Agitation for more states is in the air again. This time, proponents are encouraged by the window provided in the report of the Justice Alfa Belgore Panel set up by President Goodluck Jonathan to look into issues that may form the basis for the review of the Constitution. The panel suggests in part that at least one more state should be created for South-eastern Nigeria. The panel’s submission is based on the premise that this will make for equity and fairness.
We acknowledge the fact that the zone has the least number of states compared with other geo-political zones in the country. We also agree that no part of the country should be made to either feel inferior to other parts or be denied the opportunity to fully harness its potential.
Therefore, we will ordinarily cast our vote for any move to allow for equity and fairness. Thus, if truly the creation of states will enhance development and bring about good governance, we will be in the forefront of the campaign for people of the South-east, because we then would have been convinced that they deserve to be given another state.
Unfortunately we do not believe that this is the road to justice. So we are constrained to disagree with the eminent persons on the panel on this issue. This is because we strongly believe that another state is not what the people of any part of Nigeria need at this material time. We note that in the past, the exercise had not served the much propagated objectives of bringing government closer to the people and promoting development.
That is not to say that the Belgore Panel did not do a good job. To be fair to the panel, recommendations on judicial reforms, devolution of more powers to the states, review of local government council administration and revenue sharing formula, among other issues, are bold, patriotic suggestions that, if adopted, could heal the nation of most of its maladies. We are, however, concerned that the panel that made these far-reaching recommendations, especially on good governance and how to curb corruption in the country, perhaps did not appreciate the attendant haemorrhaging effect that a new state would cause the polity.
It is equally surprising that the panel may not have seen the creation of another state as an antithesis to the strength of its proposition towards the realisation of a true federal structure. It ought to have known that the more states we have, the more weak and possibly impoverished the federating units become and the more we tend to reverse the strength of the components of the federation, leaving the federal government to become some kind of Father Christmas and, in our case, one that is inefficient and largely irresponsive to local issues and challenges.
We should not fall into the mistake of believing that since almost all military regimes had created states, it should be a tradition that must be observed by all administrations in a desperate promotion of sheer populism. For that has been the password since the splitting of Nigeria into 12 states in 1967 by the General Yakubu Gowon administration, from four regions. Rarely had any government missed the opportunity of creating states until we reached the present 36-state structure and a federal capital territory that the Constitution insists must be treated as if it were a state.
One major setback in all the exercises is that states have been created by military fiat, oftentimes defying logic and showing little respect for cultural affinity and historical ties. The consequence is that one gesture creates not just states, but more grounds for further agitations and strident acrimony. That is why we find objectionable any attempt to give the National Assembly and, by extension, the state legislatures, the licence to oil their political egos by further balkanising the Nigerian nation. We do not, by any means, put the blame of fresh states creation agitations on the Belgore Panel, for before the report was submitted, there were speculations that the National Assembly was toying with the idea of creating six more states to bring the geo-political zones at par. Uche Ekwunife, a senator from Anambra State, was quoted as saying that two new states would be created for the South-east that now has five and one each for the other zones (having six) except the North-west that currently has seven. The logic is that each zone will then have seven states. That will bring to 42 the number of states in Nigeria.
The country with its over 160 million people will then be competing with the United States, US, that has 50 states, a population of 312 million and a territorial space of 9.83 million square kilometres. The number of states in the US is even high when compared with countries like China and India, two countries that each has a higher population. For instance, China, the world’s most populous nation with 1.33 billion and a land mass of 3.7 million square kilometres, has 22 provinces (equivalent of states), five autonomous regions, four directly controlled municipalities and two mostly self-governing administrative regions. India, which is next to it, has 1.2 billion people, 3.7 million square kilometres of land mass and 28 states with seven union territories.
