I was everything but flabbergasted, when last week, delegates at the Ongoing Talk shop to ostensibly reposition the basis of the continuity of the nation, unanimously moved the motion for the creation of 18 additional states to the 36-state structure already in practice. A move which if it ever sees the light of legislation at the senate will increase the number of states to at least 54 and a Federal Capital Territory (F.C.T).
My nonplussed reaction was borne out of the fact that majority of the delegates at the CONFAB were men and women who at one time or the other, led a delegation to the senate to demand the creation of one state or the other stating the usual hunched rationale for such move as a bid to bring government closer to the people and water the ground for self-government. Not forgetting fears of marginalisation by one group or the other within a state. So since Mr. President officially flagged off the Conference, I have always eaves dropped on discussions at plennaries patiently waiting to hear when such demands for additional state creation will arise. Last week, it did. So there was no point being surprised.
The decision by delegates at the CONFAB to okay the creation of 18 additional states confirms the fear of many who have at one time or the other called the bluff of the conference and have dismissed them as a conglomeration of men of Yesterdays who are paid to discuss the basis for the continued survival and existence of men of Tomorrow. To put it mildly, it shows that delegates at the Conference are little in the appreciation of the current National challenges and hence why they have resorted to therapies that barely address the National ‘Cancer’. It is the height of illogic and speaks volume of the ethno-regional sentiments that continue to drive contributions at plennaries.
During the weekend, apparently disturbed by the celebration that met such move at the CONFAB, I was moved to ask a couple of Political minded friends from the Youth Constituency, whether they think additional State creation would go a long way in solving our myriad of problems? Like every other Nigerian affair, their responses came cutting across the section of the country they came from. One of them, in a bid to sound objective said he supported the move and his reason was as you could guess: Bring government closer to the people, allow for more grass root representation in politics, create more jobs and a whole lot of tired reasons readily advanced by those in the vanguards of state creation. When I asked him the viability prospects for these new states? The role of the Local governments over the years since its creation? The funds to run these states when they are created? And what should be the rationale for a group of persons in a community being ripe to be given the status of a State? It became clear that he had little grasp of the issue in controversy, and even more clearer that what we need do as a nation is focus more on the Leadership question and not unnecessarily divert attention or dissipate scarce energy on the Issue of State creation as that is not what has continued to clog our progress as a nation. For if State creation were a tool for development, advanced democracies would have created a deluge of them.
Upon a cursory look at the agitation for state creation over the years, a candid student of history is met with vested interests being at the centre of it all and not the usual argument of bringing government closer to the people and a whole lot of hunched hypothesis driving it. It is either one ethnic Champion or a cult of traditional chiefs backed by Abuja politicians and elsewhere setting the tone for the agitation and hoping to feed fat from it, once it gets the legislative nod or those of the Heads of State during the Military Junta. It has been everything political but nothing rational in those bids and playing into the hands of political opportunists frolicking the corridors of power wearing the toga of Statesmen and increasingly states women will be our greatest undoing as a Nation.
The ceaseless agitation for state creation is not only needless but if it ever sees the light of the day, would become a waste of valuable and finite resources. I have always had reason to ask myself: How many of the existing states are viable? Is it not when one has given a good account of himself with little things that he would be liable to be entrusted with bigger things? How have we been able to manage or take adequate care of the states we have on ground? Would creating more states not automatically be tantamount to providing more jobs? And how economically viable can these states be to take care of their wage bill? Or would they have to run to Abuja at the end of every month for their palm to be greased from the National Treasury? So what happens if Crude-oil, the main stay of the economy suffers depletion? Should we not be more concerned with how to make our states financially independent and take their destinies in their own hands? where is the political scientist that successfully proved that there is a direct relationship between higher number of states and economic development?
There is high level of poverty in many of the states and a lot of people live in penury. A lot of Nigerians are poor and the resources available are not even well utilised by the government. Many of the sectors of the Economy are not functioning properly. Only few days ago, Polytechnic lecturers suspended their strike after over 8 months. Health workers are still on strike. Strides in power sector has only generated more darkness. Many of our roads are to understate it, death-traps. Our institutions are decrepit and unemployment statistics continue to crescend. And in the face of it all, we still want to create more states to ostensibly bring government closer to the people. What people? one is moved to ask. Of what roles are the so-called third tier of government? Have their resources not be stymied by the State-executives who ordinarily should allow their funds to get directly to them and their autonomy guaranteed hence allowing the locals to hold the Local Government Chairpersons responsible for development in their areas. Why have delegates at the Conference turned a blind eye to this administrative anomaly and have chosen to treat the symptoms instead of the causative factor?
Does it not make economic sense for the country to channel its resources to the already existing states and ensure that all the states have adequate infrastructure? When states are created and resources are not judiciously used, no magic can happen to save that state from collapse. The simple logic then becomes: if we have not been able to live frugal and accountable enough in our current 36-state structure, what then happens when we become a federation of 54 states as is currently proposed at the Talk-Shop in Abuja?
As far as I can remember, the Nation has been run on a deficit budget, 70 per cent of which goes to recurrent expenditure and a paltry 30 per cent to current expenditure that is hardly ever cash backed. Question then is: does the creation of additional states lead to more revenue for government? If yes, someone has to tell me the magic and if No, someone has to tell me how illogical we can be as a nation? We currently run the country on a Trillion 4.5 Naira budget that has seen many states unable to pay the 18,000 Naira minimum wage, you could then imagine what would happen if 18 new states and their local governments and other bureaucracies is added to the paltry budget with an army of Political thieves lurking the Nation’s corridors of power.
