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PROJECT TOPIC- COMMUNITY DEVELOPMENT COOPERATIVES AND DEMOCRACY: A GUIDE FOR SOCIAL WORKERS

PROJECT TOPIC- COMMUNITY DEVELOPMENT COOPERATIVES AND DEMOCRACY: A GUIDE FOR SOCIAL WORKERS

INTRODUCTION

It is a complex place-this world or ours. It is full of potentinls, and it is full of abures. We can make it heaven, and we can make it bell.
Poets have praised and lamented it. While Browning say8 that d l is right with the world, Keats sees the world as a place where but to think
is to be full of sorrow and leaden-eyed desp:%. If what one sees is an indication of what will be, it seems certain that no matter what may
have been man’s primeval innocence and happiness, the worth or value of man’s continuing existence on the surface of the earth is a
blessing that deserves a critical examination.

All around us we find consuming hatred, wars, destruction and brutality, institutionalized and glorified injustices among men, vilification, international intrigues, rtnd a dogged determination to do wrong. The gap between the rich and the poor is i&reasing rather than. closing up. People are dying of want while staring at abysmal waste as they draw the last breath.
Galbraith’s (1969, p 71) description of Mrs Vanderbilt’s $250,000 ball, where guests were served with cigarettes wrapped in hundred dollar bills and some dressed in suits costing $10,000 is amusing when considered as an event that took place in New York in 1897. But when one realizes that comparable events are taking place today even in countries where the majority of the people are living under the subsistence level, then it does not look so funny.

In Nigeria we find ~ i ~ e r i alenad ers h d ex-leaders, and those attakhed to them owning 42 bedroom country houses quipped with the Iqtest modem gadgets and facilities, and making multi-million dollar investments in Nigeria and abroad. One such investment could be by far more costly than the total salaries they may have received in their entire period of service. This is more startling when the person is known to’ be on the brink of bankruptcy at the time of assuming public office. Yet by the time these- officers leave office the civil servants who worked under them have not been paid for wveral months. While such officers have mansions and glass houses spread all over the world, the civil servants who worked under them do not even have makeshift houses to show as their own after over 25 y m of Qdicated service.

They wait for the retirement gratuity which is rwallowd up in inflation the moment it is teceived. The Nigerian ROW~UUX ricks ( 0 b at tbe –payefa’ errpentie) spend million8 of naira at funeral. wadding, b i i y , thanksgiving and other partier, while their next-door ueighbour cannot keep his three children in primary school because of poverty, or dies of a curable disease because he cannot afford the simple drugs prescribed in the hosital.
In Nigeria people buy the most expensive cars made anywbere in tbe world, even though in their community some people cannot easily get
to their homes because of obstructions on the footpath leading to them.

In the country we see signs of opulence. But you cannot bring down the eyes from these without seeing signs of abysmal poverty: on the streets, in the schools, in the hospitals, at the living quarters, at workplaces, everywhere. In almost every country, democracy is turning into a shambles.
Even those nations considered before as bastions of democracy, now looking at what is before them and comparing,it with what used to be
or what should be, are at a loss whatmrne to call the monster before them. Certainly not democracy.
Socialist democracy has crumbled in East Germany and the former Soviet Union. These countries (and in fact the whole world) are still suffering from the shock and the consequences of the collapse. While American democracy may portray the impression of the international policeman around the world, US citizens (especially ordinary citizens) are crying at the heavy burden with which they are laden. While the civilian administrators of Nigeria (First and Second Republics) may not have shown enough signs that they have learnt much about the theory and art of democracy, the military dictators have not given them a chance to really try and achieve stability in the art.
Although Nigeria has existed as a sovereign independent state for thirty-five years, the army has allowed democracy to be tried for only 10 years, six during the First Republic and four during the Second. Different groups of armed dictators have domined the country for 25 years, each group performing as bad as or worse than the one it toppled.

The incumbent dictators have not given a clear indicator that they want to quit office soon. The overall consequence of this is the ever gradual deterioration in every aspect of life in the country: physical health and nutrition, economic, political, social and leisure, educational, domestic, and moral. The people pushed to the limits of their tolerance level. If caie is not taken they may be forced to fight for their personal and small group survival even if that will mean the end of Nigeria as a nation. Democracy means a good, fair, and just government for men and-women (Oyuga et al., 1988, p 15). and can only survive and theve in a country of good, fair, and just men, operating good, fair, and just social institutions.

