State Creation: Case for economically viable Savanna State from Borno

Posted by News Express | 5 June 2021 | 301 times

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States, provinces or regions, as the case may be, are essential components of federations and must meet certain conditions to make sense. To begin with, federalism is a mode of political organisation that unites separate states or other polities within an overarching political system in a way that allows each to maintain a measure of control over its territory, making it a federating unit. Nigeria is one of the 25 federations in the world, but with the queerest composition.

According  to UNDP  and  OECD  standards, population, land mass, economic viability, and human capacity are the  four  universal  elements  that  guarantee a  nation's  quest  at  providing  good  livelihood  to  her citizens . These factors ought to be the beacons guiding state creation in Nigeria, but it is hardly the case.

State creation in Nigeria has been essentially a military adventure with little or no real inputs from the citizens. Though some criteria have often been cited as guiding the exercise each time, the very nature of military governments did not permit objective assessment and interrogations of the processes that led to the new states. The military regime in power will always create the states it wanted, and that will be it.

Otherwise Savanna state is one that would have come into being if, indeed, the factors that would qualify an entity as a federating state have been fairly considered. During the last exercise conducted by the Gen Sani Abacha regime, the proposed Savannah state came second to Ekiti State in terms of rating. With the largest land mass and an attendant high population figure, projected at over 2 million as at 2020, why new states like Ekiti, Bayelsa and Gombe, much less than in all considerable criteria, came ahead of it, is still baffling.

Ordinarily, a federating state could be a nation if circumstances had allowed and in most federations, nationalities come together to form a union for political economies of scale. But, in the Nigerian experience, the reverse is the case: Nigerian nation was first forced into existence by the colonial power, Great Britain, and then the federating units were carved out of it by the variegated military authorities mostly on the whim.

One thing about state creation in Nigeria is that, apart from the first (4th region), they were all done by the military regimes, mostly swayed by politics rather than by economic viability. The creation of the Mid-Western Region in 1963 could pass as the first state creation that ever took place in Nigeria and the only one carried out under a civil rule. Even that too was tainted with politics.

Though, in Nigeria, state creation was originally conceived as a solution to the problems of ethnic minority groups, the main reason adducible for the creation of the Mid- Western Region could be to free the minorities of the Western Region. But informed observers believe the exercise was aimed by the ruling political parties to break Awo’s Action Group’s stranglehold on the Western Region and give them a leeway. Otherwise why didn’t the government of the day constituted by the Northern Peoples Congress (NPC) and National Council of Nigerian Citizens (NCNC) extend the same gesture to the minorities of their own Regions, namely, the Middle Belt and the South-south?

With benefit of hindsight, some informed minds have argued that if the minorities of the North and East were carved out at the same time, maybe, the Eastern Region would not have been such a powerful monolith to attempt to break away as Republic of Biafra and Nigeria would have balanced out as a federation of six regions and made faster progress as a united country.

Since this was not the case, how then were states created in Nigeria to miss out vital ones such as Savanna state? The second wave of state creation was in 1967, in the wake of the Nigeria Biafra war. It was meant to break the Eastern Region’s resolve to go away as an independent nation by dividing it up. This motive, again, was not economic or aimed at ensuring viability.

As the experience of the ethnic groups seeking to be carved out as Savanna state has shown, exploitative relationships have often characterised the interaction between the minority and the dominant group in Borno where the Kanuri hold the ace and calls the shot. The inferior status, which these Borno minority ethnic groups have donned over the decades, explains the conflict pervading the area, culminating in much of the space becoming ungoverned and reeking with insurgency.

What the ethnic minorities of Borno are facing is the same as what ethnic minorities worldwide go through. But the difference is that most countries of the world that have this problem find creative ways to eliminate or reduce minority situations. Rather than allow ethnocide and genocide to reign, more positive measures such as assimilation, constitutional safeguards, reversal of status and territorial solution have been employed by those other countries.

So, seeking a Savanna state by these minority ethnic groups is well within the solutions that have worked for other nations. Why the Savanna state seekers are desperately looking for a territorial solution is simply for the reason that the majority ethnic group has not allowed fairness, equity and social justice.

The quest for Savanna state dates back to 1982, when the people first presented the request for the creation to the National Assembly of the Second Republic. Between 1983 and 1996, again, especially during the agitation across the country in 1991 for the creation of more states, requests were made for the creation of two states out of the former Borno State, namely, Savanna and Yobe states. The request for the creation of Yobe State was granted, but that of Savanna was not for some inexplicable reasons. The people made the same submission at the National Constitutional Conference through its Committee on States Creation. In 2014, during the National Conference, it was again one of the fourteen (14) states recommended for creation in Nigeria.

