David Mark and the Agitation for More States

The Senate President David Mark was recently quoted as saying that the demand for new states is “is right, legitimate and desirable” (Leadership online, 26 May 2010). The paper further quoted him as saying: “Creation of more states ostensibly to address the imbalances in the federal structures and ultimately meet the yearnings and aspirations of our citizens informed the needs by National

Assembly to give the exercise a prime attention in the review of the 1999 Constitution.” The Senate President, who reportedly made these remarks while playing host to separate delegations from agitators for Amana State (from present Adamawa State) and Savana State (from the present Borno State) was also said to have expressed optimism that barring any unforeseen circumstances the present National Assembly would create more states within the ambits of the constitution and the law.

There are a number of concerns with the Senate President’s explicit endorsement of state agitations:

One, agitations for state creation, which was largely predicated on fears of domination by ethnic minorities in the 1950s, has led the country moving from three regions to four regions in 1963; to 12 states in 1967; 19 states in 1976; 21 states in 1987; 30 in 1991 and 36 in 1996. Despite these balkanisations, state creation has failed to allay fears of ethnic or cultural domination. On the contrary, each exercise has created new ethnic and cultural minorities, triggering in turn a fresh agitation for new states. Interestingly, no state creation exercise had been preceded by a referendum to determine the true feelings of the people to be affected. More often than not, new states are rewards to influential politicians with right connections, who champion the state creation exercise.

Two, none of the states created was preceded by a feasibility study about their financial viability. In fact of the current 36 states, no more than three can meet even the basic cost of administration without the monthly allocations from the federation account. That the National Assembly should therefore regard state creation as a priority at a time of extreme economic uncertainty raises grave concerns about our priorities as a nation. Not long ago several newspapers reported that the federal government withheld the N736.985 billion monthly allocations due to the three tiers of government for April 2010 because of distress in the Excess Crude Account (ECA). Minister of state for finance, Remi Babalola, reportedly said that if the three tiers of government shared the amount due to them, the country would run out of money within the next three months. Babalola was also quoted as saying that if the country embarks on any form of financial profligacy, it would hinder the nation’s ability to address its various fiscal challenges in the near future.

Will state creation at this time therefore not be the height of financial irresponsibility? Just consider the cost of running a state: maintaining a Governor (including of course the infamous security vote), commissioners, state legislators, coterie of advisers, hangers-on, a new civil service etc. At the federal level, each state created will also add to the already bloated size of the federal government because section 14 of the 1979 Constitution makes states the basic units used in determining whether the government is ‘reflecting the federal character’ in its appointments, composition of the federal public service and dispensation of privileges or not. This means that with each new state, the number of ministers, special advisers will necessarily be increased to ensure balanced representation of the number of states in appointments. Similarly each new state will have three senators and a certain number of Members of the House of Representatives. And we know it is not cheap to maintain the legislators! It was for instance recently revealed that in addition to their salaries, each senator gets a quarterly allocation of N45m while each of the 360 members of the House of Representatives gets N27.9m every quarter, besides another N4.9bn (about N1.3m per legislator) as monthly salary. It was equally reported that some members of the HOR are pressurizing the House leadership to raise their quarterly allowance to N42 million each.

Three, one of the arguments for state creation is that ‘it brings government nearer to the people’. The Senate President in fact rehashed this argument. “The essence of the [state creation] exercise is not necessarily because people (agitators) are oppressed but to bring government nearer to the people so that our citizens can feel the effects of governance”, he was reported to have said (Leadership online, 26 May 2010). This line of argument is, with due respect, misleading. What exactly is meant by ‘government being nearer to the people’? Is this synonymous with villagers and local people having the ‘opportunity’ to see the motorcades of His Excellency and other government functionaries?  Does our own historical experience show that “government being nearer to the people” necessarily leads to their “feeling the effects of governance” in terms of the provision of infrastructure, jobs and physical and human security? What is the whole point of Local Government Areas of which the country currently has 774, which are constitutionally recognised as the third tiers of government? 

Our experience will seem to suggest that contrary to the position of the Senate President, each time states are created, the ability of the new states and the federal government to make the citizens “feel the effects of governance” is compromised largely because each exercise increases the cost of governance and the opportunity for primitive accumulation, leaving very little for development projects.  In this sense, state creation is anti-development and anti-people.

Four, state creation worsens the anarchical character of our politics.  Section 126 (2-6) of the 1979 Constitution for instance demands that to be elected president a candidate must have no less than 25 percent of the votes cast at the election in each of at least two-thirds of all the states in the federation. This provision gives the number of states in each geopolitical zone a special political salience. Rival geopolitical or ethnic groups such as North v South or Yorubas v Igbos routinely overheat the polity with their politics of state creation to ensure that they either maintain their current power balance or get more states in its zone to redress a perceived imbalance. Of course elites who feel that new states will make them big fishes in small ponds do not help in this regard. In this sense, state creation and the politics it spawns, complicates the nation-building process.

Five, state creation is also inconsistent with the emerging consensus that the enthronement of true federalism in the country is a necessary condition for a meaningful fashioning of a nation from the agglomeration of nationalities that make up the country. Federalism – a system of government in which both the centre and the federating units are each, within a sphere co-ordinate and equal – cannot work when the units are dependent on the centre to meet even the cost of paying the salaries of its employees.  What we currently have is a unitary system of government in federal clothing; and each state creation exercise worsens the situation.

Six, rather than create more states, the National Assembly should in fact find a way of consolidating the current 36 states into no more than six states to reduce the size of government, improve efficiency and save costs. Consolidating the current 36 states into about six, and giving a clear signal that state creation is off limits for a certain number of years, is also likely to reduce the jockeying and bickering for political influence by the various geopolitical zones, which the politics of state creation generates.

Jideofor Adibe