By Owei Lakemfa
Elder Statesman, Chief Bisi Akande was Executive Governor of Osun State for four years from 1999 during which he led his colleagues who were unwilling to pay workers the National Minimum Wage. I was then in the Nigeria Labour Congress, and we went to appeal to him to change his mind. He was adamant, so we left him to engage in a grueling match with the workers which lasted his entire tenure. It became so bad that he found it difficult staying in the state capital because he was booed everywhere. The state workers were a principal factor in his failure to secure a second term.
At his seventy seventh birthday this January, he addressed the current issue of non-payment of wages by half of the states in the country. The solution he said is for unviable states to cease to exist or be merged with viable ones. He did not explain how the issue of unpaid salaries will be solved if debtor states cease to exist. Will the workers also cease to exist; disappear or such states will file for bankruptcy and the wages will be part of the liabilities?
When he suggested that unviable states should be merged with viable ones, I wonder how many states are really viable outside Lagos. Assuming as many as five states are viable, wont merging them with thirty one unviable ones lead to their collapse? In any case, how does this address the issue of unpaid salaries or is he advocating massive retrenchment?
He went on to advocate for the reduction of the 36 states to 18. How will this solve the problem of unviability? In order to address the question of unviability, we need to examine why states were created in the first place. We had four regions before the creation; the North, East, West and Mid-West. The conversion of the regions into states and the creation of the first 12-state structure in 1967 was not based on economic viability, need for better governance or demand of the people. It was a fall-out of the post-coup politics and essentially, to under-cut the secession bid of of the East.
The ensuring multiplication of states to 36, is an untidy mess; states were created more as political patronage and an attempt to get a greater share of the national cake. New states were created depending on who had clout in the ruling military regimes, and which groups are to be appeased or compensated. Powerful people even got state capitals located in their backyards or in those of their in-laws. There was no interest in their viability or productivity; they were essentiality, a bureaucracy to share offices and national resources. Same principle accounts for the creation of 774 local governments
Given this reality, I am at a loss why Chief Akande thinks a reduction to an 18-state structure is the solution. If the issue of state viability is to be tackled seriously, why does the West which has the same language, culture, progenitor and is geographically contiguous, need multiple states? Why shouldn’t Ogun, Oyo, Osun, Ekiti and Ondo constitute one state or political entity as they were under the leadership of Chiefs Obafemi Awolowo and Ladoke Akintola? Enugu, Anambra, Imo, Abia and Ebonyi states are like the West, linguistically and culturally homogeneous and geographically contiguous; why can’t they be one state? What stops Niger, Sokoto, Kebbi, Zamfara, Kaduna, Kano and Jigawa being one state? Why can’t the South-South be a single state? Why shouldn’t the North Central and North East be one state or at most two? If states are so merged, then the present states will be local government areas or provinces catered for from the accounts of their states and not from the federation account.
But this will be possible only if states are productive rather than being a mere sharing mechanism. This leads to Chief Akande’s other suggestion on fiscal federalism in which resources are shared based on derivation, and states live within their means. This is good, except that we live in an ABDULISTIC society. Abdul is that loafing character in some myths who desires the best things in life without working. We are addicted to such life; and like the cocaine addict, we need to wean ourselves. However, as we know, the normal drug addict does not see the need for rehabilitation until he is on death’s doorstep.
Interestingly, just as we have little to show for the enormous wealth oil bestowed on us as a country, so will the oil-producing states have little or nothing tangible to show if they have the resource control the Chief is suggesting. This can be gleaned from the development level of states like Delta, Rivers and Bayelsa. The oil-producing people may simply develop the mentality of the ruling class, which is indolence. The summary is that our foundation is faulty; for us to meaningfully develop like Japan and China, we need to tear it down.
This leads me to another of Chief’s comments during his birthday; he argued that the reaction of the Senate leadership to the controversy over the 2016 Budget is a fall-out of the alleged indiscipline that produced it. This is a return to the issue of party discipline. The illusion is that we have normal parties which can discipline their members. As an elder who was a member of the Unity Party of Nigeria in the Second Republic, and his knowledge of that party’s fore runner, the Action Group, he ought to know that there is a difference between what is original, and what are pathetic duplicates. People vote for political parties, but they cannot be found in the parties which are essentially, electoral platforms. In the First Republic, people funded political parties; now, political parties fund people; during rallies and conventions, people transported, fed, and accommodate themselves, now, the parties pick up the bills or hire crowds. In the First Republic, people with same vision, agreed programmes, policies and shared ideas, belonged to the same party, today, only immediate interest define party membership. So sir, how do you talk about party discipline? Happy birthday!