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Constitutional Amendment and Quest for More States in Nigeria

Nigeria legislatures are once again taking steps to amend the constitution.  A familiar song often associated with this exercise is endless quest for more states by various ethnic and regional groups who want to cave out more states from the existing structure.  If all their wishes are granted, Nigeria might end up with 100 states or more.

 

It should be recalled that former Nigeria president, General Yakubu Gowon divided Nigeria into 12 states on May 27th 1967.  Late president, Murtala Mohammed increased Nigeria states from 12 to 19 on February 3rd, 1976.  General Babaginda increased Nigeria states from 19 to 21 on September 27th 1987 and on August 21, 1991 increased Nigeria states once more from 21 to 30.  On October 1st 1996, late General Sani Abacha increased Nigeria states from 30 to 36.  What these presidents have in common is that they are all military leaders who created these states by fiat.  Nigerians did not have much say on the nature, size and structure of these states.

 

What are the reasons for endless quest for more states by various groups? The reasons are numerous.  One reason is the innate desire of minorities to be free from control of the majority. Nigerian is a conglomeration of more than 250 ethnic groups forced to become a nation by the British centuries ago when they colonized parts of West Africa.  Some of these groups are minorities in their present states and wants to break free from the control of the majority.  Proponents always advance the argument that creation of more states will reduce marginalization of minorities and give various groups a sense of belonging. This is a flawed argument because demand for more states have increased with creation of additional states.

 

The argument in favor of more states that has some merit is that it will bring government nearer to the people.  That assertion can bear out if the new states will be economically viable in the future.  Unfortunately, the current states as presently constituted are virtual wards of the federal government who in turn is the ward of black gold called petroleum which generates over 90 percent of Nigeria’s earnings. So Nigeria is virtually dependent on oil revenue.   Nigeria yearly budget is pegged to the quantity and price of oil the country is expected to sell that budget period.  The proceeds of the oil resources are then shared between the federal government, the states and the local governments.  Dependency on oil revenue have done to Nigeria what dependency does best which is to stunt creativity and development by making people complacent.

 

The proponents of more states clearly do not think of the economic viability of the entity they want to cave out for themselves.  They only think of future federal allocation from the oil revenue by the federal government.  They do not understand that oil reserve is not an infinite resources.  Someday oil wells will dry up and the oil resource will cease which means that these states will one day rely solely on internally generated fund.  The end result is that some of these entities called state will collapse due to lack of resources.     Today in Nigeria, Lagos state appears to be the only state that can survive when oil money runs out.  Without diversification of the state’s economy, these states might wither on the vine without oil revenue.  Hopeful sign is that more states are now beginning to think of the future without oil revenue.  Can anybody imagine the present nonviable states been subjected to further division.

 

Besides, there are mountains of hurdles in the current constitution that has to be scaled by anybody who is thinking of creating more states.  Vanguard notes that “ First, the National Assembly must get a request supported by at least two-third majority of the members (representing the area demanding the creation of new states) in the senate, the House of Representatives, the states Houses of Assembly and the local government Councils in respect of the area.  Second, at least two-thirds of the people asking for the states will go back and approve a proposal, via referendum, for the creation of state.  Third, the result of the referendum must be approved by (1) a simple majority of the states of the federation, supported by a simple majority of members of the Houses of Assembly. Fourth, the proposal is then approved by a resolution passed by two-third majority of members of each House of the National Assembly.”  It will be unrealistic to expect lawmaker to endorse the request of a section of the country that will reduce his or her state’s federal allocation.

 

Demand for creation of more states should be treated as just that.  It will not make economic sense in the long run.  United states with population of over 300 million has a total of 50 states and they are all economically viable while Nigeria with population of little over 150 million has 36 states.  In land mass, Nigeria is the size of California, Texas and Arizona combined.  The long-term economic viability of Nigeria states is seriously in doubt.  The overall well being of Nigerians since the enlargement of the states from 12 to 36 states are not better.  Rather, Nigeria bureaucracy and administrative cost has been enlarged with the additional states.  Rampant corruption in the land from top to bottom have further dwindled the resources, thus leading to anemic development.  So more states in Nigeria is not the answer to what ails the nation.

 

Devolution of power by creating fourth tier of government structure called township council headed by chairman will be a better idea.  Each town should be allowed to form a local government body if they wish.  The election should be nonpartsian.  They should have the power to create police force, levy taxes and get some federal allocation.  Local government Area councils riddled with corruption should be cleaned up and made functional.  They should have powers to levy taxes and have their own police force as well as the states.  Insecurity in Nigeria today can only be addressed by setting up layers of security on local, state and federal level.  Centralized federal government structure we have in Nigeria today is largely ineffective, bloated and never works.    Local governance enhances rapid development because it brings government closer to the people and empowers various localities and groups by giving them a sense of belonging and a piece of real estate to protect and preserve.  So creation of more states in Nigeria may not be the best idea.  36 states is enough.  Nigerians should focus more on good governance especially at the local level by strict enforcement of the laws at all levels.  They should be no sacred cow nor should anybody be above the law.



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