By Obi Nwakanma
Mr. Emmanuel Iwuanyanwu,a member of the conservative Peoples Democratic Party has called for the creation of a new state in the South-East. Iwuanyanwu, a businessman and financier of the incumbent governing party in Nigeria made this call at his country home in Imo State when some members of his party, of which he is a trustee, came to visit him and pay appropriate condolence on the recent loss of his wife who had just been interred following obsequies.
There was appropriate cache to this call: it had sentimental value. Who could deny a grieving man such a simple wish? Create a state for Iwuanyanwu to compensate him for his loss. There are things you can’t just deny a man – a last meal before a hanging or a death wish or the call for inscrutable favours made of one from the other.
I think Mr. Iwuanyanwu’s call falls within the category of inscrutable favours. His, adds to the decibel of kindred voices, the more recent of which is by Ralph Uwechue, President of the Igbo lobby group, the Ohaneze, who has made similar calls.
The call for a new state out of the East has been staged as a matter of justice and for parity. Of the six political and economic zones, it has been claimed, the South-East of Nigeria is the least favoured in the number of states that comprise it. It has “only” five states while other zones have a minimum of six.
The implication is that given the structure of the federal government and its quota policies, the South-East receives the least investment and financial grants from the federal government. Its enormous population is circumscribed within a very condensed boundary resulting in per capita loss to other regions.
The South-East population is the most limited in access to federal employments and political jobs that require the quota principle. Seen purely from this point, the call is timely and appropriate. But it would be a simple and linear view. It is true that federal government grants are important, and that federal jobs do have sex appeal, but the focus must be a bit more the result of an inward gaze.
It seems that the South-East has mostly been playing catch-up since 1983 at least, and has very little original thinking about how to deal with its regional economic and political realities to create growth and prosperity. Political opinion from the South-East is mediated mostly by political sharecroppers, who plough the field while the rest of us are expected to fall in line and bat for our side – no matter what.
All the above for me really is a prelude to saying, that Iwuanyanwu’s call for the creation of another state from the South-East is hokum.
There is really no need for the creation of another state out of the East based simply on the premise of regional parity. That’s the first point. The second point is that the political and economic reality in the East does not support the call for another state in the South-East.
Let us be clear: the call is often made to show how Igbo interests are subverted by this lack of parity. I think it is not a fair assessment: as a region, the South-East has five states with different levels of economic viability; as a group, the Igbo have significant, in fact overwhelming interests in at least seven states, including two – Delta and Rivers states – in the South-South region.
Seen purely from the point of strategic spread, Igbo interest, to be fair, is properly covered and contained within these political spaces, and it is simply up to them to make the most use of these and stop whingeing.
The third point flowing from all this is that any new state created out of the South-East will not solve the economic or political challenges that currently face that region. In fact, many opponents of the call for a new state in the South-East argue that such a move might dissipate productive energy; exacerbate the catalepsy, and complicate the political and economic coherence and performance of the region.
The creation of a new state in the South-East will certainly compound the centrifugal acceleration that has decentered the economic engine of that region.
A fine example of what happens has been shown to us in the recent action by the government of Abia State that only recently expelled “non-indigenes” from its civil service. Many of these “non-indigenes” are Igbo whose families have lived in what is now Abia state long before Theodore Orji was born. The direct impact of this of course is regional incoherence.
If allowed to hold, very soon Theodore Orji and his likes, and the likes of those who continue to call for a further fragmentation of the South-East region by the creation of new states, will not just expel people from state employment, they will expel people from living and carrying on with their lives outside of their natal states of origin in Igbo land.
We must be wary of such calls that do not add value to the economic and political progress of the land. Rather than call for the creation of new states in the East, which will only be the new avenue for prebendal politics, the leaders of public opinion and Igbo lobbyists must direct their attention to more productive ideas, knowing first, that under this democracy, the president cannot unlike in the era of military rule, simply create a state. It is not up to him.
The creation of a new state is an act of parliament. It requires a tedious process leading to the votes of the bi-cameral National Assembly and the Assemblies of the constituent states of the republic, before the accent of the president. What the Igbo and regional leaders of the South-East must push towards is for a greater, more universal right: a change from the quota system with its inherent discriminatory subtext, to the principle of equal opportunity.
It is important for the South-East to argue for the protection and enforcement of citizens right which would guarantee that wherever they live, the Igbo will enjoy the privileges and protection of equal citizenship irrespective of “state of origin.”
There is also the importance here of using its greatest resource – its human resource- to its advantage, to stimulate cross-regional economic and political development. The South-East has the highest pool of skilled manpower; such wasting assets, because its political leaders are really not thinking outside the box.
This should be the plan: to create regional momentum, not new states. Therefore one should say to Mr. Iwuanyanwu and all other unreflective proponents for a new state in the South-East: come off it!