Zik Gbemre

When it was recently reported that the National Conference took a bold and unprecedented step under a democratic dispensation when it approved 18 requests, in principle, for state creation across the country as a way of meeting the yearnings and aspirations of the people, we were thrilled with the development. It has also put to rest decades of agitations by promoters of new states. The resolution was among many others adopted by delegates at plenary while considering the report of the Standing Committee on Political Restructuring and Forms of Government, which was subjected to robust debates.

The approved requests, subject to the amendment of the Nigerian Constitution, were proposed by the Committee and they include Apa State from the present Benue, Kainji from Niger State, Katagum from Bauchi State, Savannah State from Borno, Amana from Adamawa, Ghari from Kano, Gurara from Kaduna, Etiti State from the South-East zone, Aba from Abia, Adada from Enugu, Njaba/Anim from both Anambra and Imo States, Ogoja from Cross River, Anioma from Delta, Ijebu from Ogun, New Oyo from the present Oyo State and unnamed others. Henceforth, it has been resolved that state creation should be on the basis of parity between the geo-political zones to ensure equality of zones.

We have always advocated that one of the surest ways of drawing the government closer to the people, and promoting rapid infrastructural development, economic growth and broaden political participation in a political entity, is to create as many states as can be considered appropriate for a country in relations to its population and geographical mass. Nigeria, with an estimated population of over 170 million people, has 36 states and a federal capital (Abuja) at the moment. But with about 250 tribes/ethnic groups, Nigeria has been daunted with the issues of marginalization, tribalism, ethnicity, religion and what have you; so much so that the political leadership pioneering of the country have been adversely affected since independence. Rather than our “diversity” to make us more united, it has created more headaches; as the nation’s vast resources have not been used/appropriated for the benefit of all.

However, the creation of states has over the years given Nigerians with their complexities, the opportunity to develop and grow according to their own pace and human/natural endowments. But in spite of this, it is somewhat strange how the issue of state creation has always been a thorn in the flesh for all the civilian dispensations in Nigeria. Throughout the history of this country, States creation has been one of the most difficult task for civilian administrations to tackle and achieve results. In fact, so far, no elected civilian administration has been able to create states in Nigeria. Apart from when the Midwest Region that was created out of the West region, no civilian regime has been able to successfully create new states in the history of this country. It has always been the Military when it came to states creation in Nigeria’s political history. Rather than states creation to be an exclusive privileged item for the country’s democratic dispensations, it has become a process best actualized by the Military that is obviously anti-democratic. We just hope and pray that the present administration will prove to be different from its predecessors on State creation, which is why we commend the development at the ongoing National Conference on State creation.

We recall two years back when the issue of State creation came up as a national discuss during the constitution amendment exercise, it was reported that the National Assembly set up a Committee on states creation and they outlined ‘stringent conditions’ to be met by those requesting and agitating for new states. We, at that time reiterated the importance of creating new states and expressed the need for the said committee to remove whatever ‘fresh’ hurdles that were being considered by the National Assembly. At that time, the Committee revealed that it had received no fewer than 33 demands/requests for new states to be created.

We believe Nigeria as it is, deserves nothing less than 50 states. This is hinged on the fact that “it is the surest quickest way to assure prompt development of most places in the country, and for the general masses to be given the opportunity to have a taste of the ‘national cake as they define their destinies.” With the kind of ‘unpatriotic attitude’ and disposition to good governance exhibited by our present crop of political leaders, State Creation comes very handy in ensuring the wide spread of development. While we pray and hope that one day Nigeria would practice true Federalism, we believe that State Creation is one way to ensure that the Federal revenue, that are today being enjoyed more by those privileged to be in government circles, is streamlined to benefit every Nigerian. Otherwise, those at the Centre and every other levels of government will continue to misappropriate/mismanage the enormous national/state resources raked-in yearly. But with more new states created, the Federal Government would have to include such states in the monthly/yearly revenue sharing analysis, which would in turn benefit the locals and ultimately ‘bridge’ the existing gap between the government and the governed. 

Looking at the history of development in Nigeria, the only thing that brings development to the grassroots in the country is State Creation. Nigeria has been made a place where ‘selective development’ is the order of the day. Such selective development is usually streamlined on ethnicity, tribe, religion, party affiliations and what have you. Hence, we see political leaders in government ‘favouring’ those streamlined with them more than others. That is why the concept of most government projects is to first make money by enriching those involved and not making the projects work. While some of the government projects are not meant to be completed but to raise money for ‘self-centered interests.’ This is different from what we find in other developed societies like USA where development is ‘not selective.’

Back to the issue of State creation, the existing first schedule in the 1999 Constitution, Section 8 (i) (a-d) provided that an Act of the National Assembly shall make provision for a new state only when: (a) a request is made and supported by at least two-thirds majority of members (representing the area demanding the creation of the new state) in each of the following; “The Senate, House of Representation and State House of Assembly in respect of the area, and the local government councils in respect of the area, and presented to the National Assembly;” “Thereafter, the proposal should be approved in a referendum by at least two-thirds majority of the people of the area where the demand for creation of the state originated; the result of the referendum is then approved by a simple majority of all the states of the Federation, supported by a simple majority of members of the House of Assembly;” and “The proposal is approved by a resolution passed by two-thirds majority of members of each House of the National Assembly.”

