FEATURE ARTICLE

Benedict OkerekeTuesday, April 11, 2006
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obenox@hotmail.com
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THE NATIONAL ASSEMBLY AND THE SIXTH SOUTH-EAST STATE


ecause the present 36 states in Nigeria are creations of the military through decrees, there were lesser debates and consultations among the Nigerian people each time the exercises took place; today, in a democratic set-up, the much more minor exercise of creating the sixth state in the South-East geo-political zone appears to be attracting some level of debate, albeit more than expected.


Perhaps the most repulsive and undemocratic impression so far emanating from the debate is the insinuation that states in Nigeria are mere creations to satisfy the territorial dreams and contraptions of some indegent prominent politician or politicians; the corollary is: states are not created to satisfy the masses in the areas that deserve them. Listening to the debates, you are wont to believe that the National Assembly is not in possession of the data, trends, history and parameters regarding past state creation exercises in the South-East; that a single politician has the master-stroke when it comes to telling the rest of Nigeria, nay the National Assembly, which area in the South-East of Nigera deserves the new state.

When it was agreed by Nigerians at the National Political Reforms Conference that a sixth state is imperative for the South-East zone to balance the existing deficiency in the area, many in the zone thought it would not be difficult arriving at a consensus regarding the area the new state must be located given the history of states' creation in the South-East zone.

But given the fact that we are now in a democracy and opinions take time to converge, there appears the necessity for debates, consultations and compromises in order to arrive at a consensus as to where the new state is to be located. But, at the end, one thing must emerge: by the time the members of the National Assembly sit back and roll out the various criteria for state creation regarding the new state in the South-East, scrutinise the various demands for states presented before them, and consider the previous trends in states' creation exercises in the South-East zone, the area that deserves the new state must have it.

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For those not conversant with the distribution of states in the zone, the trend is as follows: The South-East zone is made up of the old Anambra and Imo states, in other words, the old East Central state.

The old Anambra state was made up of the Old Abakaliki, Awka, Enugu, Nsukka and Onitsha senatorial zones.

The old Imo state was made up of the old Aba, Okigwe, Orlu, Owerri and Umuahia senatorial zones.

As at today, Anambra state is made up of the old Awka and the old Onitsha senatorial zones.

Abia state is composed mainly of the old Aba and the old Umuahia senatorial zones with a little portion of the old Okigwe senatorial zone, namely, the town of Isuikwuato and its environs ceded to it.

Ebonyi state is made up mainly of the old Abakaliki senatorial zone with some portion of the old Okigwe senatorial zone, namely, Afikpo and its evirons ceded to it.

Enugu state is composed of the old Enugu and the old Nsukka senatorial zones.

Imo State is composed of the old Orlu, and the old Owerri senatorial zones as well as the remnants (by far the largest portion) of the old Okigwe senatorial zone.

In summary: in the then East Central state (South-East zone), latter split into Anambra and Imo states, apart from the Afikpo area taken from the old Imo State and joined to Ebonyi state, subsequent states' creation exercises had resulted in the old Anambra state now having 3 states namely, Anambra, Enugu and Ebonyi; while the old Imo state now has 2, namely, Abia and Imo states.

To smoothen the exercise of creating the sixth South-East state, the apex Igbo organization, the Ohaneze Nd'Igbo set up a committee to harness the various demands for states, scrutinise and shortlist the states that merit creation and forward same to the National Assembly to choose one for legalisation.

Considering the parameters for state creation such as homogenity of the indigenous population of the proposed state, economic viability, contiguity and definitive boundaries, number of existent local government areas, historical, cultural and political ties, etc, the Ohaneze committee pruned the various demands for states to three, namely: Aba, Adada and Njaba. Observers see the committee's hesitation to outrightly pronounce the obvious - the state to be created - as a good public relations gimmick; after all, feathers need not be ruffled in this exercise.

Perhaps to preclude some bizarre demands that are assailable at the National Assembly, and to prevent confusion in the exercise, no less a person than the former vice-president of Nigeria, Alex Ekwueme, made a very early appearance before the Ohaneze committee on the sixth state for the South-East. Considering Ekwueme's antecedents, he is expected to possess the relevant facts and data needed to hoist the road map for the new state's creation.

But in an area often characterised at any critical turn by a few posing as leaders but still subscribing to the self-defeating and much-vaunted absence of hegemony, or rather, outright disrespect for the concept, there still exists some pocket of dissenters making some outlandish demands for states.

The former vice president proposed the creation of Njaba state before the Ohaneze committee.

