Tuesday, February 28, 2012

The Absurdity of New State Creation

In a short while from now, another round of constitution amendment exercise will ensue. This will be coming on the heel of the success of the one concluded on January 10, 2011 when President Jonathan signed the 1999 Constitution amendment into law. In that exercise conducted by the sixth National Assembly, about 30 amendments were successfully carried out between 2009 and 2010. Most of the amendments bordered on electoral reform and only few, such as those that give financial autonomy to the National Assembly; Amendment to section 145 and 190 of 1999 Constitution making it compulsory for President and Governors to formally write to the national and state assemblies when they are going on vacation or unable to discharge the function of their office; and the one that recognized the National Industrial Court as a superior Court of Record, were some of the few non-election related alterations.

Over time, agitations have soared for a new constitution which will derive out of a sovereign national conference (SNC) or a national conference. However, both the national assembly and the presidency are not favourably disposed to the idea of a SNC. They claimed that the legislature is representative of the interest of the people enough and as such able to deal with any issue that affects the public. Alternatively, agitators have called for a process led, bottom up and an inclusive constitution amendment exercise. This seems to be more amenable to the interest of government.

Apart from genuine electoral reform that can deliver credible polls to Nigeria, other areas of interest agitating the minds of several people and interest groups are that of State and local government creation; fiscal federalism or resource control; devolution of power; inter-governmental relations; amendment of land use act; State police; Immunity clause; number of ministers; number of terms for president and governors i.e. whether there should be one term of six or seven years instead of maximum of two terms of four years currently in the law; review of revenue allocation formula; ‘justiceability’ of chapter two of the 1999 Constitution (as amended) which deals with Fundamental Objectives and Directive Principles of State Policy; judicial reform among which is the review of the power of the Chief Justice of Nigeria in the composition of the National Judicial Council (NJC) and the need to separate the office of Attorney General from that of Minister or Commissioner for Justice; Role of traditional rulers in government, et cetera.

Ahead of the formal commencement of the constitution amendment, Deputy Senate President (DSP) and chairman of the Senate constitution amendment committee, Ike Ekweremadu at a public lecture held in Lagos on Friday, February 17, 2012 titled ‘Constitution Amendment and State Creation’ revealed that a total of 45 requests for new state creation has been received by the National Assembly. The DSP said about 34 of such memoranda were intra-state demands, seven interstate, while four cut across geopolitical zones.

According to him, minority fears, search for equity, speedy development and quest for political empires and influence by the elite are some of the key factors responsible for the proliferation of states and the agitations for more since independence. He noted that Nigeria would therefore become a federation of 81 states should all the requests be granted. This development is mind-boggling and heart-rending. How could we be agitating for further fragmentation of Nigeria despite our current, socio-political and economic challenges? This is tantamount to calling for the disintegration of the entity called Nigeria. Must every community and hamlet be a state or local government before the cry of marginalization will cease?

In his paper, Senator Ekweremadu raised some posers. These include, “Has the creation of more states allayed the fears of minorities and the feelings of marginalisation and domination? Has it resulted in good governance and speedier development at state levels than we had before? Importantly too, is the proliferation of states and even the extant ones viable and self-sustainable?” The answers to these are well known to keen observers of our polity and government. Creation of States and Local Governments has not and will not halt the cry of domination, neither has the current 36 State structure from 19 we had in 1976 brought higher level of development to the people. At best, it only created other layers of bureaucracy and astronomically increased the cost of governance. Non-viability of some of the existing states is not in doubt. We heard during the wage increase imbroglio last year when many states said they cannot pay N18, 000 minimum wage. Virtually all states in Nigeria have gone to bond market to raise money while few are barely able to provide basic social infrastructures.

Ekweremadu was spot on when he observed thus: “Again, at a time the global trend is aggressively moving towards the contraction of the size of government and cost of governance and at a time the nation is already sweating profusely under the yoke of unwieldy size of government at the federal, state, and local levels, can we really sustain the status-quo let alone create new burdens?”

I however fault DSP’s comment that since “the nation was not yet disposed to six federating units as a panacea to the dwindling fortunes of the Nigeria’s federalism in terms of viability, self-sustenance, healthy competition, cost of governance, and ensuring an acceptable level of equity then the South-East should be treated fairly and equally through the principle of equity in which all geopolitical zones have equal numbers of states.” By implication, Senator Ekweremadu is tacitly supporting the creation of additional state(s) in the South-East region. Good as it looks on the surface; if that argument is stretched we will need the creation of additional six states if we want parity. How do I mean?

Right now, South-East has five states (Imo, Enugu, Ebonyi, Abia and Anambra) while North-West has seven states (Jigawa, Sokoto, Kano, Zamfara, Kebbi, Kaduna and Katsina); South-West, South-South, North-Central, and North-East has six apiece. If we base our sentiment for further state creation on equity, then South-East should have additional two States while those which at present has six should then have additional one each created from their geo-political zone in order to bring all of them to seven state each. Thus, we will then have 42 instead of the current 36 state structure while Abuja will remain a Federal Capital Territory. Alternatively, one more should be created in South-East while that of the North-West should be reduced from seven to six to achieve parity. Left to me, we should allow the sleeping dog to lie. Any attempt to tinker with the current state structure will bring chaos, economic burden and political instability. What we need is greater devolution of power and resources to the existing states, genuine war against corruption, credible elections and good governance.