New States: Why?

New States: Why?alt

We may hit the roads with talk of national conference – sovereign or not – to construct a better political system for the country; we may romanticise a scenario of return to regional administrative structures, or tinker with the idea of resorting to a six-zone administrative arrangement through constitutional amendment, but a gaze into the crystal ball shows that states are most likely to remain Nigeria's federating units and development organs, at least, in the immediate future. Unless there comes a political aberration from somewhere, the country's unitary system of government is not going away too soon, not until most of our federating groups are politically developed enough to understand the import of true and fiscal federalism in a peculiar country like Nigeria.

Political restructuring to address unfolding realities in the configuration of any nation's administrative structure is a given; no lids placed, as apparently did the military sponsors of the 1999 constitution; a constitution that legalises an unworkable political structure backed by a unitary government system in a multi- cultural/ethnic/religious country.

The political leadership class in a democracy has no excuse for not undoing what military leaders did in their times of emergency military rule, more so, when such deeds portend political instability for the country.

The only thing constant in most country's political structure is change in the political structure itself. For example, Italy is more than 150 years old, but it created new provinces (similar to Nigeria's states) just before the last decade; and in recent times, it has gradually conceded to demands for true and fiscal federalism from its restive northerners. Until it was considerably appeased, north of Italy was on the verge of breaking away from the country mid last decade for absence of true and fiscal federalism and other structural imbalances in the country's polity.

Nigeria's extant political structure was apparently engineered by military leaders for pecuniary and hyper-political representation purposes that benefit some favoured Nigerian groups - at the expense of others.

South-east area's (zone's) population is under-represented in any representative political gathering of Nigerians, more so, in the country's legislative circles. Anywhere else in Nigeria, the population of people of south-east origin normally comes second after the indigenous population. At any turn, this south-east population everywhere must resort to the five-states-only structure in the south-east area for participation in Nigeria's political process. For political representation, three senators are drawn from each state for the country's senate.

School enrolment is a very reliable index for population estimation anywhere in the world. Imo state registered 125,865 candidates in the last universities matriculation examination, but the total registration figures in the same examination for some six other states could not equal or surpass Imo state's enrolment figures. This is alarming considering that development in every state is largely dependent on the dole it receives from the federal government. If we accept an excuse that people in the states that registered very small numbers in the matriculation examination pay little attention to Western education, it then punctures the whole idea of “One Nigeria,” because nationhood is cemented only by commonly shared value systems.

How then can the south-east effect meaningful capital development when its leaders must also support its high school enrolment figures from the comparatively meagre allocations it receives from the federal government? For example, Oil and gas revenues from Imo state go to the coffers of Nigeria, but since the state was created in 1976, its hinterlands have known little or no modernity;even the most banal of government's obligations to its people – pipe-borne water - hardly exists. A vast population of people short changed by Nigeria's political structure and its attendant revenue allocation formula is behind the state's retarded infrastructural development. Governing Imo state seems to be a thankless job since the return to democracy, a gamut of complex and contending variables had left anybody that took the job bruised. All the governors of the state since 1999 had crowed for a new state in the area; not left out is the state's new governor who in the last three months had literally begged Nigerians for a new state in the south-east.

Many have comfortably accommodated the existing 36 states structure all along but apparently woke up from slumber yesterday to realise that there are already too many states, and according to them, most of the states are not viable, and the states waste development funds on recurrent expenditure; hence they decry creation of any new state. Fact is that such people are indifferent to the plight of those in the south-east short changed by the extant political structure. Often times, the foxy ones rehash such choruses in order to debase the south-east's justifiable demand for a sixth state; a demand that in a just and egalitarian society needs to be sieved from the other 45 or so demands for new states, and granted for what it is - national interests. After all, states like Akwa Ibom and Katsina came to be owing to known political necessities of the time.

Nigeria needs to create a new state in the south-east now; but if to effect this gives rise to a need to carry other parts of Nigeria along during the exercise, four other states can be created in each of the other four geopolitical areas (zones) except the north-west; and two states instead created in the south-east. To save costs in running the country's states, we may bring forth legislations to put a limit to the number of political appointees and civil servants a state government must have. It is political expediency that endorses the need to create a sixth state in the south-east. It is deceptive and counterproductive to wish the need away based on the country's cash balance books. It pays all for existing states to forego a few Naira from their monthly allocations to support a sixth state in the south-east - or six other new states - than to have the country mired in controversy arising from its lopsided political structure.

