That the creation of an additional state in the South-East geopolitical zone of Nigeria to bring the zone at par with other zones in the country has become imperative is no longer debatable. What is worrisome to many in the zone as well as keen observers in other zones now is, among all the contenders for this additional state in the South-East, which group truly deserves the new state?
By Chuks OLUIGBO and Modestus OKAFOR
The agitation for the creation of additional states in Nigeria, which has not ceased since 1996 when the then military Head of State, General Sani Abacha, added six new states to the already existing thirty states, has recently received a renewed impetus from various sections of Nigeria, especially following the hint that the National Assembly may soon embark on a constitutional review to accommodate the issue of state creation, among other matters. At the present time, there are agitations from almost all the geo-political regions of the country. These include Ibadan, Oke Ogun and New Oyo from Oyo State, Ijebu-Remo from Ogun, Apa from Benue, Okun and Confluence from Kogi, Edu from Kwara, Kogi and Niger, Borgu from Niger, Oluwa from Lagos, Oduduwa and Ijesa from Osun, Ogoja from Cross River, Urhobo from Delta, Toru-Ebe from Delta, Edo and Ondo, Southern Kaduna from Kaduna, etc. The South-East geopolitical zone, which everybody agrees is the greatest loser in all the state creation exercises in the country so far, since it has only five states as against six by the South-West, South-South, North-East and North-Central, and seven by the North-West, is not left out in this renewed clamour.
In all this, however, many analysts are agreed that while other zones cannot be denied their rights to demand for the creation of additional states in their regions, what is imperative now, for the purpose of achieving equity and fairness within the Nigerian polity and giving the South-East region a sense of belonging, is, first and foremost, the creation of one more state in the South-East to bring it at par with the other regions of Nigeria. Thereafter, future state creation exercise, if such becomes necessary, must take into cognisance balance among the six geo-political zones to ensure that no one zone feels cheated out or marginalised.
The South-East Governors’ Forum, rising from its meeting in Enugu recently, added its voice to the call on the National Assembly to facilitate the creation of additional state for the zone and the subsequent adherence to equality of constituting states in the zones in every constitutional reform. Speaking through its chairman, Peter Obi of Anambra state, the Forum said: “What we are asking is not just the creation of additional state for the South-East but the insistence on the equality of states among the zones.” This call is in line with the age-long cry against this deficit by the apex pan-Igbo socio-cultural organization, Ohanaeze Ndigbo, youth groups, several notable nationalists, among others. Experts have also gone further to calculate the huge cost that the region has incurred, both in political and economic terms, due to the shortfall in the number of states.
The last attempt on constitutional review embarked upon by the National Assembly in 2005, which was however suspended all in an attempt to thwart President Obasanjo’s third-term agenda, saw many state creation movements emerging within the South-East zone. Ever since, and with the mindset that the zone must necessarily benefit from any further state creation exercise in the country, many more movements have come up. These include Aba, Adada, Anioma, Equity, Igboezue, Njaba, Orashi, Orimili, and Ugwuaku. These state creation movements, from all indications, are still intact and ready to dust their papers and files to resume their agitations any time the National Assembly calls for representations. But the pertinent question here is: among all these state creation movements in the South-East, which is most deserving of this new ‘equalization state’? Let us take a critical look at the various units and their arguments.
One of the foremost state creation movements in the zone is the Aba State Movement. Aba needs no introduction in the economic history of Nigeria. The two syllable-word city hosts one of the largest markets in West Africa and boasts of being the abode of the most industrious and ingenious people in Nigeria. The proposed state comprising the Ukwa and Ngwa ethnic nationalities of present day Abia State would have Aba town as its capital. The area, a typical rainforest, has a large deposit of petroleum and gas and could likewise be tagged a Niger Delta area.
To the proponents of the Aba State Movement and the entire people of Ukwa-Ngwa, the domination of the political landscape of the young state of Abia and the conscious subjugation of the people that raise the state’s tax through their market and oil wells are reasons they have to roll up their sleeves and achieve this constitutional mandate of a separate state. While the Umuahia-Bende-Arochukwu people have shared political positions in the state among themselves through hook and crook, they have also gone ahead to neglect Aba town, leaving it bare, bereft of necessary infrastructure of good roads, potable water, health facilities, tertiary institutions, et cetera. Yet they swoop through the town regularly to raise internally generated revenue. This, for the Ukwa-Ngwa people, is the justification to seek a separate identity.
