life-saving method.
Practical experience has shown that a cooperating group usually finds it easier and faster to accomplish tasks set for themselves than for a single individual trying to execute same task, no matter the quantum of resources available to the individual.
Thus, little did human existence recognize the importance of Co-operative until the reaction of a group of 28 factory workers to the exploitative effects of capitalist economy being operated then?
The 28 factory workers who first conceived the idea of the type of economic co-operation in England were known as the “Rockdale Equitable Pioneers” in Manchester where these young weavers in August 1844 came together for this co-operative venture and they poised to float what became a countervailing economic measure against the forces of capitalism and exploitation, by setting up their own consumer shops in rebellion against the capitalist supermarkets which sold goods at exorbitant prices.
The “equitable” was conceived out of the equal status that each member had in the operation of the venture in the sense that not a single member had more influence or voting power nor stature over others.
Relating the development to the homestead, the Western State of Nigeria where the Co-operative Movement was not developed as the Federal Government’s development plans ever included Co-operative Programmes until its Third National Development Plan for the period of 1975-1980.
Under the Regional Government, the Colonial Administration in 1933 sent Mr. CF Strickland, a British Administrator, to India to understudy the India-type of Cooperation. Upon his return to Nigeria, his report (indicated that Nigeria was a good ground for the introduction of Co-operatives), formed the basis for the enactment of the Co-operative Ordinance of 1934. Mr. Haig returned and he was appointed the First Registrar Designate for Co-operative in Nigeria. After him Nigerian successive Registrars now known as Director of Co-operative Services were appointed.
Therefore, the first trial co-operative society started with the Cocoa Farmers of the Old Western Nigeria at a village called “Gbedun” near Ibadan, Oyo state. Hence, the first registered Co-operative emerged in 1935 and it was known as “Gbedun Co-operative Farmers Society”.
It was in the old Western Nigeria, the Thrift and Loan Co-operatives were to emerge earlier, while in the Eastern parts of the country Marketing Co-operatives pioneered the co-operative efforts and the Thrift and Credit Co-operatives followed in the 1970s. And the development culminated in the establishment of a Federal Ministry of Co-operatives and Supply in 1976.
However, Co-operative movement in the Northern Nigeria was slow to begin, but it commenced with the establishment of the Co-operative Credit, and followed by Cotton and Groundnut Marketing Co-operatives.
The Nigerian Agricultural and Co-operative Bank (the main source of Co-operative Finance) was established by the Government, following a report submitted by a panel constituted on 2nd August, 1977 by the Federal Government with a term of reference to “Review the existing Co-operative Societies Laws in Nigeria with particular reference to the restrictions imposed by the laws on the establishment and operations of Co-operative Society to determine whether or not such restrictions constituted a constraints to the growth of Co-operative Movement in the Federation.
Thus, Co-operatives can be defined as a collection of individuals, having common felt needs, decided to pool their resources together in order to jointly meet their needs. To a large extent, it is also a type of functional economic circumstances made primarily in response to a desire on the part of participants to maximize individual economic advantages.
Co-operative calls for pooling resources together to address hitherto difficult or impossible task or target. It is an autonomous Association of people, united voluntarily to meet their common economic, social and cultural needs, and they are expected to be independent of government and not owned by anyone other than members.
In underscoring the importance of the Co-operative to economic growth and development, in 1976, with the establishment of the “Operation Feed The Nation (OFN) by the Military Administration of General Olusegun Obasanjo, the National Food Production Programme as was as the River Basin Development Authorities that were established across the country, were implemented using the Co-operative Societies as agents.
Accordingly, 32 Livestock Feed Mills, 70 grain storage depots were also established by the Federal Ministry of Co-operatives and Supply which was a new Ministry, then. In the similar vein, in 1985, the Federal Military Government boosted the Co-operatives activated with the establishment of the “Directorate of Food, Roads and Rural Infrastructures” (DFRRI) and the “Better Life” Programme, using the Co-operative as agents.
Also, the Mass Mobilization for Social and Economic Recovery (MAMSER), Programmes were activated by the Co-operatives through the “Food First” programme. In 1992, the “Family Support Programme” (FSP), through Co-operatives, with the aim of improving the economic prosperity of co-operators. The number of Co-operative Colleges increased from three in 1974 to more than 30 tertiary institutions today, including Co-operative education in their curricula.
In Ogun state, upon the creation of the state on February 3, 1976, the Department of Co-operative Services was created, manned by the Registrar of Co-operative Services appointed by the State Governor, and saddled with the following responsibilities and duties with powers to, register Co-operative Societies, including the societies bylaws and their amendments; audit and inspect Co-operative Societies and also empower an Audit to audit Co-operative Societies; hold and inquire or direct any competent person to hold an inquiry into the constitution, working and financial state of Co-operative Society; surcharge any person who misapplied the Society’s funds or fail to supply information he knows of, to an Arbitrator or Inquirer appointed by him; approve or disapprove the Division or Amalgamation of registered Co-operative Societies; promote activities of Co-operative Societies and general public on Co-operatives’ modus operandi, among others.
Kowo, Deputy Director of Information, Planning, Research and Statistics, writes from Laderin, Workers’ Estate, Abeokuta, Ogun State.