Abraham Linc~ln saw democracy as the government of the people, by the people, and for the peohle. A democratic government is begotten or formed by the people, supported by their will (OF), follows the rule or constitution of the peopie, not the wish of the oligarchy (BY) and caters for the material and social welfare of the people (FOR). The purpose of any government is to provide for the material and social welfare of the people. If any government cannot or will not do this, that government has no reason to remain in office, and the people have no reason to tolerate or cooperate with such a government.
The welfare of the people cannot be taken care of without the people themselves. It is they who possess the needs and wants to be satisfied. They possess some resources that can be mobilized to satisfy their needs. They have some potentialities in them that can be actualized towards their own improvement and fulfilment. In other words, the material and social welfare or well-being of the people cannot be achieved without the people themselves. It is done through a true democratic process.

A good democratic government encourages the formation of subordinate and  emocratic social organizations to help it serve the welfare of the people more effectively. Where the government is not so democratic, the people save themselves from total collapse and crush by forming themselves into democratic organizations in their own interest and that of society.
In many parts of the world, disease, hunger, and all types of physical disability are the bedfellows of the majority. Most disconcerting is the fact that the rich (whether nations or individuals, instead of lifting the burden from the weak shoulders of the poor, are continuously increasing the load on the assumption that they cannot be strong unless someone is weak.

The Igbo say, ‘Unless a fish swallows another fish it never grows big.’ A spontaneous reaction to this is for the ‘wretched of the earth’ to strengthen themselves by weakening the oppressors. But is it correct to think that the only way to rise is by putting someone else down? Would this not be a way of getting ourselves lugged up eternally in a vicious circle of hatred and mutual destruction? Is there no other way of social and economic interaction among men except by dehumanizing opposition inherent in both capitalism and communism? Yes.

There are alternatives, better alternatives to our present way of life. The problem is that we get used to one way of doing things that we tend to accept it as the only possible way. But to be able to appreciate the value of the alternatives, attitudinal change is necessary. We must be ready to see the existence of the ‘non-I’ as an essential and indispensable part of our being. ‘No man is an island’. It is this kind of attitude that gave rise to the  cooperative movement.

Poverty in Nigeria

Nature of poverty

Poverty and richness have been known to exist in all societies and in all ages. Despite the frequent ‘wars’ declared on poverty by society, the
belligerents know that there can never be total victory. The Bible says that ‘the poor you always have with you’ (Jn 12:8). Even though everybody speaks of poverty, and knows what he means by the term, it  is not so certain that poverty means the same thing to everybody.
Poverty is easier to describe than to define. In a simplistic way, poverty is determined by the amount of possession that one has.
Consequently, it has been the constant concern of economists. But since what one possesses is a principal determinant of social inequality, poverty has gained the interest of sociologists and religionists. As the various disciplines come closer together for the solution of human problems, the need for definitions for clearer communication becomes more urgent.
Poverty is often narrowly taken to mean the inadequate supply of consumption and some necessary production goods. Thus in Nigerian traditional society richness and poverty are determined by the type and quantity of food that a person normally consumes, and the amount of agricultural property he possesses, such as land, grains, tubers, livestock, and other farm products. Extremes of richness and poverty scarcely existed.

The simplicity of life and the extended family system brought people close together and made them share what they had with one another. With the introduction of the money economy, some people tended to regard poverty as the lack of money and what money can buy. Recent studies in poverty indicate that the problem of poverty is not just a question of money, property, or food. Poverty connotes not only the deprivation of material comfort, but also that of human dignity, and human fulfilment. It affects a person’s conception of himself, and, consequently, his social, political, and economic behaviour.
The material possessions that a person has determine what he eats and drinks, the kind of house he lives in, the means of transportation
he uses, the clothing he wears, the medical attention he gets, the education he gets, the leisure he enjoys, the kind of friends he has,
surprisingly the spiritual devotions he indulges in, and the spiritual advisers and counsellors accessible to him. All these cumulatively influence the job he secures, the way he performs it, and the income that he gets in a kind of recurring cycle.

