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Open letter to lawmakers on state creation – by Niyi Akinnaso (niyi@comcast.net)

Open letter to lawmakers on state creation – by Niyi Akinnaso

Dear legislators,

Please, do not create more states. This is an appeal on behalf of millions of fellow Nigerians, particularly those whose voices may not be heard on this matter. To those among you who find the creation of additional states a preposterous venture, I applaud you. To those who have vested interests in creating fiefdoms for themselves after leaving the National Assembly or in fulfilling promises made earlier to traditional rulers and other petitioners demanding states of their own, I say, look beyond parochial interests. Look at the big picture. Do the right thing: Drop the idea of creating more states for various reasons stated below. There are far more important problems to be solved, including corruption, security, and infrastructural deficits than embarking on that voyage of fantasy.

My appeal also goes to the agitators for the creation of more states. From all indications, the 56 or so petitions came largely from groups which have suffered limited access to power within their present states. The problem with the petitions is that they are from the elite, without grass-roots input, which is why the Nigeria Bar Association suggested a referendum on the matter. Nevertheless, I fully understand the plight of minorities in the hands of hegemonic majorities within the existing states as well as their struggle for equity and social justice. I remember once being told by a professional colleague that my Yoruba was not “pure” because it was tainted by my native Idanre dialect. I told the fellow that he would have been taught my dialect in school had Bishop Ajayi Crowther based Yoruba orthography on it. But my response did not remove the dual feeling of inadequacy and unequal treatment as a result of my native dialect.

However, the creation of a new orthography based on Idanre dialect will not solve my problem, just as the creation of additional states for minorities locked within the existing states is not the right solution. Any government would be foolhardy to allow the development of a dialect-based orthography to function in public schools, partly because of costs and partly because of its political implications. Speakers of other Yoruba dialects may want to develop orthographies for their dialects in reaction to the hegemony of the Oyo dialect.

A short trip down memory lane will show how the orthography analogy applies to the creation of states. The balkanisation of the federation through the creation of states began as a Northern reaction to Gen. J.T.U. Aguiyi Ironsi’s Decree 34, which abrogated the federal structure in favour of a “unitary” system in which the centre became much more powerful than ever before. Ironsi’s action was interpreted by Northerners within the context of an Igbo-led coup in which two Northern icons, the Sardauna of Sokoto, Alhaji Ahmadu Bello, and Sir Abubakar Tawafa Balewa (then Prime Minister), were killed; but no Igbo politician was. Yet, the Igbo turned out to be the major beneficiaries of the coup. (Then) Lt. Col. Yakubu Gowon, who succeeded Ironsi after a coup that eliminated him, kept the strong centre but created 12 states to diffuse Ironsi’s unitary system. And that was the beginning of the agitation by minorities locked in the big states for the creation of their own states. As the government responded to their demands, the number of states kept increasing until we arrived at the present 36-state structure.

So, my dear legislators, the above summary is the origin of the 56 petitions before you today. There are many reasons why the creation of more states is neither a viable project nor a reasonable action to take at this time. First and foremost is the issue of viability. It is common knowledge that a number of the existing states are under distress. Inadequate capital and the lack of necessary infrastructure continue to hamper their ability to establish job-creating institutions, attract manufacturing industries, and facilitate the growth of small businesses. In the absence of job creators such as these, state governments became the largest employers of labour. This is particularly true of states such as Kano, Katsina, Niger, Osun, Sokoto, and Zamfara which spend 50 per cent and above of their gross annual revenue on a small percentage of the population, consisting of elected officials, political appointees, and civil service personnel.

To complicate matters, many of the existing 36 states are deficient in raising enough internally generated revenue to supplement their Federal allocations. The result is a recourse to local banks for short-term loans and to the capital market for long-term loans to finance capital projects. That’s not all. According to the Revenue Mobilisation Allocation and Fiscal Commission earlier this year, the 36 states and the Federal Capital Territory were under a $2.165bn (about N339.9bn) foreign debt. The cumulative effect of these developments is diminished capacity to finance developmental projects. The critical question then is: By what magic will newly created states sidestep this conundrum?

The argument that the creation of new states will bring the government closer to the people falls flat in the face of extant realities highlighted by limited financial capacity, as illustrated above. Even more importantly, such an argument ignores the existence of 774 Local Government Areas across the country, whose function is precisely to bring government closer to the people, yet no real development has been seen even to the communities near the council headquarters. This immediately highlights an important issue that needs attention—the strengthening of the local governments to ensure equitable distribution of positions and resources within existing states.

By the way, did any of you ever think of the implications of the creation of additional states for the intensification of identity politics, which underlies the ongoing political and security crises in the country? How many more states will you create to satisfy all the nationalities in the country? What difference is there between a sub-ethnic or geographically contiguous group demanding a new state and a Northern Hausa-Fulani or South-Eastern Ndigbo group demanding the Presidency in 2015?

The more expedient way to respond to identity politics is not through the creation of further divisions but through various means of drawing upon the strengths of diversity by making various groups work together. This is why a national conference, which you have ignored, would have been useful in bringing various nationalities to the table to work out how they could work together as one nation. All we’ve had so far is a country, not a nation.

If your interest is not in expanding the corruption dragnet, which has enveloped many of the existing states and Local Governments, then you would desist from creating additional states and focus on tightening corruption loopholes and getting more resources to Local Governments. But if you insist on going ahead, concerned citizens will do well to mobilise protests against the move.

 

Niyi Akinnaso (niyi@comcast.net)

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