Emmanuel Onwubiko: The Multiple Advantages of Anioma State

The 10th session of the National Assembly headed by former Niger Delta minister, former Akwa Ibom state governor Mr. Godswill Akpabio as chairman of the Nigerian National Assembly, is attempting to achieve an uphill task which is unprecedented in the annals of constitutional democracy since Nigeria started experimenting with civilian democracy in 1999.

The task I’m talking about is the legislative spade work of creating a new state. Already, some propositions have emerged both in the lower and upper Chambers of the National Assembly.

At the upper Chamber of the national legislature, distinguished Senator Ned Nwoko, who represents Delta North senatorial district in the National Assembly, has proposed a bill seeking the creation of Anioma State to allow the Southeast geopolitical zone to have six states and be at par with the rest of the other zones.

In his 1937 book “The Political Blueprint of Nigeria,” Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe argued for a federal system of government for Nigeria and the division of the nation into eight constituent states based on geographic features. This marked the beginning of the movements for the creation of states in Nigeria. The drive to establish Anioma State is currently quite the most popular.

By establishing the planned Anioma State and so addressing the marginalisation in the Southeast zone and uniting the linguistically and culturally contiguous areas into a single, harmonious state, President Bola Tinubu would have written his name in gold. The proposal for Anioma State as well as the proposal for an extra Southeast state is not new. Extra state for Southeast was taken into consideration by the National Assembly at the time due to the intense agitation, but the military coup of December 1983 put an end to it.

With its 6,400 km2 land area, Anioma State will expand the Southeast Territory from its estimated 29,500 km2 to 36,230 km2 (with suggested boundary changes for the Igbanke people of Edo State, Abuetor and Osekwenike of Bayelsa, etc.). The River Niger would then solely serve as a geographical border, not a regional one, between the states of Anioma and Anambra State. In the same way, the Cross River only serves as a physical divide between the states of Cross River and Akwa Ibom.

The Southeast geopolitical zone has legitimately complained of marginalisation since the end of the civil war. The conditions laid out for the creation of states in the 1999 Constitution (as amended) do not permit the Federal Government to just wake up one day and say they want to create states as happened under the military without any compelling reason that will resonate with at least two-thirds of the states of the federation, more so given that many zones are agitating for new states.

Currently, the Southeast zone has five states, whereas all other zones have six or seven states. This is a stronger case than any other that can be made for the creation of any other state. People from the Southeast, even supported by other regions, have often advocated for the creation of a state for the South at various points in time.

The necessity of establishing a new state in the Southeast was also specifically addressed at the 2014 Confab. The tension has truly reached a fever pitch, and Bola Tinubu’s administration must take action. As president, Muhammadu Buhari also made hints about adding a new state to the southeast. The problem was that he requested that the Ohanaeze leadership led by Nnia Nwodo, who visited him and made the request, suggest the state. It is said that Ohanaeze was unable to decide which state to propose.

The move for the Orlu State by Senator Osita Izunaso and Honourable Ikenga Ugochineyere, which was made without consulting the areas they intended to include in the new state, is what started the current wave of controversy in the calls for the creation of a new state for the Southeast.

However, the move for the creation of Etiti State by Hon. Amobi Godwin Ogah, representing Isikwuato/ Umunneochi Federal Constituency, and four others representing the affected communities appear less controversial and contentious and more reasonable than the call for Orlu State. However, Anioma should be chosen above Etiti State, which seeks to transfer two LGs from each of the five states in the Southeast to geographically define the new state. The Southeast is the smallest zone of the country in terms of land mass, to start. It is still considerably more desired and practical to establish Anioma state and bring the Igbo people in the Delta together with their kin and kin in the Southeast in a single zone, even though Etiti state has some merit also.

There have been feeble arguments put out by some that claim ethnic groups such as Bini, Igala, and others constitute Anioma as well. For a fact, no zone is racially one hundred percent homogeneous, and the Igbo ethnic stock predominates the Anioma. The Western Nigeria Igbo (permit the expression for categorization, for Igbo is Igbo wherever they are found!), Orashi, and Ohada people in Rivers State, among other ethnic communities, were cut into zones where they ordinarily do not belong by the military’s haphazard and arbitrary state creation process. That is also the reason there are Igbos in the states like Kogi, Benue, Cross Rivers, and Akwa Ibom. Similar to how Yorubas live in Kogi and other places and Igala people are also found in the Southeast.

There is also the further notion that the Southeast and their neighbours to the west of the Niger River are naturally divided by the River Niger. This is not quite correct. Nigeria’s geopolitical zones are not at all organic or natural. These are artificially imposed geographic presumptions for administrative and organisational ease inside the political system. Despite not even being mentioned in the constitution, the zones function as administrative frameworks for better national management and, more crucially, for the distribution of federal resources and admittance to federal schools and jobs.

The concerns of marginalisation from the Southeast are not unfounded. Zones are made up of States and LGs, and both serve as the foundation for representation in the National Assembly, especially in the Senate, which is based on the equality of states. Additionally, government employment, the appointment of directors, permanent secretaries, ambassadors, and even entrance to federal secondary and postsecondary education are all based on the States.

Then, one can only speculate as to how much money the Southeast has been losing to states simply by existing as federating units and states. In monetary terms, the loss by the Southeast for the one to two states deficit should be in excess of trillions in naira. Therefore, Anioma State’s creation will reduce the bleeding in the Southeast, and the marginalisation that the Igbo people have been complaining about since the civil war, which is also responsible for the insecurity that exists in the Southeast.

The creation of an extra state for the Southeast Zone is one method that the Federal Government might demonstrate its commitment to resolving the issue of marginalisation of the zone. It is no longer acceptable for the country to ignore it.

Before considering other states, the federal government ought to consider the push for the sixth state, which would raise the Southeast zone to six states and put it on par with the other zones. It is still a strong cry for social justice, unification, and the cessation of sentiments carried over from the Nigeria-Biafra Civil War.

There is the mistaken belief that the disagreement surrounding the planned Anioma state is about a regional administration. No, the Southeast is a geopolitical zone rather than a political one. Therefore, the Anioma people stand to gain greatly from identifying with their Igbo ancestry.

Even those who object to being in the Southeast Zone ought to be in favour of Anioma State’s creation. It’s also unreasonable to think that their Igbo main stock will swamp them culturally since Anioma’s geographical location, essence, and control can’t be touched. The people of Anioma will continue to hold political power over their area and remain autonomous in every sense as all the states of the Southeast are, but the Igbo people of the Southeast will have more freedom to contribute to the development of Anioma and Anioma to the Southeast.

So, above all, let the quest receive all the blessings and encouragement it so well deserves. Before debating whether or not a woman can partake in kite meat, as the Igbos say, it must first be in a kitty. President Tinubu needs to seize this unique chance to leave his mark in history by taking significant action to address the Southeast marginalisation that has existed since the end of the civil war. It is well known that Tinubu is a bold and practical man and can create the much-desired extra state, even if it means applying the doctrine of necessity to create the Anioma State.

So, Senator Ned Nwoko deserves all the support he can muster to push ahead with his advocacy for the creation of Anioma State because it is an idea whose time has come and as one political Philosopher of the West puts it, “No Army is strong enough to defeat an idea whose time has come.”

*Emmanuel Onwubiko is head of the HUMAN RIGHTS WRITERS ASSOCIATION OF NIGERIA and was NATIONAL COMMISSIONER OF THE NATIONAL HUMAN RIGHTS COMMISSION OF NIGERIA.

Emmanuel Onwubiko: The Multiple Advantages of Anioma State

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