An acquaintance stopped me after church service one Sunday and requested I clarify whether it is mandatory to join the association of fashion designers. She informed me that certain members of the umbrella body of fashion designers had been paying visits to her shop and lacing their words with threats in order to force her to register as a member. She then wondered if registration and membership of an association is a legally mandatory thing as she was unwilling to join the association.

Nowhere in the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 is there any provision on compulsory, non-negotiable membership of associations. Section 40 of the Constitution states as follows:

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 interests:

Provided that the provisions of this section shall not derogate from the powers conferred by this Constitution on the Independent National Electoral Commission with respect to political parties to which that Commission does not accord recognition.

The section is particularly unambiguous and takes little effort to comprehend that, as citizens of the Nigerian state, membership of any group, union, party or association is a citizen’s right if he chooses to. Note — the operative word is “may” in the above provision. 

What is the relevance of this discourse, you may wonder? 

Many MSMEs are profession or skill-specific, for example – you may set up your makeup business or photography outfit or tiling and building materials venture after which you, however, make a discovery in the course of running the business: that the pioneers of your type of business chose to come together to set up an association and some of the members would take it upon themselves to bring this association and perhaps, its juicy offers, to your notice in order to canvass for your membership of same. Picking up the membership form and consequent payment of membership dues is your prerogative, your discretionary right so much so that no one has the right to cloak it in a toga of compulsion and foist it on you.

However, there are certain benefits that are attached to being a member of a body of skilled or professional business owners. One of such is the ease of accessing funds, especially from government. The government would be willing to extend a financial hand to a small enterprise where there is evidence that such enterprise is affiliated or associated with an umbrella body.  Equally noteworthy is the fact that a number of these associations have registered cooperatives from which loan can be accessed by members. Being a registered member of an association also helps you with collaborative work and solicitation of support from similar enterprises and support on same.

Membership of an association makes for easier identification of colleagues. Also, registered membership underscores professionalism, skill, and training while a business that fails to register alludes to an unauthentic business.  Registered membership guarantees access to associations help in instances of oppression, or discrimination, or any other issue encountered in the line of work. Associations serve as pressure groups and are rallying points for the protection of its members against unjust laws, taxes, etc.

While it is your right to choose not to be a registered member of your profession or trade association, it may be wise to consider the benefits of joining the umbrella body.