NIGERIA DOES NOT NEED THE CREATION OF NEW STATES
IN a widely publicised news report, it was reported that the Senate Committee on Constitution Review recommended the creation of 20 new states, including Ibadan State to be created from Oyo State. In addition to this recommendation, the Committee also purportedly proposed the conduct of a referendum for the 20 new states by the Independent National Electoral Commission. However, subsequently, the Senate publicly debunked the report as being grossly misconceived and a misunderstanding of the decision reached by the Senate Committee. Though the Senate acknowledged the receipt of several Bills proposing the creation of new states, it acceded to the fact that it has no constitutional mandate to recommend or propose the creation of new states unless there is a compliance with the provisions of Section 8 of the 1999 Constitution. The Senate noted that it “decided to refer the requests received to the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to ensure compliance with section 8 of the Constitution by conducting referendum in the areas if the requests supported by at least two-thirds 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”
While the steps 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, will certainly increase the cost of governance.
I am not unaware of the myriad of arguments proffered from different quarters in favour of the creation of new states. Some of the arguments are that with the creation of more states, governance is brought closer to the people when a larger territory is sub-divided into a less-dense populace. Another identified reason for the call to create more states is borne out of the political expedience to cushion the the likelihood of social, political, and economic marginalisation which could easily characterise the nation’s diverse ethnicity. Also, the discovery of oil and the attendant dependence on oil as a major source of revenue informed the drive by the political elites for the creation of more states which, in turn, created a platform for them to access its benefits. An author, John Ifediora, once remarked that the discovery of oil in commercial quantity energized this impetus for the creation of more states on the mistaken assumption that further sub-division of the country on ethno-linguistic lines would enable the country to efficiently allocate its resources in different regions of the country, taking advantage of each region’s natural and technical endowments to propel robust and comprehensive economic growth in the entire country.
Notwithstanding the seeming genuineness of the protagonists’ arguments, one thing is clear, Nigeria has challenges associated with resource distribution and humongous cost of governance. Other challenges include poor infrastructure, ethnic divide, security issues, and failed governing institutions. The incentive for self-sustenance which was one of the factors birthing the creation of states woven around the nation’s ethnic divides is, unfortunately, no longer viable. For instance, the Northern states, once renowned for their groundnut exportation capabilities, and cow hide; as well as the Southern states once famous for the production of rubber, palm oil and diverse articles of clothing, have altogether abandoned these commercial endeavours in exchange for the ease of federal allocation. Presently, owing to the centralised resource control, each of the thirty-six states in Nigeria rely on federal government allocation – and the fallout of this system is a phenomenal increase in the cost of governance from inadequate crude resources. In simpler terms, the limited resources from the federal government coffers are being used to fund the duplicative functions of thirty-six state governments and the Federal Capital Territory, ministries, legislative houses, parastatals, and several others. In all, there is 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.
As shown by the history, the creation of states in Nigeria prior to the 1999 Constitution was by military fiat. In 1976, General Murtala Mohammed created 19 states, including Lagos and Oyo; in 1987 and 1991, General Ibrahim Babangida altogether created 12 states, including Akwa Ibom state, and in 1996, General Sani Abacha created 6 more states – totalling 36 and one Federal Capital Territory.
Against the backdrop of the foregoing realities, particularly the over-dependence of the states on federal government allocation and the consequent cost of governance, among others, it is, perhaps, soothing that the extant provisions of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 seeks to curb the proliferation of states – it seemingly presents a major hurdle before any new state can be created in Nigeria.
Constitutional Requirement for the Creation of More States
Section 8(1) of the Constitution details a self-explanatory procedure for the creation of new states, as follows:
8.(1) 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-thirds 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-thirds majority of the people of the area where the demand for 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-thirds majority of members of each House of the National Assembly.
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. Nigeria still ranks high in recognised corruption and poverty indexes, without any viable economic plan to navigate the nation out of the murky waters. Certainly, the creation of more states cannot be a solution to any of the challenges bedevilling the nation. As rightly observed by an author, Ifediora, the country is in various stages of economic and social stress, plagued by environmental decay, decrepit infrastructure, unsustainable debt-load, poorly educated workforce, a failing educational system, and a healthcare sector that is all but non-existent. 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. One thing is sure – the creation of more states in Nigeria will be counterproductive to effective and sustainable economic growth. But with the restructuring of the socio-political current system, more can be achieved than a recourse to the creation of more states.
AARE AFE BABALOLA, OFR, CON, SAN, FCIArb., FNIALS, LL.D (Lond.)