Buttressing this point, a frontline member of the Aba State Movement, Mr. Uzoma Azuogu, said: “Aba State, which has a population of over 3 million, was approved for creation in 1983 alongside Jigawa, Adamawa, Kogi, Taraba and Enugu”, but these states were created, leaving Aba out. He emphasized that if the criterion for granting a state is viability, the proposed state is qualified. “Kindly note that the proposed Aba State is part of the Niger Delta, with more than 66 oil producing wells at present and more than 20 wells capped, waiting for drilling,” he said.
Another major state creation movement, Orashi State Movement, had in a couple of years back taken its campaign to the length and breadth of the country. Orashi State, which is to be carved out of Imo, Anambra and Rivers States, is championed by Senator Arthur Nzeribe who represented the 12 LGAs of Orlu Senatorial Zone at the Senate. The proposed state seeks to unite the riverine communities of Ohaji-Egbema and Oguta with their neighbours from Rivers and Anambra States. And this is the main point of argument of the Orashi advocates: that it is the desire to be with their kith and kin in Rivers and Anambra States that is their major driving force to demand for a state.
Sampson Akwafuo in “The need for an additional state in the South-East”, had presented Urasi (Orashi) State as the most viable proposal among all the proposed states in the South-East. His reason: “The communities proposed to be included in Equity State are scarcely populated and we may not meet the minimum requirements in terms of population and local governments. While other proposals are to be created from one existing state, Urasi State is proposed to be created from two states in the region, comprising of the most densely populated districts of the South-East Region.” Quoting the 2006 Population Census which, according to him, showed that Anambra and Imo constitute about 51% of the population of the entire South-East zone, he said: “In land distribution, Anambra and Imo constitute 29% and 26% respectively of the inhabited portions of the South-East region, while the remaining are shared by the remaining three states. This same report mentions Anambra State as having the second highest population density in Nigeria, after Lagos. In view of these figures, there is every reason to agree with the proponents of Urasi State as the best option for our people. The Urasi River runs through the western part of Imo State into Ihiala and Ogbaru Local Government Areas of Anambra State.”
The Njaba State Movement, on its part, seeks to excise the twelve LGAs of Orlu Zone to be joined by the people of the large Ihiala Federal Constituency in Anambra State. Part of the arguments of this group is a reference to the history of state creation in the South-East. According to them, before 1976, the whole of the South-East region was just a single unit, the East Central State. In 1976, the area was split into two states, Anambra and Imo, by the Murtala Mohammed administration. The situation remained so until 1991 when the then military President, General Ibrahim Babangida, created additional states. During that exercise, Abia State was created out of Imo State while Enugu was created out of Anambra State. Again in 1996, the Sani Abacha administration carved out parts of Enugu and Abia States to form the new Ebonyi State. Reasonably, therefore, and for the purpose of balance, equity and fairness, which is what the whole clamour for an additional state in the South-East is all about, parts of Imo and Anambra States should be carved out to form the new state in the South-East. This is essentially what the proposed Njaba State stands for.
On the issue of viability, the proponents of Njaba State argue that the area is the most densely populated region in the whole of West Africa. From statistics, Orlu division recorded an average density of 335 persons per sq. km as against Okigwe which was about 290, while the density over a geographical area of 40 sq. km reached a peak of 654 persons per sq. km in the vicinity of Orlu. Therefore, the massive population of the area, its economic viability, the need to have improved government presence in the area and attract back its enterprising people who had flown away to other lands due to lack of capital flow and government goal of equity come in handy in the arguments in favour of Njaba State.
The people of the proposed state who, until about a decade ago were apolitical, cherishing private businesses since majority of the highly educated among them found it difficult to find white-collar jobs, seem to be the most backward in the South-East. Post-primary education came into the area only late in the 1950s; hence it is poorly represented in the state and federal civil services compared to the Awka, Onitsha and Owerri areas. Recently, however, the people have been fighting to rescue themselves from the woods through dints of hard work, resilience, perseverance and courage. Until the assumption of office by Dr. Chinwoke Mbadinuju as Anambra State governor, and Achike Udenwa as Imo State governor, both in 1999, the whole area within the proposed Njaba State had no state or federal institution and had been highly marginalized by the leaders of the two states. It was through the sole effort of Mbadinuju that a campus of the Anambra State University is now sited at Uli, while Udenwa fought to situate the Imo State University Teaching Hospital, IMSUTH, within the precincts of Orlu.
