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Opinion: How to legally increase unemployment in Nigeria

by Erwin Ofili

unemployment in nigeria 2012

The only jobs created at the end of the day are for politicians and their hangers-on, and they tend to feed off jobs that could have been generated elsewhere.

Just in line with my earlier article “Before We Amend the Constitution”  Nigeria is set to consider state creation. They have to. The Nigerian people have demanded it. At the last count, there have been 89 requests for the creation of new states. Granted, not all would be successful as two-thirds of the house has to approve each amendment of the Constitution but a number of requests invariably mean that the number of states in the country would balloon almost overnight. The move to make the regions weaker and strengthen the center is in full motion and the next phase begins shortly.

In concert with state creation, the chairman of the constitution review panel, Honourable Emeka Ihedioha reports that majority of Nigerians have rejected state police and resource control. If we are to take his word for it, this means Nigerians have totally rejected any sort of autonomy of the states. Curiously, the same Nigerians accepted Local Government autonomy.

The reasons given for the need for state creation are hackneyed: the fears of minorities and the feelings of marginalisation and domination. The incongruity of the claims was highlighted by statements attributed to the chairman of the constitutional review panel: “Has the creation of more states allayed the fears of minorities and the feelings of marginalisation and domination? Has it resulted in good governance and speedier development at the state levels than we had before? If it is meant to bring governance closer to the people, what then is the essence of the Local Government areas? Important too, is the proliferation of states, and even the extant ones, viable and self-sustainable? Again, at a time when the global trend is aggressively moving towards the contraction of the size of government and cost of governance and at a time the nation is already sweating profusely under the yoke of unwieldy size of government at the federal, state and local levels, can we really sustain the status-quo let alone create new burdens?”

I think the concept of minorities has been largely been misunderstood in Nigeria. It is mostly seen by some Nigerians as some sort of an insult. You hear educated Nigerians say things like “when we have more states for each ethnic group, no ethnic would be (treated like) minorities”. These same people do not complain about being minorities when they are in Lagos or Abuja, for example. I am an Igbo man. But when I am resident in Lagos, I am an ethnic minority. This would not be the case if I go back to my “state of origin”. So, you see, no matter how many states are created, there would always be minorities. And the many unfounded claims of marginalisation of minorities are the reason that no matter the number of states that are created, there would still be requests for even more to be created. It is made even worse by the current brand of “federalism” that we are running were most of the states live on allocations from the federal government. The requests for state creation is obvious a competition over allocations.

Most of the claims of fear of domination are –especially in the Southern part of the country – ridiculous at best, and at worst, mischievous. I hope the people, especially the educated ones among us, are able to tell apart genuine demand for state creation and the promotion of selfish interests by self-acclaimed leaders of ethnic groups. The people in the latter group appeal to the baser instincts of the masses claiming marginalisation of the group. But what is their evidence of that; the number of political appointments at state level and suchlike – which only a few can take advantage of, mostly the friends and relatives of such “leaders”. Some claim “our group has the least number of LGs, senatorial districts, etc”. In a country of over 400 tribal groupings of unequal populations, it is impossible to represent everybody equally. Representation of individual and group interests is important in any democracy, but to think every Ekoi citizen must be numerically represented equally with the representation of every Tiv citizen is plain ridiculous. But their interests can be efficiently represented at state or federal level by voting politicians whose espoused ideologies they find agreeable. Equal regional representation of the six de facto regions of the country should instead be pursued. But now, greedy politicians use the high level of illiteracy in the country to coral support among citizens for selfish reasons.

The arguments for state creation are, among other things, that it would reduce marginalisation and domination from “majority” ethnic groups, bring government closer to the people and create jobs. The reality is that it becomes a vehicle for some of its proponents to access the collective wealth and use for their personal gains, and visit the same, and even worse, injustice on other groups. The agitation for Calabar-Ogoja-Rivers state was casted as a solution to the minority fear of the “domination” of the Igbo majority in the Eastern region. The creation of Rivers state after the war saw the largest state-approved seizure and expropriation of properties in the country. This has only led to reduced investment in the oil-rich region that was the center of the huge economic growth of the former Eastern region. Bayelsa state, which was carved out of the old Rivers state, is one of the poorest states in the South of the country. The progress made in that region has been halted. Scholarship programs, for instance, of the Eastern government that people like Isaac Adaka Boro and Ken Saro-Wiwa benefitted from are no longer existent and nothing exists in their place, except of course if the amnesty program to militants in the Niger Delta is considered scholarship. The fact is that the agitation for state creation has always been a ploy by a few ambitious individuals to carve out personal fiefdoms and get power for themselves; the claim of improvement of living conditions of their people and liberation from oppression is evidently a ruse to further their aims.

The only jobs created at the end of the day are for politicians and their hangers-on, and they tend to feed off jobs that could have been generated elsewhere. To do this, they use the tried and tested method of demagoguery. Ebonyi state is the poorest state in the South East. It is the only state in the South East that failed the debt sustainability analysis by the Debt Management Office (DMO) with a debt of N40 billion relative to her Internally Generated Revenue (IGR) of N14.778 billion. Federal senators and now the governor of the state with this economic situation have fought against investment in the state cement manufacturing because the investor, Mr Ibeto, is not an “indigene”.  The senators have taken an advert in the newspaper proclaiming their fight against “colonialism”. These leeches are likely out of step with the feelings of the locals as the local traditional rulers who expressed support for the investment from Ibeto Cement were dethroned. At the same time, the governor says he would get qualified investors involved in the project while preventing an already interested investor and is trying to raise over N200 billion to invest, an amount they can ill afford. Caught in the crossfire are the many unemployed youths of the state because the greedy government officials of the state want to control resources they have proven unable to run efficiently.

The cure for the state creation epidemic that has afflicted this country for a long time is the encouragement of self-sufficiency. The current system has made the setup of unviable states too attractive. If states were to generate and live on their own revenues, the agitation for state creation would lessen. The three-regional system we had, with all its warts, served us better than the current setup. With six regions, the concerns of minorities over “domination” should have sufficiently addressed and they should have a sense of belonging to their region and increased influence on their future and regional policy. What we should do now is strengthen it, not weaken it with state creation. Every region should be made to have equal representation at least in the Senate. This setup will force each region to be less parochial. Regions that think oil will do it all for them would eventually find this not to be the case and would seek to diversify and regions that do not have oil will seek to exploit other natural resources and encourage investments from other parts of the country. This is the direction Nigeria must go if she is not to implode under the weight of a lazy rent-seeking regime.

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Op-ed pieces and contributions are the opinions of the writers only and do not represent the opinions of Y!/YNaija.

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