THERE are critical segments of our society that have not been properly assimilated in the scheme of things; hence we have suggested consistently in this Column that there is the crying need to return to a modified Regional System of Government. We have advocated the restructuring of the country into eight Regions under which the Middle Belt minorities of the old North; the Mid-Western minorities of the old West; and the Calabar Ogoja Rivers, COR, State Movement of the old East will be properly assimilated, once and for all. For too long, these minorities have been agitating for their own separate Regions.
At independence in 1960, Nigeria stood on a tripod in the name of Regions – the North, the East and the West. In August 1963, a fourth entity, the Midwest, which was carved out of the then Western Region, came on board. Essentially, the Midwest remained the only Region that was democratically and constitutionally created, the rest of the present 36 States, being military contraptions.
There is the easy argument that the creation of more States is a way of taking development to the grassroots. This argument must have limited validity because no one, even among the greatest advocates of States creation, has enough evidence to support the view, for instance, that if Nigeria were balkanized into 1000 States, its development strides would correspondingly increase by 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.
The idea of the six geopolitical zones for Nigeria gained currency during the Constitutional Conference of 1995, when an attempt was made to enshrine it into the Constitution. It is doubtful if the founding fathers intended the zones to serve merely as occasional outposts for loose political party congresses, business seminars and religious conventions.
This explains why we have consistently advocated the abolition of the six-zone structure and the establishment in its stead, an eight-zone structure, which would promote equity and stability. This is also one way of building 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 as at 1967.
For maximum efficiency, under the eight-regional arrangement, the North and the South will each have four Regions. While the North will include the Northwest, North-Central, Northeast and the Middle Belt; the South shall have the Southwest, Southeast, South-South and the Midwest.
The eight Regions will become the administrative units immediately below the Federal Government. The 36-States structure shall cease to be units of administration. Each Region shall establish its own Local Government system.
Under the new structure, we shall have 36 Senators – one from each of the existing States; and there shall be 109 members of the House of Representatives – one Rep from each of the existing Senatorial Districts; and membership of the Regional Houses of Assembly shall be made up of the existing Federal Constituencies from the Region.
Most importantly, the legislature at all levels shall operate on part-time basis, devoid of the heavy baggage of all forms of Assistants. The legislators will assemble for a few weeks in a year to rapidly pass Bills and approve the budget for the coming year. There must be an escape from the present culture of government existing only for the purpose of paying salaries, at the expense of the nation’s development.
In the particular case of the Midwest Region, 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 former regional arrangement, the Midwest was very viable and there is no reason to believe that it will be any less viable now.
Again, it is reasonable to expect Bayelsa State to form part of the new Midwest Region, particularly against the backdrop that large parts of today’s Bayelsa – Sagbama and its neighbouring communities – were originally part of the former Midwest Region. It is another case of the chicken coming home to roost.
Besides, this will give full meaning to the concepts of homogeneity and contiguity, which were largely ignored in earlier arrangements. Most Bayelsans are quick to trace their roots to Benin City. And a situation where Lamkpese at the extreme northern flank of Edo State bordering Kogi State is grouped in the same zone as Ogoja in Cross River State, bordering the Cameroons, is simply amorphous and does not make for political or administrative convenience.
Again, the new structure will give full expression to the issue of Resource Control as it did under the Old Regional arrangement.
With Bayelsa State in the proposed Midwest Region, we shall have three States each in the Midwest and the South-South Regions.
In all this, where is the 1999 Constitution today? It might have been amended to death. There is a clear abuse of the amendatory process. Nowhere in the world do we have a nation’s Constitution being amended like a Local Council by-law meant to regulate market procedures and market stalls.
The 1999 Constitution, so-called, is today facing its fourth amendment. In August 2010, close to a thousand clauses were amended in that instrument. Two months later, the National Assembly reversed itself by re-amending what it had amended earlier. This theater of the absurd is what we have been dabbling through – re-amending re-amendments! Call it Constitution-paddling, if you wish. It is doubtful if any of the legislators can boldly tell the number of sections that have been amended in that Document. It is rumble in the jungle!
In its original Gazette form as contained in Decree No. 24 dated 5th May 1999, the Constitution was 249 pages. Over this short period, it has grown in size and in confusion. However, even without a Constitution, will this country get any worse than it already is?