But one great challenge still facing the proposed Njaba State is the refusal by some elements in Imo State to cede the oil-rich Ohaji-Egbema LGA, which is in the Orlu senatorial zone, to the new state. To such elements, the exit of any oil producing area from Imo State would bite hard into the wealth accruable to the state. Another is the fact that both Njaba and Orashi are asking for almost the same thing, but from different angles. This fact made their positions sound discordant for a long time. However, the two movements, in a meeting convened recently by Chief Udenwa, have agreed to bury their differences and pursue a common cause. Rising from the meeting, the chairman of the publicity committee of the movement, Chief Samuel Ukadike, told newsmen that the demand for the creation of Njaba State was first canvassed on the floor of the National Assembly in 1983. He added that the people have met all the constitutional requirements to have a state of their own, being the only old district left without the status of a state.
Adding his voice, the Senator representing the zone, Hope Uzodinma, said: “If viability is the sole criterion of creating state, we are qualified. We are an enterprising people and we have lots of innovative and creative thinkers”. Mr. Emeka Omeihe, a member of the publicity committee of the movement, said that it is incumbent on the National Assembly to approve Njaba as the next Igbo state, adding that the process favours the creation of a state from part of Anambra and Imo as other areas have had their experience.
For the Adada State Movement of the northern Enugu State, championed by the likes of Dr. Dan Shere, a governorship candidate in Enugu State in the 2011 general elections in Nigeria, the fight is on and victory is at hand. The campaign of this group, its unity of purpose, plus the massive support it garnered from its parent state made its voice reverberate highly and its coordination second to none that it almost clinched this extra state from the palms of the National Assembly in 2005. It is so organized at home that, even up to the present time, no other state creation movement has raised its head from Enugu State. This is the advantage that this movement has over such other movements in the zone.
Adada, comprising the Old Nsukka District, is made up of 7 local government areas out of the 17 LGAs in Enugu State. The kernel of this group’s argument is that they are culturally distinct from the rest of the Igbo. No doubt, the people of the area speak the same dialect, which is quite distinct from that spoken in other parts of Igboland. The entire area is homogeneous, with distinguishing hilly terrain, stony soil and a hotter weather compared to other areas of Igboland. Its landmass is far bigger than that of about 6 states in the present day Nigeria. Adada, if created, would be home to three indigenous religions of Islam, Christianity and African Traditional Religion. The region was the point where the Islamic missionaries met and converted many indigenous Igbo in the early 20th century. Adada State, with its proposed capital at Nsukka, is home to the first indigenous Nigerian university, the University of Nigeria Nsukka. The people of the area have accused successive governments in the state of concentrating developments in the state capital and leaving the region to suffer neglect, thus making the agitation necessary.
The champions of Igboezue State, or Equity State, as some prefer to call it, are proposing for the new state to be carved out from the communal region along Enugu-Port Harcourt Expressway where the five South-Eastern States meet. For them, some existing local government areas from the five states of the region should be excised to form the new state. Anambra State will contribute Orumba North and South LGAs, Enugu will relinquish Awgu and Aninri, while Ebonyi will give up Ivo and Ohaozara LGAs. Abia will cede Isuikwuato and Umunneochi, while Imo will produce the bulk of the local government areas by giving up Okigwe, Onuimo, Ideato North and South, Isiala Mbano and Ehime Mbano LGAs. With these, the new state will be ready to take off with 15 LGAs, with Okigwe as its capital city. The new state, according to its promoters, has in abundance agricultural potentials like rice, root crops, oil palm, cashew, rubber, cocoa as well as rich minerals deposits of kaolin, lead, tin, bentonite and limestone to ensure its viability and sustenance.
Emmanuel Ogbeche, arguing in favour of the proposed Igboezuo State in an article he entitled “South-East and Agitation for Additional State”, said the arguments of the proponents of Igboezue have presented “the most plausible and convincing argument” and have “demonstrated correctness of perspective and have placed the overall interest of the Igbo nation first before any other mundane consideration”. According to him, “Besides the fact that the new Igboezuo State, like Abuja, at its founding will be in a near-virgin territory, it will give each and every Igbo man a new capital city devoid of the filth and decay that any of the other proposed states represents.” Plus “Igboezuo is like a union of the five Eastern states; the new heartbeat of the Igbo nation”.