They also determine his social class and interaction, social status and prestige, political associates, political power, influence and behaviour. They determine the kind of spouse he gets, the kind of family he raises, the impact he makes on society, the fulfilment he gets out of life, the kind of person he is, and ultimately how he works out his final destiny. Poverty has, therefore, economic, social, political, and spiritual ramifications.

It entails the lack, the deficiency, or the absence of something which deprives a person of the power to function effectively in any of the basic social institutions of his time such as the family, economy, health and welfare, politics, etc. .~dozie$l976, p 36), quoting Harry Johnson, stated that poverty exists ‘when the resources of families or individuals are inadequate to provide a socially acceptable standard of living.’

Aboyade (1976, p 31) sees poverty as ‘a state of inadequate command over, or inadequate access to, resources to satisfy wants which are considered normal by the value system of a given society.’ The definition of poverty is, therefore, value-laden. The determination of a socially acceptable minimum standard of living or wants which are considered normal in any value system has not been easy among social scientists. Equally dividing social scientists is how to determine how near or how far an individual is from this minimum, ie the problem of quantification and  measurement.

PROJECT TOPIC- COMMUNITY DEVELOPMENT COOPERATIVES AND DEMOCRACY: A GUIDE FOR SOCIAL WORKERS

Kinds of poverty

Poverty can be broadly grouped into generalized poverty and particular poverty. Generalized poverty is that which affects the generality of people at any given time. It is such that Marshall (1927, pp 2 – 4) described it as the ‘degradation of a large part of mankind’ in England and beyond, people in towns, and in the country, the kind experienced during great depressions. Particular poverty affects specific areas andlor individuals. Unlike the former, it is the problem of the minority rather that of the majority of people who work. 

Writing about the American situation Galbraith (1969, p 244) affirmed that general affliction of poverty has been wiped out of America. He distinguished the poverty in the USA as consisting o case poverty and insular poverty (p 246). Case poverty exists in all communities, urban or rural, and at all times, irrespective of the place and period. It involves those individuals and families who cannot make ends meet, people who go to bed hungry every day, who live in crowded slums, and who cannot afford the simplest medical care, even though the majority of the people around them do not experience that same condition.

He maintained that case poverty is commonly related to the characteristics of the victims. The fact that the majority of people in the community are faring well demonstrates that the condition is not intractable. Some quality in the families or individuals is responsible for their non-participation in the general well-being. Such characteristics are mental deficiency, bad health, lack of discipline at work, excessive procreation, alcoholism, educational handicap peculiar to the individuals, lack of motivation, etc.

Case poverty is due to personal and individual defects. However, it is now generally known that social institutions are sometimes structured in such a way that some people are privileged while others are disadvantaged. The disadvantaged group: try as they can, always find themselves behind others. For instance, a look at trade statistics will show a steady rise in annual family income, but the increase will be fwpd to be on the income of families of middle and higher income {Machaldl, 1963).

This tells us that the rich are getting richer and fb pmr poorer, and that the rate at which poverty is being eliminated is getting slower. Insular poverty is not explainable by personal inadequacy of the vic*, Jt manifests itself as an island in which eve9body or nearly everybody is poor. The inhabitants have been frustrated by some characteristics or factors peculiar to their environment. There is a tendency to attribute insular poverty to natural causes-lack of extractive endowment, inkertile soil, dry climate, etc.

But areas without mineral resources or with infertile soil, and desert-like climate have been known to live in islands of wealth. On the other hand, there are areas with these facilities, like Nigeria, that excel in islands of poverty. Some mineral-producing areas in Nigeria suffer the greatest degradation in the country. Human will can be a factor in the existence of insular poverty. People outside the island may be exploiting it. There may also be forces within the community which restrain or prevent participation in economic life.

 Poverty may also be categorized into absolute and relative poverty. Absolute poverty is had when the individuals concerned are starving, or are totally unable to take care of themselves. As will be seen later, there is no unanimity among people as regards what constitutes starvation. A presidential assistant in the Second Republic of Nigeria once upheld that starvation exists only when Nigerian citizens begin to scavenge for food in the dustbins. Since that was notthe case, he denied the widespread allegation that his fellow countrymen were poor and starving. But even nutritionists are not in agreement among themselves.

