The National Assembly has been threatening to create new states for a while now. Those making the demands are impatient to see the process started and concluded, so that they can ‘commence business’. But nothing is about to happen. The two questions to raise are: (1) Can the National Assembly, in fact, create new states? and (2) Should the National Assembly go ahead to create states, in the event that it can actually do so? The first question concerns the feasibility of the contemplated action of the lawmakers, following the demands of the people. The second asks whether it is in our national interests to have more states in Nigeria. But these two questions are actually not on the table at all. At least they are not for many actors, who are facing the process of state creation rather than the primary question of whether it is a meaningful venture at all.
Besides the views of those on the fringes of incoherence, the two substantive arguments in support of creating new states are: (1) It will bring government nearer to the people and (2) It will reduce marginalisation and give various culturally and geographically contiguous groups a greater feeling of belonging. These are still the same old arguments. Our collective national experience has shown them to be flawed. The demands for more states have increased with the creation of additional states, since the 60s. The number of government institutions has also gone up, along with the number and titles of government functionaries.
Meanwhile an improvement in the well-being of the people has plummeted dramatically within the period under reference. There must be something fundamentally wrong in a place where the financial burdens of serving the people have gone up, along with the number of people providing the service, while those being served are on the verge of extinction. But, given that almost 60 of the 231 memoranda or so the Senate Committee received were in respect of additional states, it is natural that the matter of state creation be taken up as an issue.
Perhaps all it will achieve is bring everyone up to speed on the totally unrealistic expectations of agitators and aspiring benefactors in the industry of state creation. We may yet realise that misgovernment and the demand for responsible leadership is what has been repackaged as demand for new states. Bring equity, provide values-driven leadership, take away marginalisation, poor social infrastructure, etc., and the demands will go up in smoke.
But because the cultural, geo-physical, religious and other cleavages were fanned into raging infernos during the years of degenerate military dictatorship, the clamour for more states has become a calling. The very conspicuous institutional and constitutional obstacles to states creation are the real issues here. First, let us look at the political economy of it all. States and local governments are revenue sharing platforms in Nigeria. Any increase in the number of states or local governments means bringing more empty plates to the table. An extra plate means that everyone will get a little less. Nobody ever wants to get less. It lies with the fraternity of empty plate wielding states to determine whether anyone should join them in the bazaar, so we can predict how the existing beneficiaries will react to the idea of new entrants.
The constitution allows an Act of the National Assembly for the purpose of creating a new state to be passed only on conditions that it must be met in principle, but which cannot really be met in fact. First, the National Assembly must get a request supported by at least two-thirds majority of members (representing the area demanding the creation of the new state) in the Senate, the House of Representatives, the states Houses of Assembly and the local government councils in respect of the area. Second, at least two thirds of the people asking for a state will go back and approve a proposal, via referendum, for the creation of the state. Third, the result of the referendum must be approved by (1) a simple majority of all the states of the Federation, supported by a simple majority of members of the Houses of Assembly. Fourth, the proposal is then approved by a resolution passed by two-thirds majority of members of each House of the National Assembly.
It is difficult not to be impressed by the plethora of hurdles carefully put in the way of anyone who is thinking of creating new states. Two-thirds (or more) of the federal and state lawmakers, as well as the local councils in the area asking for a new state, will come together and tell the National Assembly that their people want a state. Having heard this ‘rumour’, the National Assembly will then ask them to go back to the people who sent them and conduct a referendum, to confirm that this ‘rumour’ should be taken seriously. When they come back with the result, confirming the ‘rumour’, their confirmation of the ‘rumour’ will then await the approval of a simple majority of all the states of the federation. Mind you, these states must be supported by a simple majority of their various Houses of Assembly. That done, the proposal will return to the National Assembly, where it must be endorsed by two-thirds majority of members of each House of the National Assembly.
Why would any lawmaker knowingly endorse the request of a section of the country that wants to bring an extra plate to the sharing table, knowing that this will reduce the takings of his people? Consumption is the philosophy of elite management of the nation and the capacities of the various states and peoples are honed to ensure that no crumb drops from the table without their say so. In the midst of this assembly of predators, we still have cheerful assurances about the speedy creation of states? Let’s get real, please!
A validation of the six zonal structure also has its own problems. There are constitutional queries. No one will sit around and watch his current advantages vanish. The elite consensus against the geo-political zone thinking rests on a very simple logic: Anything that will reduce the space for the elite is anathema. Just picture people who have mentally structured their political trajectory around the existing governance structures and institutions of state, probably for the next 15 years; Do you see them clapping as you dismantle their dreams? Do you see them playing to undertake to their own ambitions and aspirations? Lai lai!
The political economy of state creation therefore suggests the inescapable conclusion that the National Assembly actually cannot create any new states, no matter how hard it tries – and notwithstanding the reckless optimism of those who want new states. But the demands are there, nevertheless. Maybe we may push it to the point where every local government will become a state. Kindred may then become local governments, while families, heads of households and individuals will respectively turn into local governments, councils and wards. Who knows, a dog walking the street may even become a public park!
Concerning the question of whether it is actually in our national interest to create states, it may be argued that no one should speak of ‘national’ interest to a man who is the victim of a lopsided union that is quietly doing him in. But, again, let’s get real. Creating further administrative structures in a land already reeling from too much government expenditure is difficult to defend. The attempt to push for states against the background of the nation’s current economic profile falls flat on its face. This is not to say that the issues being raised by the aggrieved are not genuine, or that they should not be addressed. What is open to argument there is whether state creation is actually the only way of addressing them.
This reminds me of Mazi Ibeakwadalam and his dance troupe. It was quite a delegation. You should have seen Mazi, his household and friends in their best clothes, as they set out for the village square; believing that Ichie Omencha had organised a feast. The drumbeats could be heard from distant lands and Ibeakwadalam’s excitement could be sensed from many kilometre s away. Meanwhile, there was no one in the village square at all. Omencha was not even in town.
Observers who saw the otherwise sensible Ibeakwadalam merrily dancing towards the square and announcing how much fun he would have at the feast were worried. But who would tell him the truth, about there being no festivity (nme-nme, or uta) anywhere - his own songs, as well as the drumbeats of his hired dance troupe, having drowned everyone?
Looking at Section 8 of the constitution, it is clear that only an elite conspiracy can lead to the creation of new states. For the National Assembly to take a decision following a process midwifed by majority of the members representing the area demanding the new state, it needs validation of the demand from across the federation. This boils down to a national consensus, which only an elite conspiracy can contrive. Talk to the various state governors and state assemblies, arguing equity or whatever. Then give them a deal they can live with.