The Igbo Manâ€™s Interview
The other day, I caught part of a television interview of a young man of Igbo extraction. He lamented that the South East Geographical Zone had been cheated, because it only has 5 States, as opposed to the other zones which have 6 States, except the North West which has 7. He declared that this state of affairs is grossly unfair. Section 48 of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended in 2010)(the Constitution) provides for 3 Senators per State. He posited that, where other zones have 18 Senators, North Central has 19 (including 1 from the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja), North West has 21, while the South East has only 15.
The young man also deplored the fact that Kano has 44 Local Governments, while Lagos which he believes has a higher population, has only 20.
He emphasised repeatedly, that the South East had not been â€˜givenâ€™ a sixth state. I wondered why he put it that way, since we are no longer in the military era, and there are constitutional provisions for the creation of states.
Section 8 and the Process of State Creation
When I perused Section 8 of the Constitution which provides for the creation of a new state (Section 8(1)) and a new local government area (Section 8(3)), I understood what the Interviewee meant about being â€˜givenâ€™ a new state. If majority of Nigerians donâ€™t give their consent, there can be no new state.
By virtue of Section 8(1)(c) of the Constitution, practically the whole of Nigeria has to be involved and consent to the creation of a new state! Well, a simple majority of all the States and majority of the members of their Houses of Assembly, have to approve the referendum by 2/3 of the majority of the people in the area where the demand for the creation of the state emanated from. I donâ€™t mean to burst any oneâ€™s bubble, but my question is, with all the quarrelling and agitation going on in Nigeria presently, will the South East be able to muster the requisite support from other parts of the country, for their new state?
Initially, the procedure for creating a new state set out in Section 8(1)(a) and (b) of the Constitution, seems straightforward and not particularly onerous. Firstly, a request (for the new state) by two-thirds majority of members representing the area demanding for the new state, in the Senate, House of Representatives, House of Assembly and Local Government Councils, is submitted to the National Assembly. Then the request must be approved in a referendum, by at least 2/3 majority of the people in the area demanding for the creation of the state. It is the approval of the result of the referendum, by almost the whole of Nigeria (well majority of the country anyway), that is the problem.
Mischief of the Framers of the Constitution
I wonder what the intent of the framers of the Constitution was, when Section 8(1)(c) was drafted. To make the creation of more states not just extremely difficult, but an impossibility? All the Nigerian States were created during the military era, and it seems to me that, the military did not want any new states in addition to the ones that they created, hence, the loophole that most of Nigeria must be in agreement, before a new state is created, knowing that the condition would be an extremely laborious task to fulfil.
Section 9(3) of the Constitution confirms my foregoing suspicion. While an Act of the National Assembly to alter the Constitution for other matters can be done inter alia (among other things) with a proposal supported by the votes of not less than 2/3 majority of the members of the Senate (72.6) and the House of Representatives (240), an Act of the National Assembly for the purpose of altering Section 8 requires inter alia, votes of not less than 4/5 majority of the members of the Senate (87.2) and the House of Representatives (288)! In short, it seems to be that there’s a ‘Catch 22’ situation. The constitutional provisions to create a new state are gruelling, and the provision to alter the Constitution to be able to ease the hardship of the provisions to create a new state, are almost as burdensome!
Finally, once the nationwide approval of the result of the referendum is sought and obtained, the final step to complete the process, is an approval of the proposal by a resolution passed by 2/3 majority of the members of the Senate and the House of Representatives. This final hurdle may also prove to be arduous.
Furthermore, it seems that the alteration of Section 8(1) of the Constitution, is not on the agenda of the Joint Committees on the Amendment of the 1999 Constitution in the Senate, the House of Representatives as well as the State Houses of Assembly.
Viability of the States
However, I believe that the issue goes deeper than creating one or ten more states. The states must be empowered to be viable. Whatâ€™s the use of creating 20 or however more new states, to have the same number of states as the United States of America, when most of the 36 states we have today have to come to the Federal Government very regularly, cap in hand, begging for bailouts? Based on the present system that obtains in Nigeria now, many of the states should be shut down! They are unable to generate enough income to pay their workers’ salaries, talk less of developing their states.
The States need to be more in control of their resources, so that they can tap them properly. The Federal Government as it is, is finding it difficult to cope with most of the tasks that a Central Government should tackle, like currency and foreign policy. It is doing better with security, but still has quite a distance to go.
The Federal Government does not have time to mine coal in Enugu or petrochemicals in the South South. It has enough on its plate. This should be done by the individual States. Our interview last year, with the Director General of the Nigerian Export Promotion Council (NEPC), revealed that Nigeria has almost unlimited natural resources located in most areas of the country, ranging from produce to petroleum products and gas, to minerals and petrochemicals, which have remained untapped. This is why the NEPC came up with the Zero-Oil Plan.
I attended an Oil and Gas Summit, organised by the then Chairman of the House of Representatives Committee on Oil and Gas, some years ago (when Dimeji Bankole was the Speaker of the House of Representatives). Part of the topic of discussion was the Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB). I was rather shocked when one of the speakers at the forum, informed the audience that aside from the fact that the oil Nigeria has is little in comparison to its gas endowment, at the time, the quantity of gas that made Trinidad and Tobago Number 4 or so in world production and supply of gas, Nigeria was wasting even more, in gas flaring! That is what the Yorubas call ‘Apa’ (Wastrel). Part of the discussion then, was that the oil majors must be made to pay for the by-products resulting from their oil exploration activities, like gas, whether they choose to harness or flare it. They wanted this aspect to be included in the PIB. The PIB now tagged the Petroleum Industry Governance Bill, was finally passed this year, about 17 years after its inception. However, I doubt that much has changed, in regard to gas flaring.
Change of Nigerian Mindset
Most importantly, whether we have 50 States or 36, or Restructure and allow the States to have more control, so that they are able to harness their resources more efficiently and thereby generate revenue, the resources must be managed well. There has to be good governance, if not whatever change or restructure, will simply be in vain. If the States are simply going to reproduce what has been happening in the past on a Federal level, in their States, then what’s the use? If we are going to continue to loot the State Treasuries once they start to generate revenue, as has been done on a Federal level, instead of utilising the income generated, for the development of state infrastructure and welfare of the people, what’s the use? If we are going to exchange tribalism between Igbo, Hausa and Yoruba, for State Tribalism between Ijebu and Egba people, both from Ogun State, what’s the use? If Religious Bodies continue to teach their devotees to pray that “ka sise bi era, ka de jere bi erin” (we work like ants, and reap like an elephants)!, thereby making them lazy, looking for miracles instead of buckling down to some hard work, what’s the use? There needs to be a revolutionary change in the mindset of Nigerians.