By Ochereome Nnanna
THE Arewa Consultative Forum, ACF’s, call on delegates from Northern Nigeria not to support the creation of an additional state in the South East Zone is a provocative negation of the national consensus agreed twice on that issue.
It is based on the untenable assumption that creation of states in Nigeria or elsewhere is based on population and landmass alone. Much as Igboland is small by landmass, it is a well-known fact that the Igbo population is, if not the single largest in the country, it will be second.
The states were never created based on population, landmass, or even economic “viability”. The British colonialists’ primary consideration for the creation of the three defunct Regions was to give the three dominant ethnic groups in Nigeria – the Igbo, ‘Hausa-Fulani” and Yoruba – control of the regions as they prepared to leave.
The Minorities complained bitterly, even fought and struggled for their own states. It was not until the North needed the support of the Yorubas and the Minorities to solve their Igbo problems that General Yakubu Gowon created 12 states in 1967, giving the Minorities of the East, West and North the states they craved.
That was the “bribe” most of them latched on to join the coalition for the defeat of Biafra. States have always been created: (a) to give agitators their own political turf for internal self-governance and benefit from the wealth of Nigeria and (b) balance the federation of Nigeria, and (c) appease those who have been unfairly treated. The way General Abacha created the six states in October 1996 satisfied the three above criteria and earned for him a lot of legitimacy.
Even in the USA, there are big and small states by landmass and population. Montana has 145,556 square miles and a small population of 902,195. Delaware has a tiny landmass of 1,955 with a smear population of 783,600. On the other hand, Texas had the landmass of 261,914 square miles (almost a third the size of Nigeria) with 20,851,820 people by 2000.
Most states in the North are like Montana, with large landmass and small populations, but due to politics, semi-desert states are made to have larger populations than coastal states. Nigeria is the only country that has such unlikely demographic characteristics, since populations in the world crowd towards coastal zones with their larger clusters of urban agglomerations.
That the Igbo population is one of the largest in Africa is self-evident. There is no part of the world you do not see Igbos in explosive numbers. They all came originally from that tiny enclave which the ACF says it lacks population. Because the Igbo territory is so small, it occasions large outbound migratory trends. Igbos constitute the second largest population in every state after the indigenes.
The Igbos make up about seven of the 17 million population of Lagos State. It is fair, right and just that the Igbo heartland, the South East Zone, is given six states just like other zones. Or,create Anioma State and make it part of the South East Zone. That is what the Obi of Asaba, Professor Chike Edozien, has shouted himself hoarse demanding.
But if we want to shy away from the crippling cost of governance which is often traced to the large number of states, we can settle for dissolution of the 36 state-structure. We can convert the six geopolitical zones into regions, thus making Nigeria a six-region federation based on resource control and sharing of federal revenue on the basis of equality of the regions.
Each region can have the power to create such number of states and local governments as its people demand. In so doing, no region will parasite on others as we are having today where states that contribute virtually nothing to the federal purse collect more federal allocation because of the large number of local councils dishonestly bestowed on them by the military.
Let’s face it: some states are living on the stolen wealth of other parts of the country in the name of federalism. The regional option will bring out, once again, the enterprising spirit of all regions to exploit their human and natural resources as we saw in the golden era of Nigeria: 1960 – 1965.
We must use this conference to change our attitude of mutual antagonism. Let’s become members of a family; where everyone will help his brother who has a problem. Tomorrow it will be the turn of your brother to help you.
One good turn deserves another. One bad turn also deserves another. I believe the delegates from Northern Nigeria will continue to do the right thing, including supporting the creation of an additional state in the South East because it is the right thing to do. When it is the turn of the North to be supported every zone must stand up and do so.
All Nigerians once stood up and gave the presidency to the Yorubas. It helped preserve the unity of Nigeria. We gave amnesty to the Niger Delta after their valiant fight for a fair share of their oil wealth. We are all joining hands to fight Boko Haram which is decimating the North.
We shall win, and the North shall be peaceful and great again. It is the turn of Igbos to be assisted to come to be at par with the rest of the country. Only enemies of this nation will kick against it, and I know that Northern Nigerians are not the enemies of the Igbo people!