Saturday, January 3, 2009

The Igbo agitation for state creation is a ruse

by Obi Nwakanma

Let me repeat this again: the agitation in certain quarters for new states to be created out of South Eastern Nigeria is a monumental distraction. The Igbo of South-Eastern Nigeria do not need another state. They need a massive infusion of resources for the rehabilitation of the five states already present and functioning at various levels of incompetence.

The Igbo need, far more urgently than a new state, a proper husbandry and accounting of the resources currently available to the current states of the South-East from the federal grants.
The Igbo need a different kind of equity. Parity of states will not fully resolve the crisis of resources, or the crisis of governance in the so-called states of the South East, which in truth are now no more than what I would call “Bakassi states” – mostly basket cases in which government seems absolutely absent from the ordinary or quotidian lives of the citizens.What the citizens of these sorry states currently in the South east really need is for the current governments in place to impact meaningfully on their lives. But that has not happened, in spite of the agitation for state creation in Nigeria. All that talk about bringing government closer to the people is sham.

People felt closer to governance when there were fewer states than now when every little corner of the Nigerian yardage seems to have become either an “autonomous community” or an “autonomous state.” In other words, there has been very little, discernible, direct or clear benefit to the ordinary citizen from the various dysfunctional exercises of state creation that has gone on in Nigeria since 1984. Instead what has become obvious is the alienation of citizens from government.Once capable and prosperous and potentially coherent political or administrative units were dismantled and in their places, these “magi cube” states have been created. The aim, it seems, was to intentionally dissolve the legitimacy and powers of the federating states of the union, create a powerful central government, and create a very weak federation in which control of the centre becomes the basis of the control of the federation.

For the Igbo of south eastern Nigeria, a long experience with political marginality has quite expectedly driven them to a search for parity with other so-called political regions on the matter of state creation. But on that question of political and economic justice for the South East and the Igbo people in general, the creation of a new state, vigorously canvassed by a very well organized and vocal minority among the Igbo, will not cut it. I say this from sampling a cross section of Igbo opinion on this matter: most Igbo do not care for the creation of new states in the East.

They do not see it as a solution to the problems of the East. Indeed a majority of the Igbo from my investigations regard this call for a new state in the east as simply part of a now familiar gimmickry by its current political elite who seem totally and frightfully out of touch with Igbo needs and expectations.The question for many Igbo is: what is the purpose for a new state in Igboland if it is not to serve the goals of further balkanization of the South east as a coherent, and potentially powerful political entity? What have the Igbo done with the current five states in the South-east? Whose benefit would this new agitation for states serve? The answer to the last question seems rather obvious.

The current agitation is driven by a cabal of interests whose goals are neither developmental nor visionary, but who seem given to the rather familiar “agbata-ekee” paradigm of political chop-and-quench. It does not matter what is at stake, for as long as the issue is the distribution of pork, this cabal of current political leadership seem prepared to undermine long term Igbo interests. In fact, it is not in the long term interest of the Igbo of the South East for another state to be created out of the South-East, in spite of what the retailers of this strange fantasy say.The argument for new states to be created out the South east is fundamentally premised on the grounds that the South eastern region of Nigeria has the least number of states among the six geographical zones. This is hardly a sensible premise to create states, because, of all things, no one is still in the business of making new lands. But besides that fact of nature, the premise presumes a certain injustice against the Igbo on matters of allocation. But frankly, equity demands that we come with clean hands and utter clear truths to power.

First, the Igbo position is not absolutely true. The Igbo have seven states in which they have great stakes. Aside from the five states of the South east, two states in the South-South have major Igbo presence, and the Igbo cities of Asaba and Port-Harcourt are capital cities of two major South-South states. We must take that into account. But my greatest dismay is in the immediate implications of this agitation.One of the most myopic developments in the political affairs of the South-East is the weakening of the delivery of governance by the breakdown or fragmentation of old administrative units and centers. The South-East suffers today from a rather terrifying situation of balkanisation, which rather than offer grounds for effective political and economic action, only further dissipates the energy and resource necessary for rebuilding the political and economic base of South-Eastern Nigeria. Any close observer of affairs in the South-East of Nigeria will immediately and honestly note that state creation has not been of any particular benefit to the Igbo people.It may have benefitted just a handful of people – the so-called “stake holders” – but not the wider citizenry. If a true referendum is carried out today in South-Eastern Nigeria, as it ought indeed to be conducted, on the question of creating new states, it will fail with wide margins. The reason will be very clear.The creation of states has been more of a burden rather than a blessing to the East. It has separated and alienated once close neighbors; it has made the East far too politically, economically, and socially fragmented, and it has not solved the problems of the East. Indeed, the east had far better going for it when it was Eastern Nigeria or even East Central state than now with its five states, where nothing works. Resources that could have been used in solving the material and social concerns of the people are used in “administering” governors lodges and maintaining advisers to governors. Not much has accrued from the federation from the East from state creation.

For instance, the Federal government did not build new infrastructures for the Federal Medical Centres in Owerri or Umuahia, they used the existing facilities of the Queen Elizabeth Specialist Hospital and the Owerri General hospital; they appropriated the College of Agriculture in Umudike; the Alvan Ikoku College of education in Owerri and the State polytechnic at Nekede, Owerri and turned them into Federal institutions.
The so-called “federal presence” in the east from state creation is pure madoffy. So indeed, there is no great benefit from these matters. The greatest and most immediate need of the Igbo of the South east is not the creation of a new state: it is the creation and expansion of Research and Production infrastructure to re-engage and redirect Igbo productive ingenuity and energy.

It is the rehabilitation of Aba and Onitsha; two cities that have basically collapsed because even the current state structure is unable to maintain and expand them as epicenters of commerce and the nerves of regional economic activity; it is the rebuilding of schools and reforms in education: no new schools have been built in the east by any government since the 1980s; no new investments on existing schools or educational infrastructure. Anybody who doubts should visit the Government College Umuahia, once the most beautifully laid government school in Nigeria.

Today it is a sorry ghetto not fit for prisoners of war. The Abia state government is unable to maintain that vast estate. Notably, the same goes for the Government Colleges at Afikpo and Owerri. Yet these were properly maintained under the single Eastern regional government. Anybody who sees the state of government owned schools or hospitals or even the local community markets will understand that what the South east needs is not more states. It needs effective, visionary governance.

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