By Eric Teniola
AFTER the inauguration on October 1, 1979 Dr. Alex Ekwueme as Vice President with the approval of his boss, Alhaji Shehu Shagari made some appointments. These included Dr. Patrick Okedinachi Utomi from Igbuzo in Oshimili North Local Government in the present Delta state as special assistant and Prince Victor Folagbade Olateru Olagbegi as special adviser. Prince Olagbegi is now the Olowo of Owo. Dr. Ekwueme had two disadvantages at that time. He was not part of the kitchen cabinet of President Shehu Shagari made up of Alhaji Umaru Dikko, Alhaji Ibrahim Dasuki, Dr. Ibrahim Tahir, Alhaji Uba Ahmed, Alhaji Saleh Jambo, Alhaji Isiaku Ibrahim, Alhaji Aminu Tijani, Alhaji Shehu Musa and others.
The other disadvantage was that his home state of Anambra was under the control NPP although there was an NPP/NPN accord at the centre.
He overcame these disadvantages by being completely loyal to his boss, President Shagari.
He also established a network that caught political brides for the NPN from the NPP in Imo and Anambra states. Among those caught very early were Senator Nathaniel Anah from Anambra north and Senator Tony Anyanwu from Owerri. President Shagari helped also by conceding that all Federal appointments from Imo and Anambra states must be endorsed by Dr. Ekwueme.
With that, Dr. Ekwueme’s political base swelled day by day and that made Governor Jim Nwobodo of Anambra state extremely uncomfortable such that he called for the termination of the NPN/NPP accord. At that time, there was high demand for the creation of more states in the country. The demand was more vocal from the east central zone,Ogoja,Ibibio,Osun Nasarawa,Taraba,Katsina,Igala territories. The argument particularly from the East Central zone was that Imo and Anambra states were insufficient for the Igbo tribe and that the Igbos were short changed in the last exercise of the creation of states in February 1976 because of the Civil War. There was this demand too that the old provinces should be made states. Ogoja and Ijebu provinces qualified in this category. The Ibibios in the then Cross Rivers state who were described as the fifth largest tribe in Nigeria at that time wanted a state of their own although they dominated the business and the civil service echelon in Cross Rivers state, yet they wanted a state of their own to have a full identity. The Ijaws too who controlled the coastline in the country wanted also a state of their own. No doubt the demand for states became the major topic in the first eighteen months of President Shagari’s tenure.
To arrest the demand President Shagari summoned a meeting of all the political leaders to address the issue of creation of more states. The meeting was held in Lagos on Tuesday February 22, 1982. The NPP and the UPN boycotted the meeting. After the meeting, President Shagari set up a 17man committee and made his vice-president, Dr. Ekwueme Chairman.
The other members of the committee were Chief Richard Osuolale Akinjide(SAN),(Hon. Attorney-General and Minister of Justice), Dr. Chuba Okadigbo, Special Adviser to the President on Political Affairs, Hon. J.C. Ojukwu, Hon. A.A. Waba, House of Representatives, Hon. Senator Ja’Afar J. Mangga, Hon. Senator Abba Ali,Senate Representatives, Senator D.O. Dafinone, Alhaji Idris Ibrahim,NPN Representatives, Alhaji Musa Musawa, Dr. Ikem Okeke, PRP Representatives, Dr. B.N. Ukegbu, and Alhaji Aliyu Ibrahim,GNPP Representatives.
The argument of the UPN and the NPP was that the provision of section 8 of the 1979 constitution was enough guide for states to be created and there was no need for a multiparty conference on the issue. The committee proceeded on its assignment and on March 9 1982, held its first meeting. At the meeting, Dr. Ekwueme declared “there is no gainsaying that there is a need to work out modalities which will facilitate and streamline the procedures for creating new States while at the time upholding in tenor and spirit the Constitutional requirements on this issue. Thus, the raison deter for our gathering today is to evolve ways and means for the processes for creation of new States in order to meet the wishes of the generality of our people whose welfare we have a duty to protect. It is however necessary to emphasise at this juncture that all efforts must be seen as an attempt to assist the National and State Assemblies in the onerous task of creating new states which is and remains their constitutional responsibility. As you know, we are required to submit our report by the end of this month. Another, meeting of the Party Leaders has been scheduled to take place on April 6 to consider our report. This means, in effect, that we cannot ask for any extension of time. This imports hard work, dedication and seriousness of purpose on our part. I consider our assignment an enviable one; an assignment if properly tackled could make a historical contribution to Nigeria’s political development. I have no doubt that given the composition of this committee, we shall be equal to the task”.
He emphasised the need to correct the wrong impression held by some Nigerians that the effort being made in this regard was to circumvent the provisions of the Constitution.
Members of the Committee critically examined the terms of reference, their scope and the modalities to be adopted in carrying out the assignment. It was finally agreed that because of the disparate political and legal problems and implications of the relevant terms of reference two sub-Committees—political and legal—be created to examine closely the issues involved and make recommendations to the main Committee for consideration as its subsequent meetings.
The legal sub-Committee had the benefit of advice from Prof. B.O. Nwabueze, SAN and of draft bills in relation to creation of States by Chief Rotimi Williams, SAN. The main Committee met consecutively from 23rd to 31st March, 1982 to examine the reports and recommendations of the sub-Committees and to adopt a final position on the various terms of reference to be submitted to President Shagari.
The Committee noted that the political parties had, in their memoranda expressed their view on the number of states they wished to see created( the National Party of Nigeria—25, Unity Party of Nigeria—22,Nigerian Peoples Party—21,Great Nigerian Peoples Party—27, and Peoples Redemptive Party—24.
The Committee observed that almost in all cases the number of States which the Political Parties indicated they would support corresponds to the number of States for which requests had been made to the National Assembly as at the time their memoranda were submitted in other words, no political party appears to be willing to oppose any request for creation of new State. While the Committee noted that it would be unconstitutional in the present context to prescribe a maximum number of States; it nevertheless accepted the view that it is not every request for creation of a new State that will be successful.
In a statement on March 22 1982, the Unity Party of Nigeria explained that its Leader, Chief Obafemi Awolowo had always been throughout his political life, an advocate for the creation of more states in the country particularly for the minorities citing Ogoja,Tivs.Jukuns.Ijaws as tribes who deserved to have their own states. The party then argued that its non representation at the Ekwueme’s committee should not be misinterpreted.
Eric Teniola, a former director at the presidency stays in Lagos