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A nation in search of itself

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By Joef Omorotionmwan
Ordinarily, you do not share, with your teeth, the meat you forbid. Our faith in the proposed National Conference is less than a mustard seed.

We see it as another diversionary ploy intended to remove the attention of people from the failings of government and the 2015 project.

However, we are constrained to re-affirm our belief in the eight-zonal structure for Nigeria, which was first espoused in this column last January, just in case miracles still happen.

At independence in 1960, this big elephant stood on a tripod in the name of Regions – the North, East and West.

In August 1963, a fourth entity, the Midwest, which was carved out of the then Western Region, joined the league of Regions.

Essentially, this baby of the league – the Midwest – remains the only member that was democratically and constitutionally created, a majority of the present 36 states, being military contraptions.

To jettison the Midwest could also be reminiscent of our allergy to constitutionalism and rule of law.

By way of coming to equity with clean hands, no opportunity should be spared in reminding the old Western Region (the current South West zone) of its indebtedness to the Midwest for its share of the assets of the West. At creation, the Midwest was simply pushed into the cold without any share of the common wealth. We shall still save this for another day.

Some have argued that the creation of more states is a way of taking development to the grassroots.

This argument has limited validity because no one, even among the greatest advocates of states creation, has demonstrated in clear terms that if Nigeria were bulkanised into 1000 states, its development strides would correspondingly increase by 300 per cent. If anything, the units and levels of corruption and cost of governance would skyrocket at a geometric proportion far beyond 300 percent.

The grassroots argument soon got into the heads of the military juntas and once they embarked on indiscriminate creation of states, there was no stopping them. States creation and the citing of their capitals soon became veritable means of satisfying personal friendships and relations.

It is confounding that some people are still demanding for the creation of more states. This column has consistently maintained that perhaps the only way to satisfy such demands is to break the country into 160 million states so that every Nigerian would have his/her own state.

For all we know, many of the current 36 states are not viable. Some states have become so lazy that they are mere “stealing centres” that exist just for the purpose of sharing the monthly allocations from the Federation account.

In fact, the non-viability of some of the states came to the fore after the Minimum Wage Act, 2011, which many states have been unable to implement till date. Ideally, what we should be asking for now are acquisitions, mergers and consolidations of the weaker states as the Central Bank has been doing with the commercial banks. Essentially, this is what the eight-zonal structure that we now recommend seeks to do.

People have toyed enough with the zonal arrangement in which the country was arbitrarily divided into six geopolitical zones. This gained currency during the Constitutional Conference of 1995, when an attempt was made to enshrine it into the Constitution.

The truth, though, remains that apart from serving as occasional outposts for loose political party congresses, business seminars and religious conventions, the six-zone structure has remained a dead-letter right from inception, understandably so because, in the main, the arrangement depicted a marriage of odd bed fellows.

At various forums, Simon Owa, a pharmacist currently based in Benin City, Edo State, has consistently advocated the abolition of the six-zone structure and the establishment in its stead, an eight-zone structure, which will promote equity and stability.

Hear him: “We should build on a past that has been well defined and tested as a foundation for our continued existence, especially as it affected the old minorities of the North, the West and the East before the civil war. Nature and equity have defined what zonal structure we should have starting from where we were in 1967.

Under the eight-zone arrangement, the North and the South will each have four zones. While the North will include the North West, North Central, North East and the Middle Belt; the South shall have the South West, South East, South-South and the Midwest.

In the particular case of the Midwest zone, the supporting argument is that no reasonable nation ever throws away the good thing it already has while embarking on an unreasonable wild goose chase.

Under the regional arrangement, the Midwest was very viable and there is no reason to believe that it will be any less viable now.

Again, the viability of any zone cannot be determined by sheer size. Even at that, it is reasonable to expect Bayelsa State to form part of the Midwest zone, particularly against the backdrop that a large part of today’s Bayelsa — Sagbama and its neighbouring communities — were originally part of the Midwest Region. It is another case of the chicken coming home to roost. With Bayelsa State in the Midwest zone, we shall have three states each in the Midwest and the South-South zones.

The eight-zone structure will give expression to the aspirations of the nation’s minorities as it will summarily address the inherent alienation of the old minorities of the North (the Middle Belt), the old minorities of the East (the South-South) as well as the old minorities of the West (the Midwest).

In many areas, the existing six-zone structure stoically ignores the concepts of homogeneity and contiguity, which are very important political considerations. A situation in which Lamkpese at the extreme northern flank of Edo State bordering Kogi State is grouped in the same zone as Ogoja in Cross River State is simply amorphous and does not make for political or administrative convenience. The eight-zone structure is an idea whose time has come!

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