Tuesday, July 28, 2009

The bogey of state creation

THE view expressed recently by a group of about 50 lawmakers led by Senator Ayogu Eze to the effect that more states will be created in Nigeria before the 2011 general elections, and that this will be a prerequisite for the amendment of the Nigerian Constitution is rather curious. The argument for the creation of states is well-worn and even hackneyed. It purports to usher in even development to all parts of the country. But it often masks the real intentions of its protagonists. Nigeria is metaphorically seen as a large piece of cake surrounded by a conclave of rats. Everyone wants a bite of it but no one cares much about what happens thereafter. The negative aspects of state creation are often overlooked.

With each state created, we became less Nigerian than before. All those from whose states new ones were excised will attest to this truth - the fight over tables and chairs, the retrenchments and the loss of pension rights. Since Nigeria no longer has development plans to which states could buy into, creating more states can only mean creating more leaking pockets. Moreover, as Nigerians have seen, there is virtually no control over the financial behaviour - some might say recklessness - of governors whilst in office and increasingly whilst out of it.

At independence Nigeria had three regions. Then it became four with the creation of the Mid-West. The civil war saw the creation of 12 states. Since then the number of states has increased to 19 until now we have 36 excluding Abuja. Nigeria has more or less determined that for purposes of administrative convenience the country should be divided into six zones. There are about 350 languages in Nigeria, should we give each linguistic group a state of its own? What purpose is served by the unending balkanisation of the country? States need not be created on the basis of tribe and tongue but viability. What Nigeria lacks is good governance at all levels, an enlightened citizenry and the creation of a level-playing field in our politics.

As presently constituted the vast majority of the 36 states cannot survive without regular doses of financial infusion from the federal government which in turn survives on the rent it collects from oil. Oil being a depleting commodity, the Nigeria's current model of "federalism" cannot endure. We must ask whether we see states as centres of productivity or centres of consumption. Regretfully the latter seems to be the case hence all are clamouring for their share of the cake. When the protagonists achieve their aim, they become the lord and master of a new fiefdom. Predictably, they would again marginalise some minority elements in their midst. For this country to grow, politicians must wean themselves from the politics of sharing and grabbing and embrace the politics of imaginative thinking and problem-solving.

When members of the Ayogu Eze committee promise to amend the constitution, have they reckoned with the difficulties involved not just at the federal level but at the state level as well? The veiled blackmail that the creation of new states would be a prerequisite for the amendment of the much maligned 1999 Constitution does not hold water. Surely it is preposterous to argue that if no new states were created, the Nigerian constitution cannot be amended forever.

This country is besieged with enormous problems in almost every direction. Squabbling over the creation of states by legislators who never advocated state creation before the awful general elections of 2007 that brought them to power is a distraction. If these legislators are true nationalists, why do they not consider the opposite of state creation - the merger of existing states into six zones, for instance? All are agreed that Nigeria made more progress when we had three regions than now. The need to rationalise the state structure has become imperative owing to foreseeable difficult times ahead. Nigeria runs a most expensive bureaucracy. A situation where 70 to 80 per cent of the nation's income is frittered away on personnel costs is simply unacceptable. Instead of fragmentation what Nigeria needs is consolidation.

We call on our legislators to show some evidence of deep thinking about the future of this country, and to direct their energies towards more important tasks. The less they think of their personal welfare and influence, the better legislators they are likely to become. The air of Nigeria is thick with politics but light on problem-solving capacity.