By Hakeem Baba-Ahmad
“A man hunting an elephant does not stop to throw stones at birds.” A Cameroonian Proverb
IT would have been interesting to hear what the outcome of the aborted North-East Summit would say about issues such as the clamour for additional State(s) in the South-East, or on the demand for “true” federalism. Alas, the powerful Governors torpedoed it by simply staying away, and hinting that the Summit could be hijacked by hostile interests.
It will be safe to assume that some words would have been directed at both issues, particularly given the fact that they appear to be just about the only core demands of the South-East and the South-West.
The South-South has taken a non-negotiable position around the protection and possible extension of its demand on retaining the bulk of the oil and gas resources by host communities. The Governor of Kano State says the South-East has no monopoly of grievances over number of states; and its insistence that the creation of additional state(s) is the only acceptable evidence that the Nigerian nation intends to treat Igbo people with justice is unjustified.
He says noisy politics alone is not a sufficient basis for creating new states. Going by population and land mass, he says, Kano State should have two or three more states created out of it.
There are indeed many groups waiting in the wings with their well-prepared arguments for additional States, and they do not appear well disposed to make room only for one or two States in the South-East. Even from the South-East, the clamour is for more than one state, and there is a huge argument over where the one or two states may be created from.
There are demands from the north, ranging from one the nation is being told the Senate President must have; to one from the volatile Kaduna State, (provided the people there can sort out who will have the state capital) to any three or four from the large States in the Northwest and Northeast. There will also be a few from the many communities in the North-central zone, a region where you could create thirty more States, and simultaneously create genuine grounds for creating another thirty as a result.
So what are the prospects that the current attempt to review the constitution will yield a resolution to create one or two States from the South-East so that principles of justice, equity and partity will seem to be satisfied? At this stage, these prospects are not very promising.
A case for one or more additional State(s) from the South-East will have to survive local competition; kill the clamour from scores of competitors from other parts of the nation, or make strong cases for them as well; and be thoroughly negotiated with other regions and interests.
Chances are many States are likely to be proposed, and the cumbersome and near-impossible requirements for creating new States will combine to defeat the clamour for more States in the South-East.
Actually, the case for a lone additional State from the South-East is possible, provided the entire Igbo political elite can agree that it is its irreducible minimum requirement for a just federal system, and it can negotiate this against resource control with the South-South; against regional autonomy with the South-West; and against myriad issues around resource control and the nature of the federal system with northern governors and sundry interests.
South-East’s huge price
Is the need for an additional State in the South-East vital enough to pay such a huge price by the Igbo in today’s Nigeria? One more State in the East may have deep symbolic significance, but what does it translate into in practical terms? It will mean a heavier cost of governance for the citizenry, and one more opportunity for some rich politician to become a governor.
It won’t give the Igbo more land, more opportunities to expand into, more security for life and property, or more political clout. It may give Igbo people three more Senators and a few members in the House of Representatives who may or may not even think or operate as protectors of pan-Igbo interests.
It will mean a brand new Government House and possibly a new State secretariat, but citizens of the new State will live like they have always done: relying on their own efforts and on their own communities to make life tolerable.
The clamour for additional States is a gimmick of the political elite to carve the country into smaller and smaller pieces so that they can have something to hold on to.
New States create illusions of progress and development: State capitals spring up with paved roads; new political leaders and bureaucrats swim as big fish in small ponds, and eye-catching, single-city based structures and institutions are created to provide the façade for a new life.
But the overwhelming majority of the population in the new State live as if nothing has changed. They have new leaders, but same old policies and programmes. They have a new State, but live exactly like the poor in the old State they were part of.
Collapse of quality poltical leadership
Perhaps, it is a reflection of the collapse in quality of political leadership across the length and breadth of the nation that we have a situation today when Igbo leaders insist that a new State is a non-negotiable demand. Truth is, the people in the South-East need to hear other voices, including many from the area who are terrified of swimming against the tide. The South-East does not need one or more States. In fact, no one in Nigeria today should live with States.
These creatures of adventurous military governments have become major liabilities. States should be collapsed into the six geo-political zones, which should form regions. The Igbo will have parity with the Yoruba when they each live in regions which predominantly reflects their ethnic stock. Everyone of the six regions should have substantial powers and responsibilities which the federal government presently has no business exercising, devolved to them, as well as additional funding which now goes to the federal government.
They can create fewer sub-regions (local governments) on the basis of need, geography and social co-existence. They will plan, mobilise and develop resources at regional levels, and enact laws and regulations consistent with the interests of their own people.
The issue of creating new State(s) in the South-East and other parts of Nigeria will serve a negative, diversionary purpose, at a time when Nigerians need to address the fundamentals of the federal system we operate, and the limitations of our democratic system.
The South-East will be the biggest loser if this current round in attempts to amend the constitution comes to nothing, because it alone has a single agenda of state(s) creation. Neither the South East nor any part of Nigeria need new, or even the old States.
The nation should be shielded from being continuously carved up to satisfy very narrow elite interests, which the clamour for State creation represents.