The growing clamour for additional state in the South-east zone of the country is generating debate over the propriety or otherwise of ensuring equality among the geopolitical zones. But is it economically realistic? Olawale Olaleye asks
That the call for state creation has increased at this time is understandable. The proposed amendment to the 1999 Constitution is in the works and every stakeholder is making an effort to ensuring that their interests are protected.
But state creation appears one of those issues the constitution review cannot run away from, given the pressure from some of the stakeholders, especially in the South-east.
Deputy Senate President and Chairman, Senate Committee on Constitution Amendment, Senator Ike Ekweremadu, in an interview with THISDAY, recently said there were about 56 requests already on state creation from people and groups.
But Ekweremadu who was not averse to the idea said in another interview with an online news portal that: “We have made this promise and we intend to tackle it. We know it is going to be a very controversial issue but we are not going to run away from it. We have made our recommendations to the Senate as a committee and we have said that Nigerians are asking for the creation of additional states and we recommended strongly that the National Assembly do follow the process and ensure that more states are created.”
On the viability of the states, he said: “There is no time anywhere, any day when you can say that every state will be as prosperous or have the same prospects. In America, you have big states you have small states, you have poor states you have rich states and all fingers will never be equal, so states will never be equal. The important thing is for those who will lead those states to create the enabling environment for those states to thrive and prosper. We have seen places like Japan which have prospered.
“In 1970, South Korea was more backward than Nigeria. But today, it is one of the leading countries in the world. The UAE where Dubai is in 1990 was more like a village. In one street, they had only two houses, it was more like a desert! Today, Dubai is one of the best cities in the world. So, the issue of prosperity is a function of vision of leadership and leaders. You cannot say because a particular state is poor today, that it will remain poor. Once you have visionary leaders in charge of that state, it can transform that state.”
But the Kano State Governor, Rabiu Musa Kwankwaso, differed. Kwankwaso who believed that Ekweremadu has a hidden agenda took exception to state creation that is not based on set criteria but rather on mere political expediency, which he said could be manipulated for sectional interests. He said Ekweremadu made a big mistake by attempting to justify additional state for the south-east just because the region has five states while the north-west, for instance, has seven states.
He said by the statistics of the 2006 National Population Census, while Kano recorded a population of 9,383,682, and a land mass of 20,131 square kilometres, states like Enugu, home state of Ekweremadu, recorded a population of 3,257,298 and a land area of 7,161 square kilometres; Abia had a population of 2, 833, 999 and a land mass of 6, 320 square kilometres, while Imo had a population of 3, 934, 899 million and a land mass of 5, 100 square kilometres.
Kwankwaso also stated that a combined population of the south-south (21, 014,655) and the south-east (16, 381, 729) which amounts to 37, 396,384 is only 1, 609 million ahead of the population of the north-west zone which is 35, 786, 944 million. “Some people want to take advantage of some people’s weaknesses. They want to create a state for the south-east alone and that is a fact…If you want to create state, go ahead and create it. Don’t call Kano. If you call Kano, you stand the risk of getting answers,” he said.
Expectedly, Kwankwaso’s outburst attracted reactions from stakeholders from the South-east extraction, including former Governor of Abia State, Chief Orji Uzor-Kalu. The former governor, who seemed to be shocked that such position had emanated from Kwankwaso, said nothing would be spared in giving the south-east a fair deal even if it meant going into the federation called Nigeria through the back door.
“Injustice to one is injustice to all. The south-east zone has the least number of states. Kwankwaso’s north-west got seven. I do not begrudge them. He says Kano is more populated than the former Eastern Region that is questionable. I hope he knows that in the US, Wyoming with a population of less than a million is as important as California with about 30 million.”
“We shall keep up the struggle. When President Umaru Yar’adua died, we accepted the ‘doctrine of necessity’. Following Chief Moshood Abiola’s death, Nigeria bent backwards for an all-Yoruba presidential duel. General Yakubu Gowon was a Lieutenant Colonel when he became head of state in 1966 ahead of his seniors who agreed to work with him- men like Brig. Babafemi Ogundipe, Commodore Edet Wey and Col. Adeyinka Adebayo. If the Senate must go under the table to balance the equation, heavens will not fall,” he said.
Following debate the development had generated, former Vice-President, Dr. Alex Ekwueme, citing some agreements by national political stakeholders, has said creating an additional state in the South-east was necessary for national stability. He said those standing in the way of the creation of another state in the zone were merely engaging in a prevarication that would not help the course of national unity.
"We must go back to the political conference which was held under President Olusegun Obasanjo and there it was agreed without any contradiction by all the delegates unanimously that an additional state should be created in the South-east zone," Ekwueme told THISDAY in an interview.
Also faulting Kwankwaso's argument, he claimed that population has never been the major criteria for state creation in Nigeria. If population is the main consideration, he added, Lagos should have been the major subject of any state creation discussion.
"I think we should be careful how we bandy figures; we should try to work with facts and figures that should enhance our unity of purpose and togetherness rather than bring up figures that tend to bring up more division among us.
"So, if we are thinking in terms of equity, and out of the assumption that every geopolitical zone is capable of producing a president who will not be a president for that zone but a president of the entire country and would serve the interest of all Nigerians, then the South-east would be justified in their quest to be given the first chance to produce a president at the next dispensation," he said.
While the arguments, both for and against, are tenable in the light of the debate, observers feel there is the need to distinguish between the political expediency of such action and its economic viability which they contend is most critical.
This is against the backdrop of the fact that many of the states in the country are deemed not viable and cannot survive without the monthly handout they get from the Federation Account, hence the need to push the economic consideration first in the quest for state creation. There is indeed, the belief that virtually all the states are broke, a development that some governors had also confirmed. Lending credence to this, the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), recently blacklisted some state governments alongside prominent individuals from borrowing from the banks because they are no longer credit worthy.
Such developments, observers believe, further confirmed the fears that the economic viability of new state at this time in the life of the nation is dim and as such, an exercise that should be accorded utmost consideration.
Yet, for political balancing, the South-east is generally believed to be deserving of another state, at least, to level up with other zones in the country. The political imperative of such move is also not subject to parochial debate, observers noted.
For instance, the South-west has six states- Lagos, Ogun, Oyo, Ondo, Ekiti, and Osun; South-south also has six- Cross-River, Rivers, Akwa Ibom, Edo, Bayelsa and Delta; but South-east has five- Ebonyi, Enugu, Imo, Abia and Anambra; North-east also has six- Adamawa, Bauchi, Borno, Gombe, Taraba and Yobe; however, North-west has seven- Jigawa, Kaduna, Katsina, Kano, Sokoto, Zamfara and Kebbi while the North-central also has six- Benue, Kwara, Kogi, Niger, Nasarawa and Plateau states.
Thus, apart from the North-west with seven states, other zones have six states each with the exception of the South-east with just five. It is, therefore, believed to be politically expedient and indeed, imperative for geographical balancing that the South-east is moved up to other zones with six states.
But such rationalisation still does not address the question of economic viability which cannot be jettisoned for political consideration. Although Ekweremadu’s explanation about leadership and leaders might suffice to an extent, it does not completely factor in the larger implication which is why the issue must be dissected properly before a decision is taken on whether or not an additional state is suitable for the South-east zone.