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54th anniversary of states creation

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General Gowon

On Thursday May 27, it will be the 54th anniversary of the creation of states by General Yakubu Gowon, GCFR. The question is, what is so special about 54th anniversary? The answer is that it is special because that was the biggest attempt to protect and guarantee the interests of the minorities in Nigeria. It was also a strike on the backbone of the four regions at that time in Nigeria. Regrettably, the objectives for the creation of states as announced by General Yakubu Gowon on May 27, 1967, have not been realized.

I know there will not be celebrations on Thursday, May 27 in the country for the challenges of insecurity that we face nationwide. But 54 years ago we had a leader that attempted to unite this artificial country and give us a sense of belonging. Let’s face it the country itself is in kaput. We live in constant fear not sure of what will happen to us. It is so risky now to travel from one town to the other.

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The government seems helpless and the people are dejected. I do not think we have ever had it so bad. Today, most of the states are in financial comatose. Some states cannot even afford to pay the minimum wage. Most of their revenue is spent on providing vehicles and equipment to the Nigeria Police Force which they do not control. Most, if not all, are today bedeviled with insecurity in their domains which has hampered any meaningful development.

Implementation of Capital Projects has been suspended if not delayed because of insecurity. Albeit creation of states was a laudable exercise for which we should be grateful to General Yakubu Gowon. Between 1966 and 1967, a collegiate of Federal Permanent Secretaries whom Alhaji Alade Odunewu alias ALLA DE of the old DAILY TIMES labelled as SUPER PERMANENT SECRETARIES, suggested to General Yakubu Gowon that the best way to solve the lingering crisis between the central government and the then eastern Nigeria was to create more states in the federation so as to break the backbone of the regions.

There were four regions as at that time- Northern Region, Western Region, Eastern Region and the Middle Western Region. The collegiate of Permanent Secretaries at that time was headed by Chief Allison Ayida (June 16, 1930-October 1, 2018). Other Permanent Secretaries that gave the suggestion at that were Prince Festus Adesanoye, who later became the Osemawe of Ondo in Ondo state, Prince Solomon Akenzua, who later became the Oba of Benin, Alhaji Tatari Ali, Alhaji Ibrahim Damchida, Alhaji Ahmed Joda, Chief Phillip Asiodu, Alhaji AbdulAziz Atta, Mr. T. Eneli, Alhaji A. Mora, Mr. H.O. Omenai, Alhaji Sule Kolo, Mr. S.S. Waniko, Chief S. O. Williams, Chief G.E. Ige, Alhaji Musa Daggash, Chief Edwin Ogbu, Chief A.I. Obiyan, Chief C. O. Lawson, Chief T.O. Akindele, Chief V. Adegoroye, Alhaji Liman Ciroma, Chief J.T. Iyalla, Chief B.N. Okagbue, Chief Ime Ebong, Chief Gray Eromosele Longe, Chief J.A. Adeyeye, Biliaminu Oladiran Kassim, Alhaji Umaru Sanda Ndayako, Alhaji Shehu Musa, M. A. Ejueyitchie and others.

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Reflecting on the creation of states before he died, Chief Ayida wrote “I was the chairman of the Committee of Federal Permanent Secretaries that submitted the list of criteria to be used for the creation of states to General Gowon. He deleted from the list the reference to ‘linguistic principles’. The exclusion of the ‘linguistic principles’ is crucial because the twelve states structure established by Decree by General Gowon would have been significantly different if linguistic affinity were one of the criteria used. General Gowon’s argument was that the application of the principle would have led to absurdities in many parts of the country notably the Benue-Plateau area and the Bendel State.

Besides, it would have meant increasing the size of, rather than splitting, the former Western (Yoruba) Region and what became the East Central (lbo) State. The subsequent adjustment to nineteen states would ipso facto, have yielded different result under the late General Murtala Muhammed who personally opted for twenty four states, with twelve in the South with the restoration of the former Federal Territory of Lagos, and the rest of Lagos merged with Ogun State excluding a new Ijebu State.

The establishment of the new Cross River State was a foregone conclusion as recommended by the Irikefe Panel, whose report was never published because what some communities said of others are unprintable, especially if they have to continue to live together as neighbours in one state in one Nigeria. The powerful lobby of the new state from Calabar over-played its card by insisting that if its capital were not retained in Calabar but moved to Ikom as proposed by lrikefe, they would rather not have a new Calabar State. Their wishes were endorsed twice by the Supreme Military Council by a majority decision after an unprecedented reconsideration the day after the first decision. The case for the new Calabar State was lost partly because the Katsina lobby had as an after-thought, decided that Kaduna State should be split if the Cross River State was split. Since the Kaduna case was not submitted to the Irikefe Panel, the ‘linkage effect’ was to kill the two initiatives to be resuscitated together at a later date.

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It is harmattan madness to consider a 50 states structure for Nigeria unless words have lost their meaning but the current nineteen is an accident of history. If it is to be adjusted, the upper limit should not exceed the Murtala Muhammed range of twenty four states. We assume it is very difficult to reduce the number of Governors even for a military administration. We also assume that the states will not wither away nor will the states structure be abolished by a unification decree a second time.

To be continued tomorrow

Teniola, a former director at The Presidency wrote From Lagos.

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