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Constitution amendment: Will new states ever be created?


It is a vexed issue in the polity and one that could easily ignite uproars from different segments of the Nigerian nation. This is apparent to watchers of the National Assembly who see traditional rulers, serving and former legislators as well as political stakeholders from different communities leading their state creation committees to the National legislature every passing session.

Towards the 2010 Constitution amendment, delegation after delegation stormed the National Assembly to present their request for state creation. On many occasions, the large crowd mustered by such delegations disrupted the operations of the National Assembly, especially for those that mobilize traditional dancers and even masquerades as parts of their delegations.

It was a huge assignment for the Senator Ike Ekweremadu-led Constitution Amendment Committee in the Senate and its counterpart then in the House of Representatives then led by Hon. Usman Bayero Nafada to manage these delegations. But at the close of work in 2010, the National Assembly jettisoned the state creation process, opting to stick to issues that could facilitate free and fair election.

With the flagging off of the second amendment process by the Seventh National Assembly, the campaigners for state creation kick-started their thing once again. Delegations started storming the chambers of the Senate and the House of Representatives, demanding creation of states. They came from the North, East, West and South South.

For the Deputy Senate President, Senator Ike Ekweremadu, who again leads the current charge for constitution amendment, it was a herculean task. His counterpart in the House of Representatives, Hon Emeka Ihedioha, is also not finding things easy. Ekweremadu said at a point that no fewer than 56 requests had been made for state creation, with some of the existing states having three or four requests. Though the National Assembly has refused to discourage the agitators, it was obvious that only the constitution will guide the eventual position of the National Assembly on the matter. Ekweremadu had, last year, called the attention of the agitators to the provisions of the 1999 Constitution as amended, saying that the procedure was however not insurmountable.

Notwithstanding the occasional interjections by Senator Ekweremadu, directing the attention of state creation agitators to the provisions of the 1999 Constitution, it appears that their hopes will be dashed when the new constitution is unveiled.

Already, Ekweremadu’s committee in the Senate has discovered the agitators have failed to meet the criteria set by the constitution for state creation. Whereas the procedures were spelt out, the agitators only come to the National Assembly with memoranda from their communities signed by political leaders and traditional rulers, sometimes backed with the proposed map of the new state.

Section 8 of the constitution highlights the conditions for creation of states and alteration of existing boundaries. The Section reads: “8. (1) An Act of the National Assembly for the purpose of creating a new

State shall only be passed if “(a) a request, supported by at least two-thirds majority of members (representing the area demanding the creation of the new State) in each of the following, namely:

“(i) the Senate and the House of Representatives,

“(ii) the House of Assembly in respect of the area, and

“(iii) the local government councils in respect of the area, is received by the National Assembly;

“(b) a proposal for the creation of the State is thereafter approved in a referendum by at least two-thirds majority of the people of the area

where the demand for creation of the State originated;

(c) the result of the referendum is then approved by a simple majority of all the States of the Federation supported by a simple majority of

members of the Houses of Assembly; and

“(d) the proposal is approved by a resolution passed by two-thirds majority of members of each House of the National Assembly.”

Contrary to the above procedure, state creation agitators have been presenting resolutions of their various communities endorsed by members of their state creation committees and sometimes the traditional rulers. It should not come as a surprise that the current exercise at constitution amendment could again leave the state creation issue behind.

Senator Ekweremadu, whose committee had promised a new constitution by July, dropped the bombshell on Monday when he appeared to dash the hopes of state creation agitators. Though he insisted that state creation was an issue that the National Assembly could take up any time, he indeed indicated that going by the submissions before his Ccmmittee, the agitators had failed the test this time. The good thing however is that the issue can be taken up any time a community meets the conditions stipulated in the constitution.

Ekweremadu told newsmen: “People think they will come to Abuja and submit memoranda and the National Assembly will deliberate on it and then subsequently announce that so and so states have been created.

“Unfortunately, that is not the case. What happens is that you have to receive a request pursuant to section 8(1) of the Constitution. That section 8(1), I will like all of you to go and read it because it is going to be a major debate by the time we start debate on amendment of the Constitution.

“When we receive a request, that request must, as a matter of constitutional requirement, have the signature of the two-thirds of the local government council of the affected area requesting for the state.

“So, that includes the councillors and the chairmen of the council from the area requesting for the state. And you must know these must be elected councillors and chairmen because the constitution did not envisaged caretaker committees.

“If it is found out that they are not elected chairmen, that means that they have not fulfilled that obligation. Furthermore, there must be signature of the two-thirds of the state assemblies from those respective areas requesting for a state. “Then, there will be two-thirds signature of the National Assembly. What has happened now is that, our traditional rulers, out of the love for their people, quickly signed the request for creation of state and came and submitted it  in Abuja without looking at what the constitution says.

“They are not the ones who should be signatories, it has to be parliamentarians. My own understanding of the constitution is that it is not just going to be parliamentarians but serving parliamentarians, that is, sitting members, not those who were members in 1960.

“That is one of the details people have avoided in making these requests. So this is one of the constraints. But for us, we support creation of states. But you have to follow the procedure laid down by the constitution which most people are trying to avoid. That is our stand on it.”

The Deputy Senate President has raised fundamental issues, which confirm the fact that all the activities of state creation agitators so far amounted to ceremonies that merely entertained National Assembly members. State creation agitators have to return to the drawing board to be able to meet the difficult procedures analysed in Section 8(1a-d) of the Constitution.

The challenges the agitators will face appear enormous. While they can easily secure two-thirds signatures of the particular area seeking a new state, it could be difficult securing two thirds approval of the people of existing states and even the state House of Assembly, especially in a situation where three demands have emanated from an existing state. In that case, it would also be difficult to secure two-third signatures of members of the Senate, the House of Representatives and even the State Assembly to back up a claim.

From available records, the Nigerian map has changed seven times from 1914, when the British colonialists merged the Southern and Northern Protectorates to create a country called Nigeria. Thus, from 1914 to date, the Nigerian map has changed seven times. The dates include the creation of three Regions in 1946; addition of another Region in 1963 under the Tafawa Balewa administration; creation of 12 States in 1967 by the Yakubu Gowon administration, creation of 19 states by the General Murtala Mohammed regime in 1976; creation of 21 states by the General Babangida regime in 1987 and 30 states in 1991 as well as the creation of 36 states by General Sani Abacha regime in 1996.

Experts on the Nigerian Constitution have posited that the persistent demand for state creation is rooted in the formation of the Nigerian state itself and that contrary to the natural courses which led to the creation of many known states especially in the Western world today, Nigeria emerged from the shackles of colonialism having its cultures, tradition and peoples muddled together for geographical convenience.

In a paper titled “Constitution Amendment Ndigbo and the Quest State Creation,” presented in Lagos in February 2012, Senator Ekweremadu had noted that “Contrary to the natural course of federalism in which previously existing distinct states enter into a contract of union of their own volition for the mutual benefit of all federating units, the reverse was the case for Nigeria. In our case, heterogeneous societies conquered by the rampaging British and formed into the Southern Protectorate, Northern Protectorate, and the Colony of Lagos (later collapsed into the Southern Protectorate in 1906) were amalgamated by colonial fiat in 1914.

“The Richards Constitution of 1946 introduced regionalism. Even though the Southern Protectorate was further split into Western Province and Eastern Province in 1939, while the McPherson Constitution of 1951 configured Nigeria into a semi-federal state, it was the Lyttleton Constitution of 1954 that effectively structured Nigeria into a true regional federalism.”

Now that the true diagnosis is being made, how can the political class surmount this challenge? The solution would lie in political stakeholders imbibing elements of fairness and justice in running the affairs of the existing states. Adherence to principles of Federal Character as enshrined in the 1999 Constitution could also lessen the agitation. As long as ethnic nationalities continue to feel rejected and marginalized in the existing structures, request for self determination through state creation would continue to grow.

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