NASS AND THE CLAMOUR FOR NEW STATES
Since the inception of his tenure as the Senate President of the National Assembly in 2007, Senator David Mark has not left anyone in doubt about his desire to increase the number of states in the country through the creation of new states. A feat no civilian administration in the country has achieved.
Shortly after the inauguration of the seventh session of the National Assembly, Mark and the new Speaker of the Federal House of Representatives, Aminu Tambuwal gave indications that the creation of new states in the country would feature prominently in the proposed wholesale amendment of the 1999 constitution.
Speaking at a function in his home state recently, the Senate President had declared total support for creation of the new states in the country. He said he is persuaded by the argument that new states would bring governance closer to the people and thereby increase development.
Mark had stated that 'I am committed to it and I believe that creation of additional states will be in the interest of our people because development will be nearer to them.'
That declaration has no doubt given renewed hope to the agitators for creation of new states scattered across the six geo-political zones in the country, that their desire for new states would soon be a reality.
Past state creations
States were first created in Nigeria by the Military regime of former Head of State, General Yakubu Gowon(retd) in 1967. At the onset of hostility between the defunct Eastern Region and the Federal Government, Gowon had created 12 states from the four regions in existence in the country. Subsequently, in 1976, Gowon's successor, late General Murtala Mohammed created seven more states, bringing the number of states to 19. The creation of states did not stop there. Ibrahim Babangida's regime upped the ante with creation of eleven additional states in the state creation exercises that took place in 1987 and 1991. The late Head of State, General Sani Abacha continued with the trend with the creation of six more states on October 1, 1996, thereby bringing the number of states in the country to the present 36.
The new demands, the arguments
Since the inception of the present democratic dispensation 12 years ago, there have been a deluge of requests for creation of new states in the country. The agitation reached a crescendo in 2005 during the inconclusive National Political Reform Forum convened by the government of former President, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo and chaired by Supreme Court Judge, Justice Niki Tobi.
The South-East delegates who feel short-changed by the present structure in the country had gone to the conference with the creation of an additional state for the zone as its main agenda. The South-East has only five states against six states in the South West, South-South, North-Central, North-East and North-West, which has seven. Though the new state advocated by the South-East to bring it at par with other geo-political zones did not materialize in that conference, it has not doused the demand of the zone for at least one additional state in the spirit of fair play and equity.
Today, it is not only the South-East that wants more states. Other parts of the country want more states too; and the demand seems to be increasing by the day. According to the former Speaker of the House of Representatives, Mr. Dimeji Bankole, as at last November, there were 40 memoranda for the creation of new states pending before the National Assembly. The present demand for creation spans across the six geo-political zones in the country.
The prominent state movement include Igboezue, Adada, Aba , Njaba, Orlu, Orimili and Orashi in the South East. In the South South, there is clamour for the creation of Anioma, Oil Rivers, Ogoja, Afemaiesan, Toru-Ebe and New Delta States. While in the South-West, there are also agitations for the creation of Oduduwa, Ijebu , Ibadan, New Oyo, and Oke-Ogun states.
In the North Central-and North East there are equally agitations for the creation of Apa, Idoma, Edu, Okun, Oya Amana and Savannah. The North-West which already has seven states is not left out in the agitation for the creation of more states.
Apparently buoyed by that tacit support for the further balkanization of the Nigerian state by the leadership of the National Assembly, Senator Hope Uzodimma representing Imo West senatorial district recently declared at a function of the Orlu Regional Assembly in the United States of America, USA, that he would do everything to ensure the creation of an Orlu State. Like Uzodimma many leaders of thought are also doggedly canvassing for the creation of a new state for them.
Like Mark posited recently, the argument has always been that the creation of new states will bring development closer to the people. Following from that argument, the question that readily comes to mind is how well the previous state creation exercises has brought any form of development to the people.
The argument that new states will bring development closer to the people not withstanding, since the country's independence in 1960, the creation of states has always being influenced by political rather than developmental consideration.
For instance, the first creation of states in Nigeria by Gowon was believed to have been motivated by the desire to whittle the influence of the then Governor of Eastern Region, Chukwuemeka Ojukwu at the height of hostility between the region and the Federal government.
In subsequent exercises, politics has been the main consideration in the creation of states. In many instances, champions push for creation of new state for their people, not because the people are in support of such moves, but because they want political fiefdom for themselves or they want to prove a point to their political opponents.
Dr Abubakar Momoh, a political scientist and Head, Department of Political Science, Lagos State University said that the agitation for the creation of new state is often motivated by the a selfish quest by the agitators to 'belong'.
Momoh said most times the demand for creation of new states is informed by the selfish political desires. The academic who described such agitations as a perennial issue in the country told Daily Sun that creation of new states is not the problem of the country at the moment. According to him, the agitations have persisted because it has become the easiest access to power and wealth.
He said the tier of government that is really close to the people is the local government. Therefore, in his view any attempt at bringing governance closer to the people should be aimed at strengthening the local government system.
'The states are not known for development. The clamour for more states is just for the need to belong. The tier of government that is closer to the people is the local government. We have to do something about the local government. It is the local government that is closer to the people', he stated.
But for the South-East, the quest for creation of at least one state in the region is to ensure equity in the polity. The Obi of Onitsha, Igwe Nnaemeka Achebe thinks so too.
Achebe told members of the Constitutional Review Committee during the sixth session of the Natioanl Assembly that for equality of state and justice to be achieved, the South-East zone should first be given an additional state, after which the issue of giving any other zone additional state should be considered.
Igwe Achebe is in the vanguard for the creation of Orimili State out of the present Anambra State.
However, former Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Chief Richard Akinjide said new state should be created if it the wish of the people. According to him, the United States of America started with 13 states but presently has 50 states. Not withstanding his support for new states.
The politics, the challenges
Though not a few think that creation of new states is not needed, there are serious indications that politics and the search for new political fiefdoms by key political actors in the country would necessitate the further balkanization of the country into more states. The singular of this consideration is the fact that key functionaries of government are also key agitators for new states. For instance, both the Secretary to the Federal Government (SGF) , Senator Anyim Pius Anyim and Mark rightly or wrongly are canvassing new states for their people.
The Senate President has made a tacit promise to his Idoma people in the present Benue State that he would ensure the creation of Apa State for them before the end of his tenure in the National Assembly. On the other hand, the SGF is in the fore-front of the agitation for the actualization of a sixth state in the South-East. He would want the old Ohaozara where he hails from in Ebonyi to be part of the proposed Equity or Igboezue State.
Mark, himself has not hidden his desire to bequeath a new state to his Idoma people. He reiterated his resolve to ensure that constitution amendment continues so that 'the dream of our people will be realized'.
But Mark's desire to create a new state for his people and other agitators notwithstanding, the creation of new state going by the provision of the 1999 constitution is an Herculean task.
Akinjide said the proposed states must meet constitutional requirement including economic viability. ' New states should be created if it is the wish of the people concerned and it meets constitutional requirements', he states.
But whether the proposed new state creation exercise will strictly meet with constitutional requirement is yet to be seen.