Since the return to democracy in 1999, well-informed leaders of various sectors in the south-east have calmly and patiently called on Nigeria to create a new state in the area. The farthest that could be reached toward that objective was in 2006 when the senator Ibrahim Mantu-led constitution amendment committee achieved an apparent nation-wide consensus to create a new state in the area. “Third Term” problems, and the rest is history. Enter late President Umaru Yar'Adua. His earliest official visits to states included with Imo state. There he acknowledged the import of a sixth state in the south-east but asked the elders who then renewed their requests for that to table it before the national assembly. But no sooner than those leaders, mainly from Imo and Anambra states, dropped their demand on the floors of both chambers of the national assembly when demands for new states proliferated from the rest of Nigeria.

For some of us that feign ignorance of the import of equity and justice in a country: if the injustice of Nigeria's political structure is not addressed, the deep-seated grievances against Nigeria from many people of south-east origin primed by the country's unjust political structure must weigh down on the country's political stability and attendant development. Aggrieved people may not need to carry bombs and guns to express their grievances. All these years, an international source has been citing “group grievances against the State” as one of the primary reasons for which it has consistently grouped Nigeria among the failing states of the world.

Senate President, David Mark, insists - and rightly too - that states serve to extend development to Nigeria's hinterlands; but from all sides, those who find themselves in comfort zone with Nigeria's extant 36 states political structure would traduce him for taking such a stance in order to realise a new state on demand in his constituency. Truth is that every local government area must not be made a state for grass roots development to take place, but if not for state creation, the best we could have today are perhaps, about 6 or so regional mega cities, and the rest of Nigeria remaining more or less rural squalors with little or no modernity. Another senator, Ayogu Eze, aptly said that it is the political system and those that run it that are non viable, not the states.

In the south-east, reality checks show that on a clean negotiation table between the representatives of the rest of Nigeria and those representing the south-east new state agitation groups, so long as the known parameters of viability, contiguity, kinship, population, etc., for conveying state status to any area are scored on for each of the group's proposal for state, there must not remain any unresolvable squabbles among the groups regarding where a sixth south-east state can be located. The one that comes tops on the scoreboard is it; there is no evidence that others must not accede to it.

For short, there are three solid and well-articulated state agitation groups in the south-east namely: Aba(8LGAs) from Abia state, Adada(7LGAs) from Enugu state and Njaba(14LGAs) from Imo and Anambra states. All the three, in varying degrees, merit state status in contemporary south-east area and Nigeria.

A few individuals from the south-east whose area benefited most from all the three state creation exercises in the area wear false toga of pacifists and randomly appear on the scene to ask for a “central state” cut out from the existing five states in the south-east area. During the last three state creation exercises, the varying groups in the “central area” were meticulously rejoined to their various kins in the three states of Ebonyi, Imo and Abia states. The mantra for each of these individuals who apparently have one agenda or the other hidden from the others is spreading false impression that people of south-east can never agree on a location for a sixth state they crave, hence a pacifist “central state.”

But sociometric realities show that the diverse kins these individuals wanted to coerce into a proposed state cut from the five south-east states can never come together in contemporary south-east to ask for such a state. The diverse interests that may emanate from such a state must make it implode shortly after its creation, possibly, with more demands for new states coming from the area. Compared to the three areas of Aba, Adada and Njaba, the “central area” state proposal has serious viability and kinship questions hanging above it.

But the south-east is asking for a sixth state based on the need for a semblance of equity and justice in the creation and distribution of states in the various areas of the country. And there remains an unmistakable delineation formula based primarily on kinship through which the existing five states created from the old East Central state - now the south-east area – emerged: Old east Central state was divided into Anambra and Imo states in the 1976 state creation exercise. Next state creation exercise in 1991, Anambra state was divided into Enugu and Anambra states, the same time Imo state was divided into Abia and Imo states. In the last state creation exercise in 1996, Ebonyi state was created from Abia and Enugu states. Based on that same need to entrench equity and justice in our system, as well as taking into consideration the parameters of viability, contiguity, kinship and population, a sixth state in the south-east may have to be created from the entire Imo West and parts of Anambra South senatorial zones.

Whatever amendments are made today in the constitution to either revert to the old four regional structures, or obtain some 6-zones' administrative structures even with a semblance of true and fiscal federalism, there shall be no level playing turf if the south-east area should enter the new field with its five states-only structure. Rejection by groups must still stare such an amended constitution on its face, more so, when the document was not a product derived from equitable representations during the amendment debates . And in a continuation of a policy of uneven playing field for all, Nigeria's nationhood must still remain a victim of the unjust actions and inaction of its political leadership class.

Benedict Okereke.

obenok@hotmail.com



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