By Ochereome Nnanna
THE two chambers of the National Assembly crossed a historical legislative milestone before embarking on a recess to end the Third Legislative Session when they passed the Constitution Amendment Bill.
The euphoria of achievement on the faces of Senate President David Mark and Speaker of the House of Representatives, Dimeji Bankole when they banged the gavels was understandable. This marks one more step forward in our democracy and another record which came on the heels of the eleventh anniversary of our return to democracy.
The Deputy President of the Senate, Ike Ekweremadu, has made it clear that the next items on the legislative agenda of the National Assembly are the passage of the embattled Freedom of Information (FOI) Bill andÂ tackling another constitution amendment assignment to create new states. Today, we want to focus on the second issue. If we are able to create states (and local governments), we will be proving that our democracy has matured enough to match the military in its ability to govern the polity comprehensively. It is, therefore, important to remind ourselves of the need to approach this assignment with vision and patriotism rather than the age-old sharing mentality that discourages productivity.
Why do we want to create states at this juncture in our history? There are two obvious answers to this question. Number one is that state creation is a recurring national decimal, and there are demands for states that predate our independence. Some of these demands have met with repeated failure when other states were created. Therefore, once the whistle is blown their promoters return to the theatre of agitation where they meet new agitators. Number two is that state creation is seen as an instrument of geopolitical equalisation and correction of political marginalisation. The challenge before us now is to decide whether we want to create states to satisfy these two needs or address only one viz: geopolitical equalisation.
It will be remembered that when the constitution amendment process of 2005/2006 was on, creation of states as an item was meant specifically to redress the geopolitical imbalance whereby only the South East was the zone with five states while the rest had six and the North West seven states. The argument is that since the geopolitical zones were informally adopted at the Constitutional Conference of 1994/1995 as a means of power sharing to guarantee equity among the main geopolitical divides of the country, it was only fair and just to raise the number of states in the South East to meet the others and thus close the chapter on the marginalisation of the Igbo people of the South East zone, an offshoot of the events of the civil war.
Consensus had been generated around this issue at the National Political Conference of 2005/2006. For the first time in our nationâ€™s history, representatives of the Nigerian people agreed that something was wrong about the way a certain part of the country was being treated and consented to addressing it. If not for the tenure elongation ambition of former President Olusegun Obasanjo, Nigeria would have created a sixth state for the South East under civilian dispensation, and this nation would certainly have been richer and more integrated for it.
Since the constitution amendment was revitalised under this current dispensation we started seeing an avalanche of other demands, including completely new foundling ones. Of course, Nigerians have a right to table their demands. It is true that there are states in which some Nigerians feel trapped in permanent marginalisation because they are minorities. The case of the Idoma in Benue is obvious because the Tiv majority has staunchly refused to allow an Idoma emerge as the governor of the state. The options before us are twofold: Do we guarantee the rotation of power among the senatorial districts of states or do we continue to create states in order to give political playing fields to smaller ethnic groups?
If we follow the latter option we may eventually have to create more than 360 states in order to accommodate the various languages and dialectal groupings in Nigeria . That is simply not feasible. It is more practical for us to find a way to enforce a charter of equity within the states without necessarily compromising democratic principles. Creating states to accommodate ethnic agitations might aggravate internal, ethnic-based divisions. We must remember what the late Murtala Mohammed told Nigerians when he created states in 1976. He said the only way forward is for Nigerians to learn to live together.
Besides, creating states based on ethnic agitations will only worsen the heavy administrative cost of governance that is making it difficult to free up enough funds for capital projects. Maybe what we really need is to reassess the entire federal structure and reform it. I am of the view that we now recognise the geopolitical zones as coordinating, quasi-administrative centres, where the various state governments can meet and address common issues within their zones. Since the geopolitical zones are roughly congruent with the major cultural and linguistic groupings of Nigeria , they can become the coordinating centres for the states within the zones. The geopolitical zones should be in a position to decide if they prefer the local government style of grassroots administration or to adopt the communal or county model.
For me, the primary focus of state creation should be to balance the geopolitical zones by either creating an additional state in the South East; splitting Delta State into two and putting Anioma State in the South East as the Obi of Asaba, Professor Chike Edozien has suggested, or raising the number of states in each zone to seven to meet the current number that the North West has.
That is equity.