I have never shared the sentiment of those who believe large population, or land mass should be a ground for a community of people to attain state hood. The United States of America has a land mass of about 9,826,630 sqKm and a population of about 309 million people but with just 51 states created out of necessity and not driven by some ethno-regional sentiments. India has a land mass of about 3.2 mil (sqkm) and an estimated 1.2 billion population but with just about 28 states. China, has a Land mass of 9.2 mil (sqKm) and an estimated population of over 1.3 billion people yet it has just 22 states. Same goes for other densely populated countries with large land mass like Brazil, Australia, Canada Russia etc. So the argument here, that the land mass or population of a group of people who feel short-changed by the leadership dynamics in their states flies in the face of reason and logic.
We should go back rather to the leadership question and see how that can be properly addressed. If we should okay the creation of more states everytime agitations for it become humongous, then we might end up creating and re-creating states as we cannot satisfy all ethnic sentiments and people will continue to be marginalised at every strata of the society. In the family, in the school, in the church and virtually everywhere, one is met with pockets of marginalisation and every interests cannot be accommodated at a time. Like one commentator argued, for the fact that in a family, certain members ‘feel’ short-changed, is not enough ground for them to demand the creation of their own family. What they should do instead, is lodge complaints to the head and see how they can all arrive at the same page and their interest recognised. It is in the light of the foregoing, that the proposal last week by delegates should not be taken seriously when it comes for debate at the National assembly as it would amount to a waste of legislative process. ONU’KWUBE !
Ethnicity among other social, political issues has a lot of implications for the Nigerian Project. The struggle among ethnic groups to have access and control of resources in Nigeria nearly delayed the country’s independence due to the fear of domination expressed by the different ethnic groups. The struggle which began since independence has continued unabated despite the balkanisation of the country into thirty-six (36) states from the initial 3 regions.
The creation of states to satisfy parochial and patrimonial needs will not move the country to its Biblical ‘Canaan’. States cannot in the least be the solution to the multifarious problems the country contends with. Previous exercises was never done from the perspective of bringing government and development closer to the people, but instead to score some political goals and satisfy particular interests. Again, experience has shown that states creation in Nigeria over the years has not brought the desired or expected effects. There has been no sustainable development in the states. Many of them are unviable, dependent on the Federal Government and have lately become theatres of corruption and under development. The Jacobin effects that the multiplication of states has created has continued to strengthen the Centre as the expense of the autonomy of the regions in difference to a signature Federal system ostensibly practised here.
Rather than correct the ethno-regional balance in the country, the fissiparous state creation tendency has concentrated enormous powers at the Centre and weakened all groups except for a few who directly control federal power. Nigeria thus finds itself now with a so-called federation that is for all practical purposes a unitary entity with some limited devolution of power to the states.
What the country needs is a Transformational, visionary and purposeful leadership. It is evident that the creation of more states is an uncreative means of dealing with the problem of National Development. On the contrary, it would create a sea of opportunists and developments which will liberate or placate some interests and throw up more challenges in the Long Run.
The present State structure as I have argued before in this Column is too Unitarian. We run a system of government that grants absolute powers to the Federal executive. We therefore recommend a constitutional amendment and efforts that will ensure true federalism rather than wasting finite resources, creating unviable states constantly seeking for alms from the Central government. Beyond that, the states should be allowed to control up to 50 percent of their resources as that will go a long way in reducing the ceaseless agitation for new states since many of the proposed new states would have no economic basis to sustain themselves except the dependence on Federal Revenue. It would also encourage states to look inward for Internally Generated revenue by diversifying the economy.
I must also say here that the continuous demand for state creation is simply a lazy effort and a greedy way of getting access to power and wealth by politicians and ethnic champions parading as Statesmen. To actually get the development closer to the people, we should rather reposition the Local Governments which are the closest tier of government to the grass roots. For now, the LGs are operating under the strangulating control of state governments. They are basically centres of corruption and mediocrity and a fictitious tier of government with nothing to its credit. To turn their fortunes for good, the powers and functions of the LGA’s should be enshrined in the Constitution and their finances ensured so that they can attain a considerable degree of autonomy.
As have been stated before, one of the reasons for an endless clamour for more states is the cry of Marginalisation by some purported minorities. Yet Nigeria is a heteregenous state of more than 374 ethnic groups. Question then becomes: if every dominated and/or marginalised group wants a state of its own as a solution to its problems, how many states will Nigeria have?
In all fairness to the delegates at the CONFAB, they have made couple of good contributions that have received applause nationwide like in the areas of the removal of Immunity Clause, creation of state Police et al, but not with this particular move. They should get their priorities right and focus more attention on Policies that are more feasible and even-developmental vistas for the Nation. The legal maxim, ‘Lex non Cogit ad Impossibilia’ to the effect that the Law does not compel the doing of Impossibilities, when juxtaposed with the provisions of sections 8 and 9 of the 1999 constitution (as amended) vis-a-vis the creation of additional states makes it too glaring that the move for additional state creation is a near impossibility and any step in that direction would be a mere exercise in futility.
The FG authorities should create structures and make provision for Eaceful co-existence among the various groups in the Country. There should be constitutional amendments which will guarantee the rights of all ethnic nationalities especially the rotation of elective offices among the various ethnic nationalities.
State creation do not do the Magic. It is not a catalyst to development much less a panacea to the ills of the Nation. If anything, it would only exacerbate a situation increasingly spiralling out of control. Let delegates at the Conference think again. God Bless Nigeria.
Nkannebe Raymond is a Law student in one of Nigeria’s leading universities. He is a public affairs commentator and a staunch believer in the Nigerian dream. Catch him on twitter @RayNkah