The committee proceeded on its assignment and on March 9, 1982, held its first meeting, during which Dr. Ekwueme declared that, “there is no gainsaying that there is a need to work out modalities which will facilitate and streamline the procedures for creating new States, while at the time upholding in tenor and spirit the constitutional requirements on this issue…”
After the inauguration on October 1, 1979, Dr. Alex Ekwueme as vice president, with the approval of his boss, Alhaji Shehu Shagari, made some appointments. These included the employment of Dr. Patrick Okedinachi Utomi from Igbuzo in Oshimili North Local Government in the present Delta State, as special assistant and Prince Victor Folagbade Olateru Olagbegi, as special adviser. Prince Olagbegi is now the Olowo of Owo. Dr. Ekwueme had two disadvantages at that time. He was not part of the kitchen cabinet of President Shehu Shagari, made up of Alhaji Umaru Dikko, Alhaji Ibrahim Dasuki, Dr. Ibrahim Tahir, Alhaji Uba Ahmed, Alhaji Saleh Jambo, Alhaji Isiaku Ibrahim, Alhaji Aminu Tijani, Alhaji Shehu Musa and others.
The other disadvantage was that his home state of Anambra was under the control of the Nigeria People’s Party (NPP), although there was an NPP/NPN accord at the centre.
He overcame these disadvantages by being completely loyal to his boss, President Shagari.
He also established a network that caught political brides for the NPN from the NPP in Imo and Anambra States. Among those caught very early were Senator Nathaniel Anah from Anambra north and Senator Tony Anyanwu from Owerri. President Shehu Shagari also helped by conceding that all federal appointments from Imo and Anambra States must be endorsed by Dr. Ekwueme.
With that, Dr. Ekwueme’s political base started swelling day by day, making then Governor Jim Nwobodo of Anambra State extremely uncomfortable, to the extent that he called for the termination of the NPN/NPP accord. At that time, there was a high demand for the creation of more states in the country, and this was more vocal from the East Central zone, comprising the Ogoja, Ibibio, Osun, Nasarawa, Taraba, Katsina, and Igala territories. The argument, particularly from the East Central, was that Imo and Anambra States were insufficient for the Igbo, who felt shortchanged in the last state creation exercise in February 1976 because of the Civil War. There was this demand too that the old provinces should be turned into states. Ogoja and Ijebu provinces qualified in this category. The Ibibios in the then Cross River State, who were described as the fifth largest tribe in Nigeria at that time, wanted a state of their own. Although they dominated the business and the civil service echelons in Cross River State, they still wanted a state of their own in order to fully have an identity. The Ijaws too, who controlled the coastline in the country, also wanted a state of their own. No doubt the demand for states became the major topic in the first eighteen months of President Shagari’s tenure.
To arrest the demand, Shagari summoned a meeting of all political leaders, which was held in Lagos on Tuesday February 22, 1982, to address the issue. The NPP and the UPN boycotted the meeting, after which President Shagari set up a 17-man committee headed by his vice-president, Dr. Alex Ekwueme.
Other members of the committee included Chief Richard Osuolale Akinjide (the attorney-general and minister of justice), Dr. Chuba Okadigbo, special adviser to the president on political affairs, Hon. J.C. Ojukwu, Hon. A. A. Waba (House of Representatives), Hon. Senator Ja’Afar J. Mangga, Senator Abba Ali (the Nigerian Senate), Senator D.O. Dafinone, Alhaji Idris Ibrahim (the NPN representatives), Alhaji Musa Musawa, Dr. Ikem Okeke, (the PRP representatives), Dr. B.N. Ukegbu and Alhaji Aliyu Ibrahim (the GNPP representatives).
The committee observed that almost in all cases, the number of states which the political parties had indicated that they would support corresponded to the number of States for which requests had been made to the National Assembly at the time their memoranda were submitted. In other words, no political party appeared to be willing to oppose any request for the creation of new States.
The argument of the UPN and the NPP was that the provision of Section 8 of the 1979 Constitution was enough guide for states to be created and that there was no need for a multiparty conference on the issue. The committee proceeded on its assignment and on March 9, 1982, held its first meeting, during which Dr. Ekwueme declared that, “there is no gainsaying that there is a need to work out modalities which will facilitate and streamline the procedures for creating new States, while at the time upholding in tenor and spirit the constitutional requirements on this issue. Thus, the raison d’être for our gathering today is to evolve ways and means for the processes for creation of new States in order to meet the wishes of the generality of our people whose welfare we have a duty to protect. It is however necessary to emphasise at this juncture that all efforts must be seen as an attempt to assist the National and State Assemblies in the onerous task of creating new states, which is and remains their constitutional responsibility. As you know, we are required to submit our report by the end of this month. Another, meeting of the party leaders has been scheduled to take place on April 6 to consider our report. This means, in effect, that we cannot ask for any extension of time. This imports hard work, dedication and seriousness of purpose on our part. I consider our assignment an enviable one – an assignment that if properly tackled, could make a historical contribution to Nigeria’s political development. I have no doubt that given the composition of this committee, we shall be equal to the task.”
He emphasised the need to correct the wrong impression being held by some Nigerians that the effort being made in this regard was to circumvent the provisions of the Constitution.
Members of the committee critically examined their terms of reference, scope and the modalities to be adopted in carrying out the assignment. It was finally agreed that because of the disparate political and legal problems and implications of the relevant terms of reference, two sub-committees — political and legal — be created to closely examine the issues involved and make recommendations to the main committee for consideration at its subsequent meetings.
The legal sub-committee had the benefit of advice of Professor B.O. Nwabueze (SAN) and of draft bills in relation to the creation of States by Chief Rotimi Williams (SAN). The main committee met consecutively from March 23rd to 31st, 1982 to examine the reports and recommendations of the sub-committees and to adopt a final position on the various terms of reference to be submitted to President Shagari.
The committee noted that the political parties had, in their memoranda, expressed their view on the number of states they wished to see created (the National Party of Nigeria — 25; Unity Party of Nigeria — 22; Nigerian Peoples Party — 21; Great Nigerian Peoples Party — 27; and Peoples Redemption Party — 24). The committee observed that almost in all cases, the number of states which the political parties had indicated that they would support corresponded to the number of States for which requests had been made to the National Assembly at the time their memoranda were submitted. In other words, no political party appeared to be willing to oppose any request for the creation of new States. While the committee noted that it would be unconstitutional in that context to prescribe on a maximum number of States, it nevertheless accepted the view that it was not every request for the creation of a new State that would be successful.
In a statement on March 22, 1982, the Unity Party of Nigeria explained that its leader, Chief Obafemi Awolowo, had always been an advocate for the