Aside this, there are more conditions which the National Assembly Committee on State creation had said agitators for new states must work hard to fulfill. Some of these stringent conditions include: The economic viability of the area demanding new state, especially the ability and potentials for sustainable internal revenue generation; Provable cases of demographic strength and under-development arising from denial of access to human development; Provable evidence of socio-cultural affinity and geographical contiguity; The need to redress lopsided cartography and boundary lines resulting in endless border and resource based conflicts; Provable instances of consensus among the demographic groups demanding the new states; the ability of the proposed new states to provide their structures and resources to take off; Ability to ensure internal security and cohesion and peaceful co-existence with their neighbours; The existence of human resource and personnel to run the state.

The question we would like to ask is that if the above conditions were there in the past, do we think Nigeria would have the 36 states and the State capital it has today under the hands of the Military? Obviously not! The above conditions/criteria and others that they had included, are obviously too much, too stringent, unrealistic and unattainable. The said Committee of the then National Assembly was obviously making the demand for new state creation to look as if it is a criminal request. Nigeria is 36 States today plus a Federal Capital (Abuja) because conditions like the one enumerated were not there for people to contend with. Abuja, the country’s capital that used to be a desolate and underdeveloped place, is what it is today as a global admiration of many; because at one time, somebody thought it wise that Nigeria should have another national capital city aside Lagos that was getting over crowded. The same goes with all the other states that were created by the Military regimes. The states created by Ibrahim Babangida for instance are today, developing into modern urban cities/states that have contributed to the overall development of the nation.

The importance of creating more new states cannot be overemphasized. Once a state is created, its capital has a way of coming together to become an urban centre of attraction over time. A newly created state has a way of giving the people concerned a sense of belonging and over time, it has a way of sorting out various avenues that would yield revenue and take care of the future. Take for example states like Bayelsa with its capital city Yenegoa. When it was created, Yenegoa was all swampy and bushy and they had only one filling station at that time; but today, it has become a hub of urban attraction for all kinds of businesses. A newly created State once on its way of being developed, will attract all sorts of business opportunities and corporate activities, including government’s presence that will be closer to the people. The number of local governments alone and their councils is enough to absorb a great number of jobless locals, thereby addressing the problem of unemployment, especially in the Niger Delta region. This should be part of the strategies for the government to address some of the insecurity concerns in our society. 

Nigeria would still be a nation governed by Regional Governments if past governments did not consider it necessary to create the states that we now have today. Those in the National Assembly that were creating bottlenecks/hurdles for the creation of new states, would not even have constituencies to represent if past governments of the Military era did not create their various states. In other words, the creation of states brought about the existing increased number of seats in the National Assembly that are today occupied by those making things difficult for everyone.

When we look at places where new states were created some years back, we would see that skeptics have been proven wrong because the created states have opened up the political space of the country and ensured greater spread of national resources. So much disparity and space exist between the rural areas and urban cities today. And there have been a lot of migration of persons from the rural areas to the urban cities in search of greener pastures and the enjoyment of modern life. This is because the space between the government and the governed, the rich and the poor, the rural and the urban; is increasing by the day. And the best way to bridge this gap is to create new states that would create avenues for the spread of national wealth/resources and infrastructural development amongst others. 

If we are talking about issues and requests that are anti-developmental in nature, then everyone would understand the stringent conditions stipulated above. But State Creation is pro-development, hence, if anything, it should be encouraged from different parts of the country. As long as the basic conditions of having the agreement of the majority of the area concerned, are met amongst others. Like we said earlier, the creation of a new state has a way of opening-up economic opportunities for the locals. Hotels will be established, companies and all kinds of businesses will spring up, and it will draw people away from already over populated urban cities to their localities; and make them think of avenues to develop their place. With all these economic and political activities, the issues of yielding adequate internal revenue will not be a problem. And in the area of socio-cultural bearings, every locality has its uniqueness when it comes to culture and tradition. And it is this uniqueness that justifies them to have their own state and commonness.

We also need to understand that it is ethnic chauvinism and political intolerance among the major ethnic groups in the many ‘old states’ that had continued to fuel the demand for the creation of new states in the country. In other words, we believe people should be allowed to go and decide what to do with their natural and human resourcefulness. It is their right! So, we ask that whatever stringent conditions being considered by the National Assembly before now, in line with constitutional requirements should be watered down. We are aware that the National Assembly cannot act on any matter outside the stipulation of the constitution. To this end, it is necessary to amend the section of the constitution that gives whatever stringent unattainable conditions there is for state creation, and make it easier for interested parties to meet. Since this administration has made states creation as one of its Transformation Agendas, then all well-meaning Nigerians, including the National Assembly, should join hands together and make it a reality. Hence, the National Conference recent recommendation on State creation should be given the necessary constitutional backing when the time comes, for it to scale through without any delay.