Tuesday 17 March 2009

Nigeria: No new states precursor to abolishing them

Asexual cell division

Nigeria in some cases is very much like some organism that undergoes asexual reproduction by cell division and this refers to the state and states of Nigeria [1].

There was a time when Nigeria consisted of just 3 regions, when I was in childhood it had 12 states, by the time I left Nigeria it had 21 and today it has 36 states.

All these states are still within the same land area that has been called Nigeria for about 50 years.

Pools of federal character

I wrote a blog last year on the President’s prerogative in choosing his cabinet and opined that we had too many pools but too few talent pools [2], a point that AfricanLoft [3] showcased to a wider community.

Written into the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria [4] is the concept of Federal Character governed by a Federal Character Commission, the purpose of which it is to promote national unity by seeking uniform representation in federal appointments made under the auspices of the President.

This is defined under Section 318 (1) as “federal character of Nigeria” refers to the distinctive desire of the peoples of Nigeria to promote national unity, foster national loyalty and give every citizen of Nigeria a sense of belonging to the nation as expressed in section 14 (3) and (4) of this constitution;

Those two sub-sections read as follows –

Section 14 (3) The composition of the Government of the Federation or any of its agencies and the conduct of its affairs shall be carried out in such a manner as to reflect the federal character of Nigeria and the need to promote national unity, and also to command national loyalty, thereby ensuring that there shall be no predominance of persons from a few State or from a few ethnic or other sectional groups in that Government or in any of its agencies.

Section 14 (4) The composition of the Government of a State, a local government council, or any of the agencies of such Government or council, and the conduct of the affairs of the Government or council or such agencies shall be carried out in such manner as to recognise the diversity of the people within its area of authority and the need to promote a sense of belonging and loyalty among all the people of the Federation.

Supreme Court Sector Selections

This is fair enough in general sense, but is there a trade-off between representation to fulfil the federal character and the available competent personnel to serve the country?

This became a matter of interest to me when I read that two new justices of the Supreme Court of Nigeria had been sworn in [5], one of them a lady, making two ladies on the highest bench but reading further into the article whilst we were not told where the new justices hailed from we were informed the departing justices came from North-Central and South-West sectors of the country.

There are now 17 judges on the Supreme Court of Nigeria [6], the number must not exceed 21 and it would be difficult to apply a full federal character posture on appointments to this court from 36 states so there is a variation of the federal character paradigm to the selection process which gives one some concern.

I would hope that judges appointed to the Supreme Court of Nigeria are there for their acute legal minds, ability to interpret the constitution with gravitas and level-headedness without necessarily having to fulfil political quotas of tribal, state or regional representation – the courts cannot afford appointments that are not chiefly by merit.

Competing for influence

However, in an excerpted piece from a book by Rotimi Suberu titled Federalism and Ethnic Conflict in Nigeria [7], he states whist supporting the need for the federal character principle that “the “federal character” principles in the Nigerian constitution also serve as a Rorschach test [8] for the national family’s dysfunction.

The principles are interpreted as a mandate for the central government to represent and aid all groups. However laudable and necessary the principles are for a multi-ethnic nation ... efforts to implement them have cultivated resentment between winners and losers competing for slots in governmental institutions”.

Quite an interesting insight he gives to the issue of federal character and how it works or does not work in the context of Nigeria.

Abolish states

However, coming back round to the core of the topic about states and representation in Nigerian, Admiral Mike Akhigbe who was de facto vice President after the death of the despotic General Sani Abacha suggested states be abolished [9] and be subsumed under wider geopolitical zones with the state structures becoming more like larger local government councils.

Suggesting six geo-political zones he states that there are too many resource sapping administrative units in the country that impact of economic development, he opined that states as they are weaken the federal structure of Nigeria.

Saying that there should be more to improve the well being of the Nigerian people rather than creating new political administrative units.

I think those views need to be fleshed out more and given a bigger forum for debate, the creation of new political administrative units creates a divisive “cake sharing” fixation where states and groups are more keen on grabbing a larger slice of federal disbursements than expanding the size of the nation’s output as Mr. Suberu writes.

Thoughts for Nigeria at 50

It no doubt fuels conflict rather than cohesion and it should become part of the agenda for what should Nigeria be doing when it clocks 50.

This whole idea of subsuming states to create broader talent pools of representation to allow for real quality to help in the development of Nigeria cannot be bad, but we have an uphill task against vested self-serving interests who require fiefdoms from where to exercise power and peddle undue influence.

However, this is a seed sown and we shall water it until it germinates, grows and bears fruit, I expect to find much mileage in this – meanwhile – No New States!


[1] States of Nigeria - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

[2] Nigeria: Removing influence from selecting the cabinet [akin.blog-city.com]

[3] Nigeria: “Too many pools very few talent pools” | AfricanLoft

[4] Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria

[5] allAfrica.com: Nigeria: Kutigi Swears in New Female Supreme Court Justice

[6] Supreme Court of Nigeria, Abuja

[7] Federalism and Ethnic Conflict in Nigeria. By Rotimi N. Suberu. Washington, D.C.: Institute of Peace Press, 2001. ISBN-10: 1929223285 ISBN-13: 978-1929223282 - Amazon

[8] Rorschach inkblot test - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

[9] The Sun News On-line: States should be abolished — Akhigbe

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