Another state creation movement of note is the Ugwuaku State. The immediate past administration in Imo State under Chief Ikedi Ohakim had shortly after its inauguration constituted a State Creation Co-ordinating Committee. In 2009, the committee reported that after a thorough consideration of all the memoranda submitted to it by interest groups, it was recommending the creation of Ugwuaku State to be made up of the old Awgu and Okigwe provinces, that is, parts of Imo, Ebonyi, Abia and Anambra States. The committee was headed by Chief Bon Nwakanma (SAN), while Nze Fidelis Ozichukwu Chukwu was secretary. The committee, while submitting its report to the then Governor Ohakim, called for memoranda and invited leaders and promoters of the state creation groups of Njaba, Orashi, Etiti and Ugwuaku to join in the bid to actualise the Ugwuaku State. Nwakamma further explained that while Njaba State Movement lost signatories in Ideato North, Ideato South, Oru East, Oru West, Oguta and Ohaji/Egbema Local Government Areas, Ugwuaku State Movement had a superior vote of 12 against the former’s six and Orashi’s four.
Speaking in favour of the proposed Ugwuaku, the National Co-ordinator of the Ugwuaku State Movement, Chief Okey Ikoro, said the proposed state, if created, will unite the South-East geo-political zone as it has one of the richest natural endowments in the zone and could feed the nation since it is the food basket of both the South-East and the South-South.
Also, in a communiqué issued at the end of a one-day Supreme Igbo Youths Alliance Conference held at Vivian Hotel, Okigwe Road, Owerri, Imo State on May 16, 2009, and signed by Mazi Aku Obidinma (National President), Cmrd. Uzochukwu Chukwuebuka (National General Secretary), Mazi Samuel C. Stanley (Chairman, Abia Chapter), Mazi Ifeanyi Onuoha (Chairman, Imo Chapter), Mazi Okoro M. Bethel Dappa Nwachi (Chairman, Rivers Chapter), Mazi Oko Kenneth (Chairman, Ebonyi Chapter), Barr. Michael Ani (Chairman, Enugu Chapter), Mazi Emeka Udolisa (Chairman, Anambra Chapter), and Kelvin Okedia Nonye (Chairman, Delta Chapter), the group stated, inter alia, that Igbo youths, having critically examined the various agitations for state creation in the South-East, “totally support the creation of the UGWUAKU STATE, which of all is the one that has equitable territorial input from all the five South-East states. We equally call on the protagonists of other agitations for the sake of Igbo unity to queue in line with this logical agitation.”
Meanwhile, the apex Igbo socio-cultural organisation, Ohanaeze Ndigbo, has continued to reiterate its demand for the creation of Orimili State out of the present Anambra State. At a press briefing by the Ohanaeze committee on state creation headed by the Obi of Onitsha, Igwe Nnaemeka Achebe, the group said the demand for the new state was to ensure equity, justice and fair play in the South-East zone of the country. Igwe Achebe, who spoke at the Women Development Centre, Awka, said it was only the South-East that had five states while other geo-political zones had six states each. He said: “The six zones that make up Nigeria should be equalised in the number of constituent states. North-West has seven states while the rest have six excluding South-East with five states only. This is our case for zonal equity. Within the South-East itself, the history of state creation in Nigeria shows that since 1991 when Anambra State was created with Enugu, Abia and Imo States, Anambra has not benefited from any further state creation exercise. In the 1996 state creation exercise, Enugu and Abia contributed one senatorial district each to make up Ebonyi State, leaving Anambra state unaltered.”
Earlier, during a representation to the Senate President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, David Mark, the Obi of Onitsha, while presenting the request for the Orimili State creation, told the Senate President that the proposed state is economically viable and can sustain itself. Achebe said the proposed state has more than enough human and material resources including good population of 1, 866, 569, according to the 2006 National Population Census. He also noted that the demand for the creation of Orimili State is a consensus of all Anambra people. He therefore appealed to all men and women of goodwill in Nigeria “to join us in prevailing on the National Assembly and state Assemblies to set the machinery in motion to make the proposed Orimili state a reality.”
