Community associations should respect the rights of their members

The judgment of a federal high court sitting in Lagos which declared that members of a community development association cannot be forced to pay dues has continued to elicit debates. While it is difficult to fault the reasoning that informed the verdict, it nonetheless has far reaching implications for community development in a society where government has failed to live up to its obligations.

A company, Megawatts Nigeria Ltd had challenged the Registered Trustees of Gbagada Phase II Residents’ Association that membership of the association and payment of dues thereto was not compulsory, especially since it provides for its own security, waste management and other services. Meanwhile, the residents’ association argued that being resident within the estate, the company was bound to pay demanded dues and levies. In its judgment, Justice Iniekenimi Nicholas Oweibo upheld the argument of Megawatts that no individual or corporate body can be forced to be a member of an association or be denied their right of movement under any circumstance.

Against the background that there are communities in Lagos where residents cannot drive out until they have paid their security dues, this judgement comes as a bold relief to many. The constitution guarantees freedom of movement.

Notwithstanding the foregoing, these development associations are more or less indispensable. They generate their own utilities through these associations as well as provide social amenities. They construct roads and drainages. Perhaps more significantly, they are able to ward off criminals through personal arrangement. They hire armed-bearing guards to watch over them day and night. All these are done through communal efforts. So, invariably these community associations have become the only government these communities of Nigerians can relate to.

With the federal high court judgement, things may change. If members cannot be compelled to pay their dues, the community would not be able to provide these amenities. In that circumstance, everybody is worse off. Yet constitutionally, the judgment of the high court cannot be faulted. Section 40 of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as Amended) states that: “Every person shall be entitled to assemble freely and associate with other persons, and in particular he may form or belong to any political party, trade union or any other association for the protection of his interest ….’’

So what is the way out this conundrum with regard to the judgment?

One, those whose responsibility it is to run these development associations should begin to inculcate transparency and accountability so as to build and retain the confidence of members living in their communities. Two, they should also respect the rights of their members. By doing so, residents will see and appreciate the benefits derivable from membership of these associations and why they should also pay their dues without being coerced.

We concede that the foregoing may still not be enough to bring everybody on board. Even if the law makes payment of dues compulsory for members of these development associations, some will still renege. That is the uniqueness of human beings. That is also the wisdom behind fundamental human rights. On whether they should not be allowed to enjoy the facilities put in place by other members of the community, the law should be the guide. It is complicated. But the import of the judgement is that nobody has the right to take the law into their own hands.

At the end, the ultimate lesson is that all tiers of government should wake up to their responsibilities. They cannot continue to cede their obligations to community development associations.