One of the most interesting political battles that have taken place in this last week has to be about the viability of states and the need to create more. Mallam Sanusi Lamido, the Central Bank Governor, in his characteristic frank way of talking, at an event, wrote off many of the states as being unviable economically and even went as far as calling for the merger of some of the states, as not only would it reduce the cost of governance, but it would be more productive. On the other hand, the Senate, through its President, David Mark, and then its spokesman, Ayogu Eze said that there will definitely be new states created by the present Senate. Both sides have supporters: those calling for the merger of states or even a return to the regional governments of the First Republic behind Sanusi; the many movements for new states behind the Senate.
Personally, I find myself somewhat in the middle. I do not support the call to merge states, because I do not see how possible that would be. What parameters are going to be used to determine that one state is viable while another one is not? No state is going to fold its hand and watch itself merged with another state. This is also not mentioning the fact that such a move requires a constitutional amendment, which is bound to fail at the states’ level, especially in the states proposed to be merged. At the same time, I am not a fan of creating new states. This is where I find myself most likely to do the most explaining:
To start with, at present, only a handful of states can survive on their own without federal allocations. All the other states are dependent on the Federal Government for their existence. Creating more states would be creating more dependents on the FG, and might just be starving the rest of funds. This dependence at present doesn’t bode well for our political system nor for our economic level. This is because it concentrates power at the centre and makes nonsense of our federalism. Also, it does not allow us to fully tap into our potentials, both human and material, since there is ‘free’ oil money.
Also, most, if not all the calls for new states are based on perceived marginalization against a smaller ethnic or religious population by the larger one. However, this is not enough reason for a new state to be created. This is because the feeling of marginalization does not go away when you have been given a state, but rather, there will be new victims of marginalization. The Nigerian political mind-set is so complex that even in a state such as Abia or Kano, which are entirely homogenous, both religious and ethnic-wise, allegations of marginalization still exist. We can marginalize against each other, even on a family/clan basis, mainly because we have a scarcity mind-set, the belief that the resources are few and won’t go round. We believe that if we do not pack all the jobs and admissions and projects for ourselves, the others will pack it all. Rather than creating a level, competitive playing-ground that brings out the best in all of us and creates more wealth for all of us, we rather tilt the playing-field in our favour. This requires a change in our thinking processes, not new states. Let us take the example of the proposed Apa State out of the present Benue State. Idoma people, long groaning under the suppression of the Tiv people, are pushing for this state, especially since their son is now the Senate President. But if Apa State should succeed, it will only be a matter of time before other smaller ethnic groups in the state such as Igede would start complaining of marginalization. Do we then create their own state? At this rate, we could end up having 100 states.
Furthermore, even though the constitution has set out a process for creating new states, the process is so cumbersome that I fail to see how this would be achieved. Besides the Senate and the House of Representatives voting for the proposed state by two-thirds, 2/3 of the State Houses of Assembly (i.e. 24) must also vote for it by two-thirds. When you start to factor in the geo-politics played in this country, you being to realize the herculean task before any movement pushing for new states. How can a House of Assembly in the South East vote for a Tiga State out of present Kano State, bringing the states in the North-West, when they want one more state themselves in order to achieve ‘geo-regional balance?’ The sheer amount of lobbying to get one state created is beyond imagination.
Lastly, how do we choose which states to be created out of the many being proposed? At the last count, almost half of the states have new states being proposed to be created out of them. How many states are we going to add? These are all questions that need to be answered.
Personally, I feel that the main problem that leads to calls for new states, i.e. marginalization can be better solved if the structure of our federalism is looked at. In other words, we need to introduce true and fiscal federalism in Nigeria. Once this in place, states would have to justify their existence by striving to survive and also to grow. This will then make them results-oriented in their actions and also compete against each other, and common sense says that sentiments cannot survive true competition. In a situation like that, it would not matter whether the governor of Benue State would be Tiv or Idoma, but rather, whether he would be able to perform. We would then see all these cries of marginalization lessen and die. A good example is Kaduna State, where since Patrick Yakowa became governor, we rarely hear the people of Southern Kaduna make calls for the creation of their own state.
It is about time we outgrow this primitive scarcity mind-set and begin to create all-inclusive societies and governments. But since it is unlikely that this would happen in this present condition, then it is necessary that we tinker with the conditions and force that mind-set to be changed.