Regions Or More States? BY RICHARD ODU

by admin

Two issues trended on the media last week – return to regionalism and the creation of states, Orlu State to be precise. They all have to do with political geography of the entity called Nigeria. The bill for state creation is already before the National Assembly for consideration, according to the news reports, while the bill for regionalism is expected to reach the assembly as executive bill soon.

Like many other Nigerians, I am pained that 64 years after independence, the country is still struggling to define its geography, just as its economy continues to wobble despite the rich natural resources that abound in it.

These two burning issues, however, appear to be antithetical to each other. If regionalism is the choice, then, why create states? And if the preference is state creation, regionalism becomes irrelevant. We must, however recognize that once the nation resumes creation of states, there will be no end to it as demands are not just one but many. Already, Senator Ned Nwoko has reawaken the struggle for Anioma State.

If the present National Assembly members are desirous of a Nigeria that should stand the test of time, they must indeed be circumspect in the choice of which one to deal with and the one to discard. No doubt, only one of these bills should survive for a healthy debate. The question is, which one?

Our hindsight reminds us of the reason behind the disappearance of regionalism and the origin of state creation in Nigeria, shortly after independence. It was General Yakubu Gowon who first created 12 states as a weapon to dismember breakaway Biafra in 1967 and weaken its unity and resistance. He had latched on sentiments of that time and it worked perfectly well. Under 30 months of the civil war, Biafra vanished from the maps but, unfortunately, could not be obliterated in the subconscious of its agitators.

So, region or state, all came by fiat, one through the colonial Britain and the other through the military junta that presided over the country in the dark days of the giant of Africa. Both are despotic. The mischief of the old can only be attributed to the Berlin Conference in 1884 where European countries shared Africa to themselves and lorded it over the variety of the people in the continent.

Basically, the people who own the land, ab initio, did not participate in the process that brought them together as a nation state. That puts a big question mark on what has been bandied as democracy in Africa, especially Nigeria where strife has never left the people since the disengagement of the colonial masters. It becomes imperative that those who untidily knitted the country together should be involved in the resolution of the Nigerian question if they really desire true democracy for the country.

In other federations, the people arrived the negotiation table as different blocs where they agreed to certain terms and therefore became units of the resulting federation. That is why no one hears of state creation in advanced democracies and the element of freedom over there serves as the centripetal force that binds the units. The choice to pull out is decided by a referendum. There is no element of force.

The return to regional democracy where freedom for growth is guaranteed, and where there is a sizable measure of autonomy, is most desirable for Nigeria. However, this can only be feasible with some adjustments. A classical format for the geographical modifications would be the six-zone structure handed down to us by the late and former vice-president of the country, Dr. Alex Ekwueme, the one that divides the country into North East, North West, South East, South West, South South, and of course the Middle Belt where some choose to call North Central. Indeed, the term North Central is a misnomer because the area does not fall in the centre of the former northern Nigeria. It is rather located in the middle of Nigeria, hence the appropriateness of the term Middle Belt.

Thoughtful as he was, Ekwueme had done a good job of grouping people of same affinity and consanguinity together. These groups can be assumed to be the federating units barring objections. Even when objections to the groupings emanate, they can be neatly resolved democratically. The return to regionalism means a return to the right path of progress and growth, a resolution of feelings of marginalization and so the recall of lasting peace.
State creation, on the other hand, practically splits otherwise homogenous entities into smaller units, leaving behind acrimony. It is motivated by the crave for bigger allocation and more representation at the centre for a particular area or tribal grouping. Although it appears to be a plausible struggle in the present structure of Nigeria where the centre holds all, it is divisive.

The big question is, should the subject of state creation ever feature in the constitution of a federation of states? By the time we give a deep thought to this question, we would be realising the aberration of state creation in a federal setting. We would also be coming to terms with the fact that our nation is a bundle of falsehoods.

Federating units exist as entities possessing distinctiveness and affinity. They are not created. That states are created in Nigeria is an indication that the country is not a federation as it is referred to. The sooner we correct these falsehoods, the better for the nation.

What should also go to douse state creation is the distribution pattern of the nation’s wealth, where allocation comes from the central government. And, believably, regionalism would take care of that aspect.
Choosing to create states surely does Nigeria no good.
During the military regime, the soldiers merely gratified the sentiments of sections that cried for it. And surely, they erupted because of the sharing formula of the nation’s resources, the power of which was concentrated in the central government. Movements for state creation were often made up of self-styled leaders of the people who, in their innermost recesses, harboured selfish ambitions rather than altruistic ones.
So many citizens of the country had woken up at certain times to find their kith and kin severed from them, much to their displeasure, only placated with the false promise of development. When created, the bourgeoisie quickly organised themselves as commissioners, directors-general, heads of parastatals etc, went to Lagos (this time Abuja) to collect the federal allocations and return home to plot clever avenues to siphon the funds.

The oneness which preceded state creation usually melted into sectional chauvinism as soon as the administrative knife ran through the map. The cohesion which derived from language or culture was broken and the divided people saw themselves in the light of which state they belonged to. Antagonism got a fertile breeding ground.

On a Candid Note, I stand for regions. But, hey aren’t we being diverted from the big elephant in the room – the minimum wage issue and our biting economy?

Dr. Odu can be reached through

Related Posts

Leave a Comment

Are you sure want to unlock this post?
Unlock left : 0
Are you sure want to cancel subscription?
Update Required Flash plugin