Developing Nigeria: Can Merging The States Do The Magic? By Abdulrasheed Ibrahim

Developing Nigeria: Can Merging The States Do The Magic? By Abdulrasheed Ibrahim, LL.M, Notary Public

It is painful that Nigeria at over 60 years is still crawling. I read the views recently expressed by two of the great Nigerians I have long developed respect for, for their brilliance and humility. One is a brilliant journalist/historian by name Chief Dare Babarinsa and the other is a brilliant lawyer by name Mr. Lawal Pedro, Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN).What were their views that prompted this my addendum or intervention? Chief Babarinsa in his piece on Gowon at 87 titled “What If Gowon Had Kept His Promised?, wherein he concluded as follows: “We need to recreate that era when states were valid and viable political and economic entities, which can survive without any bail out from Abuja .Merger of states is a better route to the future instead of accumulating debts on behalf of our grandchildren .That is the option that is in tandem with the cry of Go On With One Nigeria that dominated my adolescent years.”

The above view was expressed by Chief Babarinsa in his column in the Guardian Newspaper of 21st October 2021 and equally shared on some social platforms was not without mixed reactions from Nigerians. I resisted the temptation not to make a comment on such issue and I said :

“My take on this is that the question still bothers on how truly patriotic our leaders have been? Can leaders that promised return to civil rule but failed be said to be truly patriotic particularly the one that organized the most free and fair election in the history of Nigeria but turned round to annul it? Can a leader that planned coup and wanted to transform from Khaki to Agbada be said to be patriotic? What about those leaders that turned themselves to ATMs or those that built private universities for themselves at the expense of the public ones; are they truly patriotic? What about the one that wept in public but was later entrusted with leadership and Nigerians are now paying the price. Can that one also claim to be truly patriotic? The solution to the Nigeria’s problems is leaders that are truly patriotic, brilliant, selfless, upright, visionary and competent as solution does not lie in the hands of some of “one chance” politicians that are now running ups and downs.”

The option of merging the States may look somehow brilliant, but how is that possible or feasible in Nigeria of today where every tribe and local government is crying of marginalization and wants to have its own State created?  Mr. Lawal Pedro (SAN) in a recent interview expressed a view on how to quicken the justice delivery and also probably suggesting that each State should be paying the salaries of her High Court judges .In the words of the Learned Silk : 

“We don’t have to copy other counties blindly .We must look at our own peculiar situation and find a workable solution. For example, in as much as the constitution remains the way it is presently, Lagos State should have not less than 100 judges. The challenge is that the appointment has to go through NJC, and that is an absurd federal system .Why should the federal government be paying the salary of a judge of the High Court of a State? State should take care of their judges and determine how many they want .If I had my way, every Local Government in Lagos must have a High Court. How can one be leaving in Igando area and be going to Iganmu to do a case .There should be a High Court there with not less than three judges sitting there. That is the ideal case but how do you now ask the federal government to fund them. If you ask for 10 judges for Lagos, Federal Government will look at its budget and say they cannot afford to approve more than six. In some jurisdiction outside Lagos , the total cases in the entire court is not up to the list of one High Court judge in Lagos. Meanwhile the judge will collect same salary with his counterpart in Lagos. My suggestion is that the constitution should be amended to allow states appoint their judges. There could be some form of control by a federal agency like the NJC but appointment, management and payment of salary should be rested with the States.”

As things stand presently in this country today, can most States shoulder the responsibilities of paying their High Court Judges? To borrow from the words of Chief Babarinsa, are most states (with exception of Lagos and Rivers States) in Nigeria valid and viable to do this? When we are having States that are finding it difficult to grant judicial autonomy to their respective judiciaries, will it not be a suicide mission asking them to pay the salaries of their judges? How regular are they paying the salaries of their other civil servants including the teachers? There was a time it was reported in the news that in Cross Rivers State , some Magistrates were carrying placards demonstrating non-payment of their salaries. Should similar thing be extended to the High Court? The way it is today, I do not think the Federal Government is responsible for the appointment of the Judges of High Courts of the various States as National Judicial Council (NJC) only comes in to screen the candidates shortlisted and forward to it by the Judicial Service Commission of the various States. The need for this was once clarified by the late Hon. Justice Karibi - White , JSC as follows when retiring from the Supreme Court bench :                 

“The National Judicial Council is very much misunderstood institution. Many State Governments are not happy with the institution because they argue it is negation of the tenets of true Federalism and the independence of State judiciaries. One would have thought that the experience of the few exercise would have brought home to the opposition that the nominations and appointments of Judges are made by the States. The role of the Council is that of clearing house to ensure standardization of the qualification and quality of those appointed, and the correction of unwitting errors by State and Federal Judicial Service Commission. A prodigious reform programme in aspects of Judiciary, State and Federal is well in hand. It is hoped that in the next few years everything will be in place.”

The question on the ground is still: DEVELOPING NIGERA: CAN MERGING THE STATES DO THE MAGIC? To how many do we merge all the present States in Nigeria including Abuja to? Let us do the exercise. Lord Luggard in 1914 amalgamated the Northern and the Southern protectorates together to form Nigeria. In the cause of the constitutional development in Nigeria up to the time of the First Republic we eventually had Eastern Region, Western Region and Northern Region. Mid West Region was later created and by that we had 4 Regional Structures. When General Yakubu Gowon came he created 12 States and his successor, General Murtala Mohammed made it 19 States that led us to the Second Republic. I cannot now remember the actual number of States respectively created by Generals Babangida and Abacha but by the 1999 Constitution we have 36 States structure and Abuja. Or do we merge the States into the six geographical regions nomenclature? The last time Pastor Tunde Bakare, who is a lawyer, was attacking the 1999 Constitution by calling it a “Glorified Death Certificate”, my response was as follows:

“I have argued it on several occasions that the problem is not with the constitution but those running the constitution .When you have about 37 States structures including Abuja whose Governors are doing nothing with the natural resources they are respectively blessed it, what do you expect?”

