By Omoniyi Salaudeen
The ongoing review of the 1999 constitution by the National Assembly once again brought to the fore the age-long agitation for the creation of more states. This followed the deluge of memoranda submitted to the Senate Committee on the Review of the Constitution proposing the creation of new states from the existing 36, including the Federal Capital Territory (FCT).
From the hallowed chamber, rumour filtered out last week that the Committee had recommended the creation of 20 additional states and also purportedly proposed the conduct of a referendum on the concerned states by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC).
According to the media report, which has though been debunked by the Committee, the proposed new states include: ITAI State (from Akwa Ibom State), Katagum State from Bauchi State, Okura State from Kogi East, Adada State from Enugu State, Gurara State from Kaduna South, Ijebu State from Ogun State, Ibadan State from Oyo State, Tiga State from Kano State, Ghari State from Kano State, Amana State from Adamawa, Gongola State from Adamawa, Mambilla State from Taraba State, Savannah State from Borno State, Okun State from Kogi State, Etiti State from the Southeast Zone, Orashi State from Imo and Anambra states, Njaba from the present Imo State, Excision of Aba State from Abia State, Anioma State from Delta State, Torogbene, and Oil River States, from Bayelsa, Delta and Rivers states, Bayajida State from parts of Katsina, Jigawa, and Zamfara states.
However, a statement issued by the Senate Spokesperson and Chairman, Senate Committee on Media and Public Affairs, Ajibola Basiru clarified that the creation of additional states could only be approved if, “there is compliance with the provisions of Section 8 of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic as amended”.
It reads in part: “Our attention has been drawn to a media report that the Senate Committee of Review of 1999 Constitution has proposed the creation of additional 20 states. The report is a gross misrepresentation of the decision of the committee on the request for the creation of more states. Far from recommending the creation of any state, the Senate Committee, while acknowledging receipts of several bills proposing the creation of new states, decided that it is not in a position to recommend or propose the creation of any state unless there is compliance with the provisions of Section 8 of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic as amended.
“The Committee decided to refer the requests received to the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, to ensure compliance with Section 8 of the Constitution by conducting a referendum in the areas if the requests are supported by at least two-third majority of members (representing the area demanding the creation of the new state) in the Senate, the House of Representatives and the House of Assembly in the area”.
Since independence, there has always been an unending agitation for state creation.
Beginning from the initial 12 states under General Yakubu Gowon (rtd), successive military Heads of State, notably the late General Murtala Mohammed, General Ibrahim Babangida as well as the late General Sani Abacha rapidly multiplied the number to 36, including the Federal Capital Territory.
However, due to the stringent conditions contained in Section 8 of the 1999 Constitution, the task of creating new states has become more laborious under the present democratic dispensation. Section 8 of the Constitution states: An Act of the National Assembly for the purpose of creating a new state shall only be passed if-
(a) a request, supported by at least two-third majority of members (representing the area demanding the creation of the new state) in each of the following, namely –
(i) the Senate and the House of Representatives,
(ii) the House of Assembly in respect of the area, and
(iii) the local government councils in respect of the area is received by the National Assembly;
(b) a proposal for the creation of the state is thereafter approved in a referendum by at least two-third majority of the people of the area where the demand for the creation of the state originated;
(c) the result of the referendum is then approved by a simple majority of all the states of the Federation supported by a simple majority of members of the Houses of Assembly; and
(d) the proposal is approved by a resolution passed by two-third majority of members of each House of the National Assembly.
In view of this, different opinions have been expressed by the concerned stakeholders on the desirability or otherwise of the need for the creation of new states bearing in mind the parlous state of the nation’s economy.
While some protagonists argued in support of the need to address the perceived marginalisation of some sections of the country, particular the Southeast, other opinion leaders canvassed the merger of the present states into regions to reduce the cost of governance.
A renowned legal luminary, Chief Afe Babalola (SAN), lending his voice to the latter, declared that the creation of more states would not serve as a solution to the current socio-economic challenges confronting the country.
He said: “While the steps were taken by the Senate in acknowledging its constitutional mandate to act in compliance with the provisions of Section 8 of the Constitution is commendable, I do not, however, subscribe to the viewpoint that the creation of more states in Nigeria will present any solution to the current socio-political issues being faced in the country; and if anything, it will certainly increase the cost of governance.”
While advocating the collapse of the present 36 states into regions, he added that the creation of more states would bring the fragile economy to its knees.
His words: “In all, there is a proliferation of governance, dissipation of limited resources, creation of avenues for systemic corruption and unnecessary bureaucracy, and the consistent failure of the Federal Government to actuate its target infrastructural development. Without any doubt, the idea for the addition of 20 more states to the existing 36 is one which can bring the nation’s economy to its knees as such would require more funding from the central government to sustain the cost of governance alone.
“To date, the country is yet to experience the benefits of the proliferation of states rather, some of the worst social, security and economic indices in the world have been associated with Nigeria.
“If any at all, I opine that the 36 states ought to be collapsed into a fewer, more manageable number, or regions rather than continuously funding dysfunctional, proliferated state governments with no tangible contribution to national development.”
According to him, the extant provision of 1999 Constitution which seeks to curb the proliferation of states will present a major hurdle before any new state can be created in Nigeria.
In the same vein, Chief Chekwas Okorie, sharing the same view, suggested the adoption of the six geo-political zones as federating units with equal status, adding that multiplicity of states would aggravate the current dismal plight of the nation’s economy.
This position, he explained, was without prejudice to the arguments of those who felt shortchanged by the existing state structure.
Speaking in an interview with Sunday Sun, he said: “Many sections feel that they have been shortchanged by the way states were created. Remember that all the states and local governments were created by military decree. The only state that was created in a democratic setting through a referendum was the Mid-West which comprises Edo and Delta states. Now, these states and local governments that were created by the military fiat have become factors for revenue allocation. And because of the centralized system that we are running, every section goes to the centre cap in hand to look for allocation. So, they believe that the way to be fairly accommodated in resources distribution is that they need to have the states they didn’t have before. That is one of the reasons for the creation of states.
“But then, looking at the economy, it will not be a wise decision to continue to balkanize the country into smaller states. For anybody to be talking about doing a referendum on the state creation now, it will simply cause more chaos in the system. The system is already very restive.
“What we need to do that will not require any referendum is to recognize the six geo-political zones, have them incorporated in the constitution, and to ensure that all the regions are treated as equal federating units. Today, we are operating six zonal structures only when it is convenient. The multiplicity of states will make the country become poorer. So, my recommendation, therefore, is that if the National Assembly is really desirous of having a more equitable Nigeria, they should go back to the reason the six geo-political arrangement was yanked off the constitution and bring it back to the constitution because it was well thought out when Dr Alex Ekweume made that recommendation.
“Equality of geo-political zones will make for a better federation. That is where leadership and creativity will come in. And then, those who want to make every hamlet a local government will bear the headache.”
Also, a former Minister of Transport, Ebenezer Babatope, lending credence to the discourse, simply dismissed the idea of state creation as a distraction, saying that it would bring no good to the nation.
“Creating additional states cannot be a solution to the myriad of problems facing the nation. Rather, it will be a terrible distraction. All Nigerians are focused on having a proper election devoid of rigging,” he said.
There is no official reaction yet from the INEC as to whether or not it would go ahead to conduct a referendum on the new states as purportedly directed by the National Assembly. Until then, the matter may have been laid to rest by the Constitution Review Committee of the Senate.