What is considered as starvation will differ from place to place, and from time to time.
Relative poverty is the lack or inadequacy of resources established by comparing individuals, groups, communities, regions, or nations. This view is often championed by people whose concern isfor a more evkn distribution of the wealth of the earth even when the disadvantaged groups are not in extreme necessity. This conception of poverty always involves a comparison between individuals and groups. The units of comparison may be individuals, households, residential areas, social classes, ethnic or racial groups, income groups, states, regions, and nations.

Relative poverty is implied in Galbraith’s (1969,p 245) statement that ‘people are poverty stricken when their income, even if adequate for survival, falls below that of the community’. It is also implied in Robert S McNamara’s statement that poverty is ‘a condition of life so degrading as to insult human dignity’. The poor cannot have what the community in which they live considers the minimum for decent living. They are, therefore, considered indecent and degraded. 

In his contemplation, Martin Rein (1968, p 116) outlined three broad concepts of poverty: subsistence, inequality, and externality. Subsistence connotes the minimum of provisions needed to maintain health and keep one’s body in fit working condition. It is codcerned with the capacity to survive and maintain physical efficiency. Inequality focuses on the relation of the income of one group when compared to other groups. Poverty cannot be undetsrood by isolating the poor and treating them as if they are a special ah@ distinct group.
The poor live in society and society is made up of a series of stratified interacting layers. The discussion on poverty is concerned with how the bottom layer fares in this interaction. Poverty must be conceived, therefore, in terms of society as a whole. To understand the poor you must study the rich. The converse of course is also true. External, rather than being concerned with the needs of the poor, is focused on the social consequences of poverty for the rest of society.

The poverty line serves as an index of the dis utility of the persistence of poverty to the community. People can be poor to the extent that they become offensive or hurtful to society. This should not be allowed. In this conception, it is not so much the plight and suffering of the poor that is important but the discomfort to the community. Poverty exists when there are social problems that are correlated to poor income, such as hunger, poor health, illiteracy, slums and crowded housing, crime of various kinds, prostitution, political apathy, excessive procreation, drug abuse, and other antisocial behaviour.

To remove poverty one must rdhe the income of the poor as well as remove such disutilities. Because of these various conceptions of poverty, there is a problem.of definition and discussion. You must understand what one means by poverty before you follow, agree, or disagree with one’s discbssions or definitions. The debate on whether poverty should be defined to include only economic insufficiency, economic inequqity, and economic diseconomy or whether it should be broadened to include non-economic variables (such as power, prestige, and social services) is still an open one. In Britain, poverty has been defibd in tile broad sense as inequalities in the sharing of some resources, such as income, current public services, current private services, capital assets, occupational fringe benefits, occu ational and living.

1 0 Poverty in Nigeria

environment, and facilities (Townsend, 1967). Townsend (1974, p 15) later said that:
poverty can be defined objectively and applied consistently only in terms of the concept of relative deprivation …. Individuals, families and groups in the population can be said to be in poverty when … their resources are so seriously below those commanded by the average individual or family that they are, in effect, excluded from ordinary living patterns, customs and activities.
In America Miller and Rein (1967) hav e introduced into the definition educational, political, and legal components of well-being.

Measurement of poverty

The problem of the definition of poverty overflows into its measurement. What do you measure and what is the minimum unit of measurement? If the eniphasis is on the physical element how do you set the threshold of poverty? How do you set the dividing line between poverty and non-poverty? If a broader definition of poverty were accepted, how do you set acceptable minimum standards in such areas as education, power, prestige, social justice, and social services? With these standards, how many are poor in any given society? Foreman et a1 (1971, If) listed four criteria for understanding and measuring poverty: income criteria, community resources criteria, negative risk criteria, and behavioural or attitudinal criteria.

 ( a ) Income criteria Since the most common definition of poverty stresses the lack or inadequacy of income, an approach to measuring poverty is to establish a level of income -that is called poverty line. Experts are. used to specifying minimum nutritional requirements of households of different sizes: housing, health; recreational and other requirements. This minimal survival norm is converted to money. An individual or household that earns below this line is said to be poor. Above the mark he is adjudged ‘not-poor’. The attempt to establish a minimum wage in Nigeria by the Morgan Commission is in line with this approach. The poverty line varies according to what is assumed to constitute the daily needs of life and the cost of those items.

PROJECT TOPIC- COMMUNITY DEVELOPMENT COOPERATIVES AND DEMOCRACY: A GUIDE FOR SOCIAL WORKERS

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