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CONSTITUTION AMENDMENT (3) Additional state for South East

By Ochereome Nnanna
MY main idea for the adjustment of structure to make Nigeria work better is for the zones to transform into the second tier of government; states and local councils abolished and community governments to replace the local councils.

There will be resource control and federal revenue will be shared equally among the regions or zones.

The regions will have the power to create lower tiers of government that suit their purposes. Population, states and local councils will thus cease to be political weapons for dominance and marginalisation.

However, I am keenly aware how difficult it will be for Nigerians to do away with their “hard-won” states. Even though the system bleeds crimson from the heavy cost of governance, which takes away three quarters of available funds every year, the political elite will very likely stand against the abolition of states and elevation of zones to regions.

If that is the case, then we have to turn to my own “plan B”: equitisation of the polity. By this I mean that the six geopolitical zones must be allowed to have equal number of states (if not local government areas).

If we pursue the concept of equitisation to the letter, it means that each of the six zones will have seven states to meet the number already granted to the North West Zone by the military political class.

Nigeria will thus have 42 states plus the Abuja Mayoralty. If, on the other hand, the creation of six more states will raise uproar to the point of once again aborting the exercise, then we must focus exclusively on the creation of additional state for the South East Zone.

I have heard some critics of an additional state for the South East mumble about “viability”. Let me say it again as I have done before: “Viability” was never a factor in the creation of any state in Nigeria. Not even the Mid Western Region was created based on that consideration.

In fact, state creation was a political weapon to reward friends of the ruling establishment and punish its enemies. The Midwest was created by a conspiracy of the North and East against the Awoist West.

The 12 states were created in 1967 as a gang-up of the country against the Igbo people’s secessionist agenda. After the civil war, state creation exercises were carried out as war booty sharing devices, whereby the North got the lion’s share, followed by the West and the Igbo brought the rear for losing the Biafran war.

It was not until 1991 and 1996 that the military made efforts to use state creation to accommodate the Igbos more. Leaving the South East with five states means an unfinished job. This is the opportunity to finish the job, since the war ended over 42 years ago!

Some have also used the bogeys of “population” and “geographical size” to ward off the idea of an additional state for the South East.

The small size of Igboland is used as an alibi to belittle its population in line with post-war miniaturisation of the Igbo stake in Nigeria. On the other hand, more expansive landmass in the North and elsewhere was used to pretend non-existent “large populations”.

The small size of Igboland made it imperative for large tranches of the Igbo population to migrate to other parts of the country and the world.

Their populations are thus added to those of their host communities, while the resident population of the five South Eastern states are often erroneously used to depict the population of Igbo people. It is often overlooked that the Igbo-speaking peoples in Rivers and Delta states are part of the Igbo population, just as Yorubas in Kogi and Kwara are part of the pan-Yoruba population.

The true size of the Igbo population will become apparent when tribe and religion are used as indices for population census in Nigeria.

The continued sidelining of this criterion could be part of the post-war policy of denying the Igbo their rightful due. It is widely known that there is no corner of Nigeria where the Igbo person will not be found, and yet we play the ostrich when it comes to giving them their due as one of the three ethnic majorities.

The most important reason the Nigerian Senate, at the end of their recent retreat at Asaba, listed the creation of an additional state in the South East as one of the items on their agenda of Constitution amendment is that Nigerians had already agreed that it should be done.

In the 2006 Constitution Amendment exercise, the Bill granting an additional state to the South East Zone had already been read a second time. But for the controversial third term clause which Obasanjo’s officers smuggled into the Bill, the addition state would have been created by now.

In fact, the only thing remaining was for the people of the South East to forward names of the states they wanted created, out of which the National Assembly would choose one and get it ratified around the country accordingly.

It would amount to the tragedy of modern Nigeria for a settled issue democratically and voluntarily agreed to by elected representatives of the Nigerian people would be reversed midway to actualisation. Nigeria can only move forward to a virile nationhood when they dialogue, agree and implement nation-building policies such as this.

Today, it is the turn of the South East to look up to their fellow countrymen to do the right thing in their favour. Tomorrow, it will be the turn of another section, and the South East will be required to put hands on deck. If all we continue to undermine one another at the point of need then how can we build a nation where all will have a sense of belonging?

We must all summon the courage and complete a noble act we had started.

 


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