The Iconoclast by Chris Adetayo
Email: firstname.lastname@example.org Twitter: @chrisadet
Nigeria never fails to remind me of a recurring decimal. For the same issues that have been on the table for decades just refuse to go away. Solve them today and they find a way of coming back to the national agenda. The problem of electricity predates my generation, yet it is still a burning issue that has failed to go away. The same applies to other matters – corruption, roads, housing, clean water, ethnicity, federal character (otherwise referred to as zoning), etc. They have been with us all the days of this nation and counting.
Added to the above is state creation. From three regions in 1960, one more was added in 1963 (to assuage Mid-Westerners), another eight in 1967 (to forestall Biafra’s secession), then another seven in 1975 to make a total of 19. By the time this writer was in his teens, the number had grown to 21, then to 26 and finally, in 1996, to a pretty bogus 36 States. Still, after a few years of hibernation, the issue of states creation is back on the front pages of our newspapers, no thanks to the recommendation of the ongoing National Conference.
In all the state creation demands of the past, easily the most common reason given for more is the “need to bring government closer to the people”. This point is hinged on the claim that the physically closer a state government is to the people, the better will be their fortunes. But how true is this? To start, I propose that we examine the impact of states creation on two relatively new states.
Over the past five years, I have had the privilege of visiting more than 80 percent of the states in this country. One of these was Jigawa State. For those who may not know, this state was created from the old Kano State in August 1991 and was composed of three of the four Emirates Councils (Gumel, Kazaure and Hadejia) that made up its predecessor state. It is a state I was very familiar with, having attended the oldest secondary school in the State, Government College, Birnin-Kudu, in the late 80s and early 90s. Back then when this school was in old Kano State, it could boast of facilities – academic, staff accommodation, student accommodation etc – that, by today’s standards, will dwarf many of the so-called universities that dot the country’s landscape. Not anymore. My last visit to the school brought tears to my eyes and I could not but wonder how such a renowned school, whose products include the late Abubakar Rimi amongst many top public and private sector personnel, had been brought to its knees. How, given its status as the oldest secondary school in Jigawa (second only to the famed Rumfa College in the old Kano State), could it have been so neglected to the point of destitution.
The same story was evident with other infrastructure that, back in the 80s, announced the area as being on the path to development. A good example here is the site of the Jigawa State Agricultural and Rural Development Authority (JARDA) which is headquartered on the grounds of the Zone 3 headquarters of the then Kano State Agricultural and Rural Development Authority (KNARDA). Needless to say, it is now an eyesore with virtually no impact on the people it is supposed to be serving. Yet, by virtue of the creation of Jigawa State, it isnow “closer to the people”.
Coming down to the South West, of what major developmental impact has been the creation of Osun State which also came to being in 1991? True, the politicians, civil servants, and traditional rulers will all hail its existence. True, the state capital, Oshogbo, is now a bustling town with tarred roads within and around the city. But a quick comparison of the state of infrastructure outside the state capital now and what it was back then does not justify its creation. Ile-Ife, its most famous town, still wears its dusty, sedentary look with few tarred roads, and the people remain permanently stuck in a subsistence existence. Ilesha, a short distance away, is no different. Little wonder both towns are jostling to have a state created where they will be “capitals”. Invariably, if one of these famous towns gets it, the other will almost certainly kick-start its campaign to have its “own” state.
The examples above are replicated right across the whole country. Apart from the state capitals which get a huge fillip from their new status, nowhere else is the benefit of state creation justified by all the hype and expectations. Yet, each time, we are told that state creation will “bring government closer to the people”. Perhaps the “people” being referred to are not the common people whose lives remain unchanged irrespective of the number of times the geographical structure around them is changed.
Beyond the above, a quick comparison with the country that Nigeria has modelled its federal structure after, the United States, further proves the futility of more states in Nigeria. The US is 10 times the size of Nigeria with at least double its population. Yet, it has maintained its 50-state structure for decades. This structure has not diminished the development of the country, and no sing-songs for states creation as a means of “bringing government closer to the American people” are heard. Instead, you tend to find that state capitals, which are, more often than not, small towns in their respective states, enjoy few privileges above the rest.
What comes out clearly from the above therefore is not the issue of getting “government closer to the people”. Rather, the challenge before us is how to get the dividends of good governance (roads, clean water, electricity, integrity in and out of government, etc) to the people. Allied with this is the challenge of diversifying development from State capitals – which will help to quell the incessant call for more states.
I therefore plead that the National Assembly should take the moral high ground on this issue and reject any recommendation from the National Conference for the creation of more states in Nigeria. Thirty six states are more than enough for a country of Nigeria’s size and the huge cost of Nigeria’s bureaucracy does not deserve to be increased further when so many pressing needs that will benefit the people are calling for attention.