June 11, 2024

Ugochinyere’s Orlu State gambit




OVER the years, the people of the South-East geo-political zone have been clamouring for an additional state to bring them at par with the other five geo-political zones in the country. The North-East, North Central, South-South and South-West have six states each. The North-West has seven.

Unfortunately, we have only five states in the South-East. In alphabetical order, they are Abia, Anambra, Ebonyi, Enugu and Imo states. Although the zone is predominantly populated by Igbo ethnic group, it has very minute Igala population in parts of Anambra and Enugu states.

Hence, being a South-Easterner, you could imagine how ecstatic I felt when I read in the media a few days ago that the House of Representatives has moved to create an additional state in the South-East. However, my initial joy was cut short when I discovered that the principal sponsor of the bill for the creation of the additional state, Ikenga Imo Ugochinyere, proposed the creation of Orlu State, to comprise of 28 local government areas, to be drawn from Imo, Abia and Anambra states. Ugochinyere also recommended his Orlu senatorial zone to host the capital city of his Orlu State. He equally suggested that the establishment of Orlu State could result in the formation of a senatorial district from Ideato, the area he represents in the House.

The bill which passed first reading in the House, seeks to amend the 1999 Constitution by adding a new paragraph to include the 28 local government areas. To my utter bewilderment, my hometown, Ozubulu in Ekwusigo LGA of Anambra State was listed among the areas to be part of the proposed Orlu State. Others are Orlu, Orsu, Oru West, Oru East, Ideato North, Ideato South, Njaba, Nkwere, Nwangele, Isu, Oguta, Ohaji Egbema, Ihiala, Uga, Uli, Akokwa, Arondiizuogu, Umuchu and Umunze. The remaining are Umuaku, New Ideato North, Nwabosi West, Nwabosi East, Owerri Nkworji, Alaoma, Amaifeke and Owerrebiri.

After reading the news, I was dumbfounded for some minutes. While I fully support the agitation for an additional state in the South-East, I think that the choice of the location should be made by mutual agreement and not legislative braggadocio. In a democratic setting, a state cannot be created by unilaterally lumping some areas together under whatsoever name.

Certainly, I am sure that even in the wildest imagination of our people in Ozubulu, they will not like to be associated with the so called Orlu State. So, from where did Ikenga Ugochinyere get the mandate to include Ozubulu and other mentioned local governments in Anambra State in his Orlu State? 

In fact, I remember vividly that our people totally rejected the attempt by Senator Arthur Nzeribe (now late) to include them in Urashi State during the public hearing for the 2006 Constitutional Amendment bill. Nzeribe had proposed his hometown, Oguta, as the capital of Urashi State. In the said Constitutional Amendment Bill, state creation was tied together with the Third Term agenda of the then President, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo. Regrettably, the baby was thrown away with the bath water.

A saying goes that those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it. The hope of the South-East for an additional state may once be dashed by the selfishness and egocentrism of people like Ugochinyere. A matter as serious as state creation ought to have been subjected to wider consultation in the region and not for one individual to take advantage of his privileged membership of the Green Chamber to push for the creation of a state, with his senatorial zone as the host of the state capital and the federal constituency he represents, as senatorial district.

I like Ugochinyere’s courage, fearlessness and outspokenness. In fact, anytime I see him. I remember Okonkwo, the tragic hero in Professor Chinua Achebe’s epic novel, Things Fall Apart.  He is free to be a Governor or Senator. But, his vaulting ambition should not be tied together with the destiny of the entire South-East region.  

The South-East has suffered uncountable losses as a result of the inequality of states and local governments among the six geo-political zones. In March this year, the President-General of Ohanaeze Ndigbo, Chief Emmanuel Iwuanyanwu, lamented that the South-East has lost trillions of Naira as a result of this disparity in the number of states and local governments among the geo-political zones. I remember that Ijaw national leader, Chief Edwin Clark, once described the South-East as the most disadvantaged geo-political zone in Nigeria.

The military caused this imbalance in the Nigerian Federation. Creation of states under the military was done with military fiat. It is widely believed that this imbalance gave rise to the age-long cry of marginalisation and subsequent agitations in the South-East zone.      

The situation appeared to have been compounded by the very cumbersome constitutional process of state creation since the return of democratic rule in1999. According to Section 8 (1) of the 1999 Constitution (as amended), to create a “New state and boundary adjustment” the National Assembly must receive a request, supported by at least two-thirds majority of members (representing the area demanding the creation of the new State) in the Senate and the House of Representatives, the House of Assembly in respect of the area, and local government councils, in respect of the area.

A proposal for the creation of the state is thereafter approved in referendum by at least, two-third majority of the people of the area where the demand for the creation of the state originated. The result of the referendum is then approved by a simple majority of all the states of the Federation supported by a simple majority of members of the Houses of Assembly. The proposal is approved by a resolution passed by two-thirds majority of members of each House of the National Assembly.

So, state creation is not an opportunistic affair. That you are one out of the 360 members of the House of Representatives or 469 members of the entire National Assembly (Senate inclusive), does not permit you to unilaterally lump some local government areas together and present them to whichever of the hallowed chambers you belong to, hoping that they would be pronounced into any state of your choice.

Therefore, I call on my dear brother, Ugochinyere, to retrace his steps and humbly withdraw that bill in the interest of the South-East zone. A bill passing first reading is merely a formality. There is no commitment beyond the fact that the bill has been introduced. The process of state creation is not a tea party. Like I pointed out earlier in this article, it is a very cumbersome process.

Moreover, Orlu State is not the only state agitation in the South-East. We have Adada State, which is the oldest agitation and others, such as Etiti, Equity, Urashi and so on and so forth. I do not think that there is any of these state agitators who does not have a case. The common denominator of these agitations, however, is the fact that the South-East deserves an additional state to be at par with other geo-political zones in the country. To get it, we should all put our personal interest aside. We should not work in silos. The South-East should work as a team to get the equalizer state, which has eluded us for donkey’s years. 

•Nzomiwu wrote from Awka, Anambra State