At the end of the committee's sittings, the areas it declared met its requirements for state creation are Njaba (a combination of the Orlu senatoria zone with 12 Local Government Areas - LGA's - in Imo state with some LGA's in Anambra state) totaing 14 LGA's; Aba (made up of the Aba senatoria zone) with 9 LGA's; and Adada (made up of Nsukka senatorial zone in Enugu state) with 7 LGA's.

Of course, given the various criteria an area must meet before it merits to be created a state, and given the statistics above, this writer has no option but to root for the creation of Njaba state.

To further buttress up the above argument:

  1. The proposed Njaba state with 14 LGA's apart from being the densest with indigenous population in Nigeria, the Orlu senatorial zone (which forms the major part of the proposed Njaba state) with 12 local government areas is among the most populous, if not the most indigenously populated senatorial zone in Nigeria.

  2. The parts of Anambra state being proposed to merge with the Orlu senatorial zone for the proposed Njaba state have for ages had a lot of historical ties to the Orlu area. At least, that most of these areas from Anambra state belong to the decades-old Orlu Catholic Diocese attests to the historical, cultural and religious ties and the homogenity of the people in the proposed Njaba state. A trip to this area must reveal a frenzied demand for the proposed state.

  3. In the old Imo state, Orlu was the acclaimed industrial and commercial hub of the state after Aba. Close to two decades after, there is no iota of doubt that the proposed Njaba state shall not suffer any viability problems.

  4. The Orlu senatorial zone remains the oil producing zone in Nigeria and has over the decades been contributing its quota to the growth of Nigeria but has seen little development in return. Therefore, the creation of the well-deserved Njaba state shall serve as a consolation of sort to this zone to at least, enhance its accelerated development.

  5. The decades' old demand for Njaba state ought to have been met as the sixth state for the South-East when Ebonyi state was created some years back; hence, this time, the people in the proposed state are expecting that justice be done.

  6. Nigerians saw the need to balance, at least, to some degree, the equation of states among the geopolitical zones in the country, hence the accord to create the sixth state in the South-East. The creation of Njaba state out of the present Imo and Anambra states goes a long way to address the issue of the existing inequity in the number of states between the old Anambra with three, and the old Imo with two states.

  7. No well-meaning Nigerian can afford to deny the status of a state to an array of 14 LGA's as constituted in the proposed Njaba state in preference to the 9 and 7 LGA's obtainable in either of the other two proposals made by the Ohaneze committee.

  8. A state is created for the masses yearning for it, and not for the princpal politicians in the area. Politicians come and go. The state outlives them. Generation after generation occupy and develop the state. If a plebiscite is conducted today, it must be revealed that an overwhelming majority of the people in the area clamouring for Njaba state is unanimous about it. Therefore, there is no point adopting a utopian state creation parameter that every Dick, Tom and Harry in the proposed state must say Amen to the proposal before the state is created. We must give countenance to the reality that we are now in a democracy. If we had conducted former state creation exercises along such a parameter that was bound to elicit rancorous debates, perhaps none of the existing 36 states could have come into existence.

If the senator from this area whose name over the decades appeared inextricable from the appellation, Orlu, and who, all things being equal, was supposed to have initiated the consultations and demand for Njaba state has seemingly turned around to malign the proposal, because, according to him, he was not consulted first by others, this must not be sinisterly exploited by other state agitators. It is a common feature the world over that politicians brawl openely among themselves, but in their caucus they adopt a single modus operandum: in politics ther are no permanent friends, no permanent enemies.

If at this moment our esteemed senator has not yet applied his characteristic easy change of attitude, he is hereby implored to do so and join the other stake holders in bringing to fruition the proposed Njaba state. The present generation and those yet unborn in the proposed state shall forever be grateful to him and his colleagues.

Whereas we do not expect the people of the South-East to sing in chorus, especially when such an exercise as state creation is taking place, we however, expect the dissenters to look deeply inward and be guarded by the sense of fair-play, moreso, when it is not in their general interest to present assailable demands for states before the National Assembly.

In any circumstance, considering the source, course, and mouth of the Orashi River, no map drawer without some sinister motives can afford to exclude the local government areas of Nkwerre, Orlu, Ideato-South and Orsu in Imo state from any appertainance to this river which cuts right across in some, and in others, flows along the immediate peripheries of these local government areas. In a congenial atmosphere, the demands for Orashi and Njaba states ought to have converged.

At the end, the onerous task of legalising the sixth South-East state lies with the National Assembly, and we expect the members of the Assembly to take a good look at the available data, and keep the most open of minds in doing justice to the exercise. The demand for Njaba state is decades old. Given the calibre of men and women populating the National Assembly, especially since 2003, and given the quality of debates emanating therefrom, it is obvious that no single individual or group with sinister motives can afford to twist the Assembly members' arms so as not to answer to the decades-old demand of millions in this area of the South-East for Njaba state.

Happy deliberations!