The Need For Additional State In Southeast

The Need For Additional State In Southeast

27th April 2024, NewsOrient
Opinion And Column, News
By Emeka Alex Duru

You may have noticed the renewed zeal and passion at which the apex Igbo socio-cultural organisation, Ohanaeze Ndigbo, has been pushing the demand for additional states in the South East. It is not for nothing. That is always the case when a unit or component of a system is excluded from the mainstream. Such manifest injustice is usually a recipe for anarchy.

Nothing perhaps, triggers crisis or misunderstanding in a family as one of it being treated as a stranger. That is the type of treatment the South East geo-political zone is receiving in present day Nigeria. Among the six zones in the country, four – the North East, South West, South-South, North Central, have six states, each. North West has seven. Only the South East has five states – the least in the configuration, not on account of inferior or non-productive population but essentially because of the arrangement in the country that has been skewed against the people.

To be sure, the anomaly was not originally in the system. Following the amalgamation of the Northern and Southern Protectorates into one country by the highly opinionated British colonialist, Frederick Lugard in 1914, Nigeria took off on a two- region arrangement – North and South. At independence in 1960, the emerging leaders settled for a federal system of government anchored on the 1946 Richards Constitution that divided the country into the East, North and West. For equity and to give the Benin and Delta axis sense of belonging, the Mid-West Region was created in 1963.

On May 5, 1967 in the build up to the Civil War, General Yakubu Gowon, head of the federal military government, announced the division of the hitherto three regions into 12 states, in obvious move to check the influence of General Chukwuemeka Odumegwu-Ojukwu’s emergent Biafra in the East. The states created were the North-Western State, North-Eastern state, Kano State, North-Central State, Benue-Plateau State, Kwara State, Western State, Lagos State and Mid-Western State. From the old Eastern Region, Rivers State, South-Eastern State, and East-Central State were carved out. Despite the balkanization, the Noth and South regions had six states apiece.

The imbalance in the system began to take shape in1976, when General Murtala Muhammed, a major protagonist in the July 29, 1966 coup and key actor in the Civil War, who had toppled Gowon, created seven new states, ceding four to the North and three to the South. The inequity arising from the 19-state structure, has seen the South East holding the short end of the stick subsequently. Every other state creation exercise had followed that pattern.

Ohanaeze and indigenes of the South East, have ever since been making demands and presentations on the need to bring the zone at par with other regions in the country. At its retreat in Enugu the other day, Ohanaeze renewed the push for the quest. The group had earlier presented the request to the immediate past President, Muhammadu Buhari administration, demanding that an Executive Bill be sent to the National Assembly for the immediate creation of additional states and more local governments in the South-East. But the request was not heeded.

Ohanaeze has in the current dispensation, tabled the demand before President Bola Tinubu, asking him and the National Assembly to ensure that action is taken to create a new state in the South East in order to address the injustice in the region having only five states.

In its current agitation, Ohanaeze has threatened to sue the federal government if it failed to give the region an additional state equivalent to other zones in the country. A group of legal practitioners from the region, Igbo Lawyers Association (ILA) has keyed into the demand, pledging to support Ohanaeze in the campaign.

You may not blame Ohanaeze for considering this option. The group has been pushed to the wall. Frustration has set in. It is natural in a situation like this, in which, to paraphrase Ojukwu, one appears to be in a dialogue with the deaf.

To drive the point home, the President General of Ohanaeze, Dr. Emmanuel Iwuanyanwu, had referenced the obvious inequality and injustice the South East was recently subjected to in the appointment of members of the Federal Executive Council (FEC), in which altogether, 48
members were appointed and sworn in, but only five were taken from the region.

By the principle of Federal Character as enshrined in the 1999 constitution, as amended, the South East ought to have got at least eight ministers.

“This action has put the South East in an absolute minority in the Federal Executive Council. Ohanaeze-Ndigbo believes that equity and justice are fundamental prerequisites for an enduring harmonious relationship in a country such as Nigeria with many diversities”, Iwuanyanwu lamented.

As a corollary to the shortfall in the number of states in the region, out of the 774 councils in the country, the South East has 95 local government areas, the least compared to other zones. North-west has the largest number of local government areas with 186; North Central Zone has 114, while the South-South zone, has 125.

The lopsidedness in the local government distribution, places the South East at serious disadvantage, given that many appointments and openings in the country are made based on the equality of states and number of councils in each. Whether recruitment into the Army, admission in higher institutions, employment in the public service, Igbo are the least.

There are other implications. In the legislature, the zone is deprived of a whole State legislative assembly, the Federal House of Representatives, and three senators. The impact of this is also felt during the presidential primaries, where delegates are drawn from states and local governments. South East has also incurred a lot of financial loss over the years as revenues are allocated based on equality of state. It is that bad!

The situation runs against the principles of Reconciliation, Reconstruction and Rehabilitation (3Rs), enunciated by the federal government at the end of the 1967 – 1970 civil war. In admitting the need to correct the wrong done to the region, participants in the 2014 national conference, recommended creation of additional states for the south East. But that is yet to be done, making the people alienated.

There is no how Nigeria can claim to have ended the war against the Igbo when indices of injustice, inequity and other tendencies that gave rise to the field hostilities, still prevail. There can be no explanation whatsoever for the South East having only five states, while other zones have six or seven.

It is even being suggested that the current agitations and security challenges in the region are manifestations of exasperation by the youths at marginalisation by the federal government. For the sake of equity, justice and fairness, additional state should be created for the South East.

Emeka Alex Duru is the Editor of TheNiche Newspaper, Nigeria

~ NewsOrient