Creating more states in Nigeria was, and continues to be a bad idea
John O. Ifediora.
Nigeria, like its oil-exporting counterparts such as Venezuela, Iran, Algeria, and to a lesser extent, Indonesia, exhibits all the symptoms of a petrolized state —the near exclusive dependence on petrodollars to finance its fiscal expenditure, and private-sector consumption. But its development path, while yielding generally similar results to those of other oil-producing states is decidedly different. As is true with its peer oil-exporting countries, Nigeria’s development trajectory was determined by unique colonial experiences, and post-independence policy choices. In this regard, its decision to decentralize and diffuse political and economic power in the nation is pre-eminent in engendering the common experience of diminished state capacity, and atrophied non-oil sectors that have come to define petroleum-led development. Nigeria’s creation of thirty-six states, and a Federal Capital Territory in a very short time span sapped and misdirected needed revenue for development projects, and placed its economy on a downward trajectory through compromised social institutions, and a debased industrial capacity. That this is the case of Nigeria is facilitated by both rent-seeking behavior, and external influences. But first, a brief look at a history of misguided policy choices that has the country in a choke-hold.
The geopolitical concern that is today commonly known as Nigeria began its existence almost a 100 years ago through the efforts of British imperialist, Lord Frederick Luggard, who injudiciously (from the native’s perspective) amalgamated two ethnically, linguistically, and culturally distinct protectorates into a single entity (Ake, 1985). In the early 1900s, the British, in its quest to extend its colonial empire and secure extensive markets for its growing industrial capacity, gained control of three separate but contiguous regions that were malleable to administrative ease: its protectorates in the south and north, and the colony of Lagos (Ellah, 1982). By merging the Lagos colony with its southern protectorate, it became a matter of convenience and administrative facility to merge the southern and northern protectorates into a nation-state christened Nigeria. The disturbing fact that the newly minted country comprised more than 250 ethnic groups, of which the Igbo, the Yoruba, and the Hausa-Fulani constitute the major ones, was beside the goal of creating a ‘governable’ geopolitical entity that came into effect in 1914(Kirk-Green, 1968). The religious affiliations of the various groups, Islam, Animists, and Christianity gave the country a remarkable diversity that would later be a source of its discontent.
The creation of a nation-state from the consolidation of two regions made up of peoples with disparate, and in distinct respects, incompatible cultural and religious observances, was borne out of political and economic expediency (Bach, 1989). The northern region, mostly organized under a feudal economic regime had to be sustained economically by revenues derived, in large measures, from the southern region; and, with the exception of essential social infrastructure that were jointly held and necessary for governance (rail transportation, departments of education, and justice), both regions had very minimal contacts (Elaigwu, 1985). Thus by 1946 the country was, in effect, two separate going concerns with obvious schisms and fault lines defined by tradition, self-identity, and national orientation but constrained by common geographical boundaries. The Richardson’s constitution of 1946 allowed the creation of another region from the original two, and further dispersed any semblance of a unitary nation, for it enabled the Igbo to claim ownership of the newly created Eastern region (Kirk-Green, 1957). Nigeria, through this constitution, was thus sub-divided into three regions, Eastern, Western and Northern regions, each dominated by one of the major ethnic groups; the Igbo in the east, the Yoruba in the west, and the Hausa-Fulani in the north, and in between, a disgruntled multitude of smaller ethnic minorities now determined to prevent both political and economic subjugation.
In 1960 when Nigeria finally gained political independence from Britain, it inherited the three regions created in 1946. As was the case in many African countries that were created by colonial rulers, Nigerian statehood preceded and undermined the crucial goal of nation-building, and as such the country became a country inhabited by many ‘nations’, each striving to maintain its unique cultural heritage, linguistic identity, and self-preservation as a distinct people(Bayero, 1990). But by achieving each of these group-preserving goals, the nation-state of Nigeria was further removed from the ‘official’ aspiration of national integration that could, with time and diligence, bring into existence a nation with a defined sense of collective identity. This goal, however, has remained elusive because all ethnic groups in the country, by temperament condition by tradition, have continued to prefer the sub-national arena as their loci for political and social identification.
In order to achieve the goal of national integration, and thus move Nigeria away from destabilizing ethno-centric politics, successive governments embarked on further divisions of the regions to create more states with the expectation that, as more groups were given the right to semi-self governance through a state they could claim as theirs, a loosely governed federation would facilitate the establishment of an enduring nation, and economic prosperity for individual states and their citizenry (Okpu, 1977). Moreover, the quest for self-governance by some of the major ethnic groups soon after independence added the needed impetus for the creation of more states, and by 1963 one more region was added to the federation. In 1967, the four regions evolved into twelve states; seven more were created in 1976, and by 1987 a total of twenty-one states had been created. Between 1991 and 1996 fifteen additional states were added to the lot, and today Nigeria is formally comprised of thirty-six states and the federal Capital Territory, Abuja.
It should be noted that the initial impetus to create more states derived from the political necessity to accommodate the fears of social and economic marginalization harbored by many ethnic groups (Okilo, 1980). By the 1970s, the drive for more states could no longer be justified by concerns of political and economic subjugation; oil had become a major source of revenue, and the political elites needed more avenues to access its benefits, thus the drive for more states (Ikelegbe, 2001). In 1970, for example, the military government changed the formula by which oil revenue was shared amongst the states. The new one set aside 50% of oil revenue in a Distribution Pool Account and allocated the funds equally to the states, and another 50% was proportionally distributed on the basis of the state’s population (Enugwom, 2001). This new formula meant that ethnic groups that remained intact were disadvantaged; more states from these groups were needed to off-set the obvious disadvantage. Thus as more states were created from a former region or ethnic group, more oil revenue accrued to that part of the country. The Ibos wanted more states in the Eastern region, and so did the Hausa-Fulanis in the Northern region, and the Yorubas in the Western region. The politics of assert sharing effectively became the driving force for state creation.
As of 2017, presumed benefits from the multiplicity of states are yet to materialize – –the country exhibits many of the worst social and economic indicators in the world. More than seventy-five million of its citizens live below the poverty line; twelve million children are not engaged in formal education; one in five children die before the age of five in a country with an average life expectancy of forty-seven years. (World Bank, 2011). It is such upside-down federalism that has allowed state governments and their respective governors to live on hand-outs from the federal government without accountability to the governed, and has transferred to the governors disproportionate powers that approximate those of former African traditional rulers or chiefs, but with one exception … they cultivate and rely on the same patron-client relationship but lack the consequent obligations (Seligson, 2002). In practice, therefore, Nigeria’s ‘democracy at the national level is superimposed on a network of 36 autocratic states….the creation of more states has provided extra opportunities for contracts for the few, corruption, and patronage’ (London Financial Times, 2004). The result so far, as the data and empirical observations show, is a country in various stages of economic and social stress … plagued by environmental decay, decrepit infrastructure, unsustainable debt-load, poorly educated work-force, a failing educational system, and a healthcare sector that is all but non-existent ……never mind the continuous weakening of the Naira that has shot the inflation rate to unprecedented levels. If these are the outcome of multiplication of states, then of what use is an additional state that cannot sustain itself without help from the center?