The Hub

August 4, 2011

As many states as as the people

By Josef Omorotionmwan
WHAT is the population of Nigeria at any given time? We do not know. In terms of actual figures, we may never know because as we write now, there are numerous missing links; and between the idea and the reality, there are many shadows.

As an instance, it is impossible to tell how many births and deaths could be taking place at Ekudo, Birnidawa and thousands of other small hamlets scattered across the country, where birth and death registries are yet unborn.

And on the basis of estimation, we may also never know because the base line on which the United Nations accepted projection figure took off might as well have been over-bloated ab initio. Up till now, the Lagos State Government is in court over its rejection of the 2006 assigned figures. If up to the 1996 population census, Lagos and Kano were growing at an equal pace, Lagos now wonders, and perhaps justifiably so, why its growth rate should suddenly become dwarfed into arithmetical insignificance while Kano has gone into geometric progression.

All the same, certain facts about Nigeria are self-evident: There is no dispute over the fact that we have a large population; and that we are still the largest Black nation on mother earth.

Many elected officials may not earn the appellation ‘honourable’ attached to their names. While they are adepts in electioneering, they remain low on statecraft.

To them, the end, no matter how unclean, justifies the means; hence at electioneering, they make attractive promises, which they know from the very beginning, will not be fulfilled. A friend of mine who was seeking election to the office of local government council chairman once told me that he would make any promise that proceeds from his mouth but when elected, he would only fulfill the few he could because if all chairmen before him had fulfilled all their campaign promises, there would have been nothing left to promise.

One of these days, it might be possible and vote-catching, for an aspirant into a national office to mount the rostrum and shout, DPD…. And the people would chorus, Man of the people! He would proceed to download fantastic promises like: “… As you know, I am not used to long speeches.

I believe in action. You are aware that I never promise more than I can deliver…. Let me inform you that if you give me your votes, I will provide you all dividends of democracy. I will start by creating 150 million states in Nigeria, with each person having his own state. I am sick and tired of all these hostilities coming from every part of the country. By creating a state for each person, there will be permanent peace in the entire country” (Applause!).

The nearest we have got to this in recent times was with the new Speaker of the House of Representatives, Alhaji Aminu Waziri Tambuwal, when all he brought into that high office was a consistent promise of the creation of more states in Nigeria.

The greatest tragedy of history is that people do not learn from history. Otherwise, one would have expected that by now, Tambuwal’s preoccupation would have been to join other patriotic Nigerians to find how to rationalise the 36 entities; those military contraptions called states in Nigeria today.

In the beginning, we had three states that predated our independence – Northern, Eastern and Western regions. By 1963, a third region, the Midwest came on board. Between 1963 and 1991, when the military dissolved the Midwest into Edo and Delta states, we lay valid claim to the fact that Midwest region, which later became Bendel State, was the only legitimate state, which came into being through a proper plebiscite. As at today, the 36 states in Nigeria are creations of illegal military juntas.

In the Second Republic when Nigeria had 19 states, the National Assembly had a cheap shot at the issue of the creation of new states. As soon as tenders were invited, there was a floodgate of applications. At the last count, just before the return of the military in December 1983, there were about 269 demands for new states and the demands were still flowing in.

The nagging issue of state creation is one thing that civilian governments are always unable to handle; whereas under the military, you could go to bed one evening as a citizen of State ‘X’ and wake up the following morning to find yourself in State ‘Y’ because a new state had been created while you were asleep.

This is the Pandora box that Speaker Tambuwal now wants to open without giving the least thought to the big elephant that is waiting to be shared. This Tambuwal House is yet to realise that war drums are already beating. They are perhaps oblivious of the fact that the minimum wage war is coming with maximum problems that could consume many. Why would Tambuwal not realise that viability is a significant factor in state creation?

The minimum wage debate has so far been able to show that many states as currently constituted are incapable of providing minimum care for their people. When wisdom prevails, Tambuwal should be able to put himself on notice that by the time viability criterion is stretched a bit further, he might find himself heading the team to decide which of the unviable states should be merged.

Is this the time when anyone should be talking of creating new states, with the attendant volatility that is capable of reducing the Boko Haram issue to fritters? Think again!