One of the most crucial aspects of the on-going review of the 1999 Constitution is the demand for the formation of new states out of the current 36. As at the time of writing this, the National Assembly Committee on Constitution Review had received 56 memoranda from various groups and movements agitating for new states, each one believing and insisting that its demand must not be turned down. But the big question is: do we really need more states? I had dealt with this thoroughly in my blog post last year. Nonetheless, let me restate my position here.
A lot of the calls for new states is based upon cries of marginalization, both real and perceived, on the one hand; on the other hand, many are based upon geo-political balancing, such as the agitation by the people of the South-East to have at least 2 more states created to bring them at par with the North-West, or other zones at least. However, what very few have paused to ask is if these states will be viable, or even how many of the states at present are self-sustainable.
Most of the states at present live on allocation from the Federal Government. If money is not allocated for 2 months, all but 3 to 5 of the states at present will declare bankruptcy. It is sad to note that these states have refused to build an economic base from which they can generate revenue through the taxing of economic activities. This is not because they are unable to do so; rather, they choose to be financially irresponsible with the money they receive and instead launch white-elephant projects because they believe and are assured that the Federal Government will always send them allocations at the end of the month.
Will the proposed new states be any different? I am afraid not. What they will end up doing is reduce the amount of money each state can get as what is available is shared out to more states. It will also only create new elites in each of these states.
Also, creating new states would not solve the issue of marginalization. Rather, it will create newly-marginalized persons. If Apa State is created out of present Benue State to assuage the feelings of the Idoma people, it will only be a matter of time before the Igede and Itulo ethnic groups would start complaining of marginalization. If the Kogi East Senatorial District were to be given a state, it is inevitable that the Ogori-Magongo ethnic group and other small ethnic groups there would be supressed by the Ebira ethnic group. It is ridiculous that even in states which are homogenous in ethnicity and religion such as Abia and Kano States, cries of marginalization and cries for new states still exist.
This is because Nigerians generally at present have a scarcity mind-set – the belief that the resources and opportunities are few, so ‘we’ should corner it all lest the others come and take it from us. This mind-set does not encourage competition and collaboration to create wealth for everyone.
Marginalization is able to thrive because there is no competitive system in Nigeria and its component units. In a state where the emphasis is on performance, it matters little or nothing that the best person for the job is one ethnic group/religion or the other; or that the most qualified person seeking school admission is from one part of the state or the other. What will matter is that they are the best applicants; period!
So what then is the solution to all these cries of marginalization?
We need to tinker with the structure of governance we have in Nigeria currently so that competition comes into play. The best way to go about that is to implement fiscal federalism, where rather than the Federal Government funds the states via allocations, it is the states that support the Federal Government by sending a percentage of its revenues to the centre. The states will earn revenues by changing the tax code so that a large chunk of monies from value-added taxes, petroleum and mining royalties accrue to the states rather than the present arrangement where it all goes to the Federal Government and is then shared down.
This will make the states to desire to generate more revenues by creating policies and providing infrastructure and services that will spur business activities which will be taxed. This will then make them place emphasis on merit rather than sentiments such as ethnicity, religion and region in employing workers into its civil services, siting infrastructure and granting admission to prospective students. With this, cries of marginalization will reduce to a minimum, and even die out, because an all-inclusive society has been created. This is the Nigeria that was experienced in the First Republic when the 3 regions competed amongst themselves, spurring development.
The demands for new states is almost all based on cries of marginalization, real and perceived, which is as a result of allowing sentiments to be used in decision-making instead of merit.
Sentiments do not survive true competition