Whenever the 1999 Constitution is being attacked by some of our very Senior Colleagues, I keep wondering why some lawyers need the assistance of a non-lawyer to explain to them what that Constitution is all about. Mr. Simon Kolawole (SK), a brilliant journalist and a columnist with the Thisday Newspaper recently did some series and analysis on the Nigerian Constitutions so far which I entirely agreed with, but unfortunately some lawyers are still reading different meaning to the clear words of the Constitution as if it was written in Arabic or Greek. Some Nigeria’s Governors are signing Anti-Open Grazing Law into law which I am of the view there is nothing wrong about that , but what are the Governors  doing with those vast fertile lands in their States which they claim to be the custodians of. Many Nigerian youths are seriously showing interest in agriculture and food production; to what extent have these Governors assisted those youths with modern agricultural implement and equipment couple with the security? Do they not have Ministries of Agriculture and Rural Development in their various States? What are they doing there?

Merger or no merger, what stops the Governors of present States that constitute the various old Regions of (Eastern, Western,  Mid West and Northern) from coming together respectively  to rub minds and brainstorm on how to boost and develop the agricultural produces and potentials in their  areas? What is happening to the groundnut and cotton pyramid of the old Northern Region, the cocoa of Western Region and palm fruits and kernel of the Eastern Region among others? Are the lands that used to produce those things are no longer there? Why the run to Abuja for bail out? Those at the helm of affairs whether at the federal ,states or local government need to wear their thinking caps as leadership is not about fun or merry making but about positive service to the people. Nigeria needs leaders that will encourage Nigerians to believe in this country and discourage them from engaging in exodus to other countries. As the saying goes “there is no better place like one’s home”. The Nigerian leaders both past and present need to be asking themselves: Is the current situation similar to what they enjoyed when they were growing up in this country?      

Mr. Pedro (SAN) made a valid point that I agreed with that in everything we do, “We don’t have to copy other countries blindly .We must look at our own peculiar situation and find a workable solution”. I do not see the justification for the continued insistence on the American political system of two terms for a President or a Governor when at the end of that 8 years nothing much will be on the ground to show for that period. A President or a Governor who does not perform well during the first term will do everything including the power of incumbency to get the second term. There is the need to revisit the period of 5 year single term which will be enough for any serious minded leader to perform creditably well. Leadership is not about number of years spent in power but the positive achievements made while in power. There are countries where some of their leaders spent decades in power with no meaningful achievement. Blasé Compaore spent 27 years in Burkina Faso but was eventually chased away from his country. The late Lee Kuan Yew of Singapore was an example of benevolent dictator to his country people who turned his country from the third world to the first world. I know for sure now that many Libyans and Iraqis will be biting their fingers today for having seen the difference between the Libya with Gaddafi and without Gaddafi as well as Iraq with Saddam and without Saddam. They were one time leaders of their respective countries  and mighty have being  dictators when they were in power but the fact still remains that they were able to keep their countries together unlike what is happening in the two countries today.

The irony of leadership in Africa is that you have leaders that are not performing positively well in their various countries but still want to continue staying in power forever. The African continent is blessed with abundant mineral resources but mostly lack the leaders that will transform those resources to the advantage of Africans. Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana in his book: “I Speak of Freedom” once depicted the African potentiality in the following words:


“Although most Africans are poor, our continent is potentially extremely rich. Our mineral resources, which are being exploited with foreign capital only to enrich investors, range from gold and diamonds to uranium and petroleum .Our forests, contain some of the finest woods to be grown anywhere. Our cash crops include cocoa, coffee, rubber, tobacco and cotton. As for power, which is an important factor in any economic development, Africa contains over 40% of the total potential water power of the world, as compare with about 10% in the Europe and 13% in North America. Yet so far , less than 1% has been developed .This is one of the reasons why we have in Africa the paradox of poverty in the midst of plenty ,and scarcity in the midst of abundance.”

Is it not very unfortunate that despite the independence of most of the African countries, we are still till date having poverty in the midst of plenty and scarcity in the midst of abundance in Africa and in Nigeria in particular? Is it not shameful that ordinary fruits like apples and pineapples are being smuggled or imported into Nigeria from the neighbouring countries and are being sold at exorbitant price when similar things can be cultivated and produce in this country? Africa including Nigeria has what it takes to develop the continent if there are right leaders that are visionary and selfless at the helm of affairs. Even if the States are merged in Nigeria and the right leaders are not there, it will still amount to the exercise in futility. An atmosphere must be created to allow the right leaders to emerge as where outrageous amount of money is being demanded from aspirants to obtain forms from political parties to contest for elective political offices, it is only the money bag politicians who may not be truly patriotic that will be having access to the political offices to the disadvantage of the electorates as their interest may not matter to the money bag politicians. Merger or no merge, may God bless Nigeria with truly patriotic and selfless leaders!                            .         


NOTE: Anyone is at liberty to disagree with my above submissions as I will surely appreciate a balanced, fair and objective rebuttal.

08055476823, 08164683735: [email protected]

 24th October 2021

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