Indonesia, which comes after the US with a population of over 238 million, has 33 states while Brazil which has a population of 192 million people and a land mass of 8.5 million square kilometres has 26 states. Brazil is the fifth largest country in the world while Nigeria is categorised as the eighth (in terms of population). It stands to reason that the resources of these countries will be better utilised for the people instead of the few public officials who earn higher than most government officials elsewhere in the world.
The problem is that Nigeria’s 42 states will then struggle for the meager resources distributed at the centre, with little investment in those areas that may affect the lives of the people on behalf of whom the proponents supposedly lobbied for the new states in the first instance. The little resources made available are merely used to create fiefdoms for political heavyweights and opportunists whose ranks are swelling by the day, especially in this time and age.
Instead of creating more states to buoy up their profile, we charge federal legislators to stand by the motion moved by Senator Olubunmi Adetumbi of Ekiti State to the effect that new states need not be created while existing ones are going bankrupt. Adetumbi told media men in Abuja recently, “Creation of states has tended to stretch the resources that are meant for development to cater for bureaucracy and to pay the wage bill of the civil service whose productivity is on the decline.” We endorse this position and submit that we look for ways of helping to get the states out of the woods so that people in government can work towards a better living condition for the generality of the people.
We believe that this is the sensible path that Nigeria should follow, even if it is from a minority voice, so that the national economy is not led into ruins in the near future. And the palpable signs are there for all to see.
Recently, ad hoc committee on National Planning, Economic Affairs and Poverty Alleviation; Appropriation; Finance and States and Local Government, in a report to the Senate, alerted the nation on the high rate of debt by the states. According to the committee, the states had by the end of 2011 had a loan profile that outstripped their allocations by N2.39 trillion. This is a confirmation of an earlier alarm raised by Niger State governor, Babangida Aliyu, that almost all the states are bankrupt. While his argument may have been a design to shop for more funds, either from the centre or elsewhere, it should be seen as an admission of a crisis situation, one that merits an emergency option. Already, most of the states have gone to the capital market to source for funds in an apparent effort to improve their financial status. Yet there is a quantum increase in the rate of unemployment, collapse of public infrastructure and crisis over state governments’ inability to meet their obligations to workers who are just but a lilliputian percentage of the populace.
The consequences are a hefty push in crime rate, ballooning cases of corruption and an alarming regime of poverty that the deluge of pretence has not been able to solve. That is why we reiterate our stand (TELL, December 6, 2010) that what Nigeria needs now is a reduction in the number of existing states, so as to free resources for a more robust development. This, and not new states, is desirable in a country where the recurrent expenditure eats up some 71 per cent of the national budget, even as some states beat that record, thus making creation of states a delinquent and rascally attempt to further deplete the country’s resources and stifle development efforts. What is more, every additional state would mean three new senators and additional members of federal and state legislatures, another state executive with its bureaucracy and possible reckless spending.
Definitely, the beneficiaries will not be the people at the local level whose interest was the supposed case in point for the creation of the new state in the first instance but erstwhile political Toms, Dicks and Harrys who get promoted to the positions of governors, ministers, federal legislators or upstart children of the elite among whom ministries in the state and house of assembly slots are shared. Perhaps that is why those who clamour for new states are hardly bothered if we end up with those that fail to satisfy the conditions for a state, like it happened in the last exercise when – but for the derivation fund – Bayelsa would have been one of the unviable states in the federation.
Now, however, small in population and landmass, a new state will have to be delineated into more local councils, thus creating more bureaucracies that give little or no benefit to the people. The result is increasing the cost of governance instead of the assumed dream of bringing the government closer to the people.
Sadly enough, because oil money comes free from the centre, proponents of new states do not fashion out strategies for the survival of their pet states and how they will help drive development and improve the welfare of the people. Their political appendages also run affairs of the states without the needed initiatives to improve the lot of such states and justify their creation. It is for this reason that we ask the people at the helm of affairs to rethink the movement towards another misguided expression of affection for the people of Nigeria and, instead, rightly take decisive steps aimed at redressing the stunted development in the country.