Yet there are those who believe that the surest bet for the Igbo nation in its quest for an additional state is to gather all Igbo speaking peoples outside the South-East together to form the new Igbo State. One of such persons is Eugene Uzum, who in March 2006, in the height of the clamour for the creation of an additional state for the South-East zone, wrote as follows: “The Igbos need no consignor to tell them that what they must go for is convincing Ibos outside the present five Eastern states for a brand new Igbo State like Anioma State or Ndoni Andoni State. The proponents of Urashi, Adada or so state are politically myopic as the creation of any state within the five present Eastern states will be hypocritical. The bellicose contention that a new state should be created within the five Eastern states while Ohanaeze is making frantic efforts to unite all Igbos, irrespective of their state and region, amounts to a conflict of ideology.”
Uzum further argued that with an additional state like Anioma, the South-East will have more local government areas and still maintain the former status quo, more federal appointments, more members within the Senate and the House of Representatives, more population, full integration into the oil producing zone, and most of all, more territories. He asked: “How many local government areas can an Adada State muster? The name Anioma is more of an Igbo expression than Ebonyi or Anambra. Proximity to Anambra is an added advantage and there is little or no barrier in language, neither is there a lacuna in religion and culture. Therefore, Igbos should actualize their dreams of integrating their folks or remain a second-class nation forever.”
In the midst of all this, the question still arises: who deserves the additional state in the South-East? It remains an open-ended question. Though some have said that the free-for-all nature of the demand for additional state in the South-East should not be misconstrued as a sign of disunity among the Igbo but must be seen in the light of the free-market culture of the Igbo which allows every individual to have equal voice on every matter, many voices within the South-East zone have continued to call for unity of purpose among the Igbo in their clamour for the additional state. Aloy Ejimakor’s treatise readily comes to mind here. He wrote: “The creation of an additional state in the South-East will succeed only if it set aside considerations of ‘intra-cultural affinity’, flimsy stretches of differences from the whole or other sectarian arguments in favour of the more persuasive and sensible ‘geopolitical parity’ theory, best represented by the compelling case that the new state will comprise of swats of territories from all the existing states of the South-East. Reason: This is (again) the only agitation in the history of state creation that is propelled by the collective desire of Igbos as a whole for an additional state and it was endorsed by the rest of Nigeria for that reason alone. That means that it is the only one that fits the current national temperament on state creation and thus stands ready to pass the difficult legislative muster of all the State Houses of Assembly in the federation.
“The demand was for one more state in the South-East and it was never propelled by any of the ‘cultural affinity/contiguity’ arguments now advanced to justify the sectarian demand for Orashi, Adada, Orlu/Njaba or Aba state. What was presented was a pan-Igbo collective request for an additional state to bring South-East to some par with the other geopolitical zones. And that was the single rationale that persuaded other Nigerians to sign on. Thus, to now allow some sectarian group to take the bacon home and keep it only for themselves will be tantamount to some sort of political fraud on the larger Igbo, if not the larger Nigeria that had contemplated otherwise.
“The polarizing demands dusted up from closed history by patchy groups of Igbos, so desperate to be now recognized as culturally distinct from the rest of the Igbos, has long been deemed inferior to the greater force and merits of the ‘geopolitical parity’ theory. Reason: All well-meaning Igbos everywhere fear (with some historical justification) that if allowed to proliferate, the purveyors of this ‘we are separate’ arguments will again frustrate what was initially a ‘one-Igbo’ effort, split Igbos into bitter groups against one another and eventually create the scary situation where other Nigerians may withdraw their universal support and deny the Igbo while pointing to their famous (or infamous) disunity as the sole reason. Thus, the only viable option is to push for a new state that will be neutral and not one that will appear to be recognizing and rewarding the selfishness found in the demand for the creation of Adada, Aba, and Orlu/Njaba or Orashi States.”
That said, it must be pointed out clearly that though every unit in Igboland could raise its state creation movements before the National Assembly with coterie of traditional rulers, elders, youths and women – and they have every right to agitate for this new state – there is an absolute need for the Igbo, rather than embark on these myriad agitations that can make nonsense of this demand for equity, to for once exhibit unity of purpose. No matter how sound and convincing the arguments of any single movement can be, what is even more important is the overall well-being of the entire Igbo nation. The Igbo nation is again at the threshold of history. Will the Igbo race be wise for once?