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Qudus Lawal: Creation of New States, A Disservice To The Nation
This presentation is an abrupt deviation from my previously held views. I am about to thread a course that will put me against many of my friends, but the truth must be said no matter how unpopular it is.
The recent Asaba retreat of the legislator brought to fore many issues including the nagging request for more states. A whopping 56 requests were said to have been received.
What is driving the quest for new state? What impact will new states have on our economy and polity? Should we maintain status-quo?
The request for state predates Nigeria’s Independence and I am afraid it might continue until each village is named state capital! Nigeria has evolved from a three-region nation to a 36 states federation. Throughout this period the US, with population of over 300million, from where we copied our style of democracy remained a 51 states nation. I agree that each federation should design a format that works for it, the question is, is our recurrent state-creation method working?
Let’s take a cursory look into history (being careful not to bore you with details) of state creation in Nigeria. This will be of help in understanding the persistent request for states.
The quest for states, as contained in the 1958 Willink commission report, arose from the concern of minority groups of their interests not been protected in the strong 3 regions of North , West and East. The report correctly noted that ‘states creation would in fact not be a solution to the fears of minorities, as additional states may not guarantee against the creation of another minority group in the new states.’
These agitations persisted and resulted in the carving out of mid western region, though partisan politics played a significant role as well. The need to check the overbearing power of the Western premier and the leader of opposition Action Group AG was said to have influenced the approval given to conduct a referendum which culminated in the creation of the Midwest region. Same reason accounted for the birth of states in May 1967, when the Gowon led government hurriedly divided the nation into 12 states, to check the imminent secession of the Eastern region.
Subsequent state creations were products of such agitation and political calculations. These political calculations explain why Ogun State was created despite not being part of the recommendations of the Justice Ayo Irikefe 1976 Commission on state creation; and Asaba, against all odds , was made capital of Delta rather than Warri.
In a newly created state, development is concentrated in the capital at the expense of other towns, sleepy towns suddenly turn urban city……Uyo,Bauchi, Makurdi, Minna. This is a significant impetus driving other towns’ quest for a state of theirs. And this will explain why there are internal animosities among communities asking for state as regards location of capital. The so called ‘bringing development to the grassroots’ usually chanted by state creation protagonist is in the real sense bringing development to a few towns.
Some of those craving for new states opined that new states will curb persistent ethnic clashes being experienced in some part of the country, an example that readily comes to mind is Kaduna South. If our aim is to use state creation to settle dispute, then we should be ready to create at least 250 homogenous states.
Regional equity is another reason for the calls for state creation. The South Easterners feel they are being divested with the imbalance in state distribution. Though germane request, the viability of a new state should override the mere quest for balance.
The claim that every part of Nigeria is blessed with natural resources and that creation of new states would encourage exploration is laughable. Has the 1991 creations increased exploration of resources; or rather the number of Federal Government dependants? How many of such exploration/exploitation has Taraba,Ebonyi, Ekiti and the rest carried out?
It is ironical that despite clamour from all quarters on the need to reduce the cost of governance, the call for new state remain deafening. Given the enormity of the request for state creation, it will be difficult to pick a hypothetical number, let’s make a modest assumption of 5 new states.
We have 5 more Governors, minimum of 5 X 9 Commissioners, other aides (can be as many as 900 as in Bauchi or a little less as in Okorocha’s Imo, 15 Senators, several folds of Representatives (note that a Rep’s constituency allowance per annum is said to surpass American president’s pay per annum), more slots for Ministerial position (every state must have a minister), State legislators and judiciary, Creation of state ministries and so on.
Recent objective analyses of states’ budget have shown how unviable our states are. With only Kaduna and Lagos capable of covering its overhead cost from internally generated revenue IGR. Many states struggle to pay its staff despite the FG hand out. They rely on bonds and loans at high interest to embark on any capital projects. One imagines where the funding for the new states will come from. From Washington to Maina, from Alaska to Florida, no state in the US go cap in hand to the FG for money, each federating unit have developed means of sustenance, same it is in Canada, the other prototype of federalism.
The states, as they are now, are not serving as catalyst for development which federating units are meant to be, they are channels for few elites to funnel the public fund into their pockets
It is not enough to criticise others’ view without coming up with alternatives. Obviously the status quo isn’t working, the absence of desired development in the country keep fuelling the yearnings for more state.
My suggestion is that we maintain the present number of states (since collapsing them is unlikely) and create several FUNCTIONAL local governments.
A FUNCTIONAL local government system is not the one described in 16th march edition of THIS DAY Newspaper which wrote ‘’the revelation of Kabiru Gaya, the chairman of the senate committee on state and local government, that out of the 774 local government in Nigeria, 540 are run by ‘caretaker committees’ who are in effect the hand chosen cronies of state governors’
A FUNCTIONAL local government system is not one in which funds meant for grassroots are pooled in a purse in the name of Joint Account and the governor as emperor determine how it is spent.
A FUNCTIONAL local government system is not one in which the governor can in a fiat remove all council chairman (elected!)
A FUNCTIONAL local government system is not one in which the council chief rule by proxy from the state capital
A FUNCTIONAL local government system is not one in which governors’ candidates are imposed on the people. How does one explain a LG poll in which all vacancies are filled by a party? (20 LG chairmen and 569 councillors)
A functional local government will bring governance close to the people and encourage development at a low cost.
The proposed amendment of the constitution should include legislations that will ensure capital projects in state are evenly distributed within states. Economically viable states can only be attained when abundant natural resources therein are explored.
The need to correct inequality in regional state distribution should wait until such a time when state created to correct the anomaly will have the capability to sustain itself.
In conclusion, in this trying period of our nation, with immense economic and security challenges, it will be a great disservice to the nation to create new states that may herald chaos and would further drain the already slim national purse.
LAWAL QUDUS OLAJIDE
MEDICAL PRACTITIONER AND PUBLIC AFFAIRS ANALYST
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