By Obi Nwakanma
I doubt very much that a majority of Nigerians are tuned in to the goings on at the National Conference. A lot of Nigerians still regard it with some distrust. For one, it was constituted without the consent or input of the voting public; the citizens of Nigeria.
Many of those who are currently discussing Nigeria in this so-called National conference have been at the roots of the Nigerian crisis and have been key catalysts in the decline of the Nigerian state. Some have such serious credibility deficits that any grounds on which they stand with regards to the transformation of Nigeria should be probed for verity. Many Nigerians think that this conference is not clearly representative of the aspiration of Nigerians for a true constitutional conference that would ensure the true national reform agenda that would place Nigerians on the path, once again, to true sovereignty and progress.
The current conference is at best, seen as a distraction from the real issues affecting public governance in Nigeria. It is important however for Nigerians to pay real attention to the matters which currently dominate the debate. We assume that the documents produced out of this Assembly would be subject to a plebiscite that would allow Nigerians to fully participate in the adoption of the full principles under current discussion in the Confab.
Some of the discussions have tended to treat the Nigerian malaise with the same unremitting medicine that have neither solved nor provided alternatives to solving the Nigerian national question. Some of the current decisions adopted by the Confab may in fact further complicate the construct of the Nigerian federation.
One of the justifiably psychotic proposals currently adopted by the conferees is the decision to create nineteen new states out of the current federation.
This will bring Nigeria, should it happen, to a federation of fifty-four states. Just the thought of this is ridiculous. In the theatre of nations, two fundamental principles ought to govern the conduct of those called to lead: one, they must act in the highest public interests, in such a way to advance the highest possibility of prosperity for the land and the greatest well-being of the people, and two, public leaders who speak on behalf of their constituents must have a longer view than most; it is called vision; and this confab is a visioning process; in a sense a place where the possible ideas for the greater transformation of Nigeria out to happen. But the proposal to create nineteen new states is insane and unrealistic.
It lacks vision. I might resort to the argument that Nigeria, which is slightly more than twice the size of the state of California in the United States, should compare itself to the United States – that vast behemoth – which has only fifty states. Or that Canada, with 9.98 million square kilometers all told, has only 10 states and 3 provinces, or that the Indian federation, covering an area of approximately 3.28 million square kilometers and with the second largest population in the world of about 1.2 billion people speaking over 10,000 indigenous or ethnic languages, is still a federal union of 29 states and 7 Union Territories.
The last of these states, Telangana, was created only just recently in June 2014 following a plebiscite in the last Indian federal elections. But it would be such a familiar thing to draw these comparisons, and there might be some who would say, the firewood in a peoples’ forest cooks their food, and talk about authentic and unique Nigerian situations and pressures. But while that essential fact of Nigeria’s unique condition might be true, its unique solution must not be unique for the mere reason of uniqueness.
Let us note that Nigeria came into being as an amalgamation of about 300 unique ethnicities, some of whom have actually, officially, gone into extinction. There is no current sociological map of Nigeria that can point to the existence of the over 360 ethnic groups that were welded together to formalize the Nigerian nation. The argument by ethnic purists for a preservation of these unique ethnic identities at the grounds of Nigerian federalism may make sense if these ethnicities still exist.
But the more important question is the use of fifty-four federal states. The drivers of this search for new states were the delegation from the South-East led by General Ike Nwachukwu. It is a blind and retrogressive move. Let me again remind South-Easterners that they went to war in 1967 to preserve their region; that they fought a war because Gowon broke the East into three new states without consultation and without regard to the unique needs of the region.
In 1957, the Willinks commission had considered the question of state creation and the minority question in the East and arrived at the clear conclusion that it would be counter-productive to create a new region out of the East, and given the contiguity of the ethnic boundaries in the old Eastern region, it was both impractical, and in the long-run unsustainable. The various boundary clashes in the states of what was once the Eastern Region is a testimony to that, and is bound to be exacerbated with new states and new boundary delineations. But even on a more practical level: these proposed new states are unviable.
There are already too many states which do not have the resources beyond the federal grants, to run on their own steam. The proposed new states will not be economically viable, but will be a drain on the current resources of the land. They will create new state bureaucracies; a new administrative bulge that would neither represent nor serve the interest of real people nor be of any use to the people in the long term. The movers for these new states are not looking at the interest of the general population, but of a narrow, elite interest in which the sole purpose of government in Nigeria is simply sharing the offices of the land.
It is not about creating productive economic and social centers that would absorb and expand the energy and initiative of people. It is about who gets appointed to federal posts; how many legislators, how much federal grant to be shared; how many of the preferment of the center is accruable to the individual rather than how much of the nation can be brought together to create powerful political and economic synergies.
The South-East has often made the argument for zonal parity. But let us consider this: the South East is only five of the seven states in which the Igbo already have viable claims. But how much of these have been transformed into powerful economies? That ought be the question. There is clear evidence that the break-up of Nigeria into too many unviable states has reduced the capacity of the federating states and created a powerful center. Nigeria does not need 54 states. It needs at the very most, eight productive and sufficient regions. Those pushing for more states are putting old wine in new bottles. It will not solve the problems, but would rather complicate Nigeria’s already fragile structure.