The call for Savanna state has been renewed by the people, following the current effort by the 9th National Assembly, to carry out fundamental amendments of the nation’s grundnorm (the 1999 Constitution) to meet the aspirations of Nigerians. This is, therefore, an auspicious time to push it to the front-burner once more.

The principles that underpin the creation of  states  as stipulated  in  various  theories  internationally  and  locally include the  need  to  bring  government  closer  to  the people,  the  need  for  even  development,  the  need  to preserve  peace  and  harmony  among  groups,  the need  to  redress  minority  problems  and  the  need  to preserve  a  federal  structure  in  the  case  of  Nigeria.

One shares the position that state proliferation in Nigeria has not helped and there will be no end to it unless certain irreducible minimum standards warranting state creation are really set and adhered to, to ensure their viability. A situation where most states in Nigeria have to rely on federal allocation to pay salaries is not good enough.

However, the inability of the Nigerian states to hold their own as federating units without recourse to the Federal Government is simply borne out of the nature of federalism that Nigeria operates today, which has been variously described as “feeding bottle federalism.” But even at that, viability can still be calculated through what each state is bringing to table, and Savanna state can compete with most states in Nigeria.

The proposed Savanna state is rich in agriculture and can host agrarian revolution, attract direct foreign investors in the agro-allied sector to help Nigeria become self-sufficient in food productions and exportation. The area also holds great potential for global tourism given its unique cultural and natural endowments that is capable of changing the negative perception of the rest of the world towards Nigeria, raking in money to buoy the nation’s struggling economy and create millions of jobs in the value chain.

This quest is pursuant  to  and  in  fulfillment  of  the  provisions of section 8(1)(a) of  the 1999  Constitution  of  the  Federal Republic  of  Nigeria. The proposed Savanna state, to be carved out of the present-day Borno State, is to have the capital at Damboa and covers nine local governments, namely: Askira-Uba Local Government Area, Bayo Local Government Area, Biu Local Government Area, Chibok Local Government Area, Damboa Local Government Area, Gwoza Local Government Area, Hawul Local Government Area, Kwaya-Kusar Local Government Area, and Shani Local Government Area. The population of the proposed Savanna state is 2,000.000 as at September 7, 2020.

In terms of land mass, Borno State as at today is still the largest in the country with an area of about 69,436 sq. kms, and its further breakup will enhance self-determination, compatibility, equitable and even development, and responsive governance.  Borno State is too large for effective and efficient state administration and cannot foster even and accelerated development on which the state structure is premised. The practical inability of the government to provide these basic amenities and to harness the state’s rich agricultural potentials have led to socio-economic and political vices, including insurgency.

The proposed Savanna state is richly endowed with solid  minerals,  agricultural  products,  tourism  potentials and  human  resources  that  can  be  harnessed  to  lay  a solid  foundation  for  the  transformation  of  the  state, especially when solid minerals is  moved to the Concurrent List of the nation’s 1999 Constitution.

Some of the solid minerals found in commercial quantities in the area are: quartz, kaolin, iron ore, uranium and niobium oxide. Others are limestone, magnesium, bentonite, feldspar, mica, gypsum, granite, silica sand, corundum, sapphire and more.

The  proposed Savanna state is located  in  the Savanna vegetation  belt,  has  vast  fertile  land  for agricultural activities and is suitable for sorghum, millet, maize, cowpea, cotton,  groundnut, water melon, cassava, and wheat.

It is expected that the  members  of  the  National  Assembly,  aware  of  the  plights and  position of the people,  shall  dispassionately  look  into  the  merits of  the  demand  and  do the needful.

The vast human, agricultural, mineral,  industrial, commercial,  economic,  tourist  and  political  potentials of  southern  Borno  coupled  with  their  determination  will  make  the  difference. These indicators show that the proposed state has the capacity to develop even more rapidly than some existing states in the country.

State creation in Nigeria has more or less been arbitrarily carried out, paying greater attention to politics than to economic viability. This disposition can be attributed to military regimes, which lack checks and balances. But now that the elected National Assembly, which is answerable to the Nigerian people is in the saddle, it is expected that current exercise will right the wrongs of the past and give the quest for Savanna state the attention it deserves by creating it.

•Onwubiko, head of the Human Rights Writers Association of Nigeria and former federal commissioner of the Nigerian National Human Rights Commission, blogs;;

Source: News Express

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