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Let’s scrap some states!

Mallam Nasiru el-Rufai, the effervescent and maverick governor of Kaduna State, brought to the fore the truth many had known, but haven’t had the courage to speak about, or spoke in hushed tones: The North is poor and broke. In fact, he called the region (North-West and North-East) the poorest , if the region were to be a country in Africa.

Another vocal northern leader,  Emir of Kano,  Mallam Sanusi Lamido Sanusi, was no less scathing in describing the pathetic condition the North has found itself through a combination of rudderless and tunnel-vision of some of those who had found themselves in leadership positions.

But, the truth is, it’s not only the states in the North that are not economically viable.  The insolvency permeates the north and south of the country.  The tragedy is that some states in Nigeria don’t qualify to be called states in the real sense of the word. 

In the past, I had advocated the merger of economically comatose states with those that are thriving.  What’s the use of a state that can’t pay worker’s salary, provide basic amenities for its people? What’s the worth of a state that exists only in name?

Below,  my argument for the scrapping of non-viable states, as earlier enunciated in this column…

I  am almost too scared to watch the news on television these days. For a newsman who lives on, and deals in news, ‘capturing history in a hurry speak ,’ that would seem like self-immolation, if not outright nihilism.

But, you can’t help feeling this way, as you flick channels of prime time news. It’s a depressing experience. It stabs at your underbelly. You can’t help feeling dejected.  You have a feeling of a steep degeneration of things. You wonder: How did we get to this abysmal level?  You truly feel sorry for the sorry state of affairs.

You are dead wrong if you think or believe that I am in any way alluding to the gory sights of malnourished mothers and kids at the IDP camps, a tragic reminder of the days of the jackal, when devil got hold of some of our misguided compatriots, turning them to bloody fiends, feasting on the blood of the innocents and the hapless. I mean the senseless killings of Boko Haram insurgents.  Terrible and monstrous, as the cannibal rage represents, that’s not what galls this writer this moment.  I am also in no way alluding to Boko Haram’s no-less deadly comrades-in-bloodletting, the Niger Delta Avengers, avenging whatever.

No, far from it: I am gravely distraught beholding placard-clutching elder citizens walking feebly across the streets in defiant protests against non-payment of their meagre pensions.  It’s usually a spectacle of shame, the shame of a nation that has failed its elderly citizens.

You hear stories of many senior citizens collapsing and dying at pay queues for money that isn’t even available for collection; in some states,  pensioners and civil servants are fast embracing the seppuku option;  committing suicide, unable to bear the shame and humiliation of being owed  and unable to meet their obligations.

These are Nigerians who gave their all in service to their nation; these are Nigerians who once beheld the glory of a nation on the rise, but witnessed its sudden pummel down the road of insolvency, where many of the states are finding it difficult to meet their basic obligations to the people they govern: Unpaid wages, poor primary and secondary schools’ education funding, poor medical state, bad roads, harvests of hunger and poverty!

As many march in frustration on the streets to protest their ill-treatment, this can’t be the Nigeria of their dreams: A Nigeria where 28 out of the 36 states have gone virtually insolvent; where the possession of a certificate does not certify or guarantee the unemployed graduate employment.

Let’s face it: A state unable to pay its working citizens its monthly emoluments or meet its obligations to its pensioners, or provide basic amenities for the people it superintends, is certainly a failed state, and the governor of such state, a failed governor.  There is no need mincing words or trying to colour the truth.

The shock of it all is that, you still find governors of failed states, cruising around their capital cities and other parts of the country, in blaring sirens and long convoys. They are still engrossed in their flamboyant lifestyles, of course, at the detriment of the suffering and oppressed people of their states. What a country!

What to do is simple: Let’s scrap failed states, if they are unable to work out a recovery plan at the soonest possible time.  Let’s also urge President Buhari to stop the bail-out to these states. That can only encourage more indolence on the part of such states.  In any case, for how long will the bail-out regime subsist? For how long should we tolerate and indulge lazy governors, who can’t think of creative ways to get out of the mess of their broke status? What happened to agriculture, entrepreneurship for job creation, manufacturing? Why has federal allocation become the only way for some of these states’ helmsmen, rushing to Abuja monthly for the usual federal largesse? If states will be called states, they must find a way to meet their obligations to their states and people! 

Of course, there are many reasons many states have become bankrupt and insolvent. The first is lifestyle, extravagant and wasteful lifestyles; second is lack of firm resolve to look inwards. Of course, there is global economic meltdown. But, a little prudence and being proactive could have helped in no small measure.

While failed states navigate ways out of their quagmire, they could start by trimming their long convoys and taming their expensive lifestyle habits, then look at other productive ventures listed above. If these won’t work, let’s fold up the states by merging them with others, so they could draw from the comparative and competitive advantages of their neighbours.

We got to this sorry pass because many states were created for more or less ego reasons. There were no plans for the sustainability or viability of many of the states. No business plan. Nothing on ground, on how to make the state work for its people. What happened was that one powerful man or group of powerful men usually formed pressure groups to agitate for new states.  Hiding under claims of marginalisation, they mount all kinds of pressures on the authorities until it buckles. Under the military which decreed our 36 state-structure, it was like cherry-plucking, the speed at which states were ‘manufactured.’ Now, see the mess they have put the country.  Even cries of marginalisation have never solved the clamour for more states to be created. Marginalisation gives birth to further marginalisation. With the creation of a new state, a new oppressor is created; the marginalised becomes the new oppressor, and the cycle continues!

As the tragedy of our nation stares us in the face, the citizens can’t stop asking: How come nations we got independence almost at the same period left us far behind in their steady march to progress? Look at India, a nation we once derided; Brazil, Ghana, Indonesia, Singapore, South Africa, to mention a few, and you can’t help weeping for this stunted giant.

How come we are still battling to get to 4000 megawatts of electricity, when power is no longer an issue in other countries?  How come we are producing the 23rd set of unemployed graduates, a country that is the 6th largest oil-producing nation on earth?  How come we haven’t got our transportation right: Air, road, rail and waterways?   How come our army of the unemployed keeps lengthening, while our industrial capacity keeps reducing? How come budgets are running into trillions, while the ordinary Nigerian is still battling the basic necessities of life: Water, food, shelter, clothing, health, amongst others?

Where are the groundnut pyramids that once dotted the Northern skyline? Where are the textile factories? What happened to the once-flourishing cocoa industry in the West and the palm kernel production in the East?  What about the agricultural prowess of the old Mid-West and the East? Gone! Drained, like prodigal youngsters, who blew their inherited wealth.

Even our black gold, our oil, has been so mercilessly bled that many are wondering if we wouldn’t have been better off if God hadn’t deposited the precious liquid in our soil.

But, the good news: We can turn things around if we do the right things. If those who lead at different levels of government,  truly get cracking by shunning greed and avarice and conspicuous consumption; stealing less and doing more. If they engaged in the productive sectors of the economy; providing the enabling environment for the private sector to thrive, so that our people may live and live life more abundantly.

•N.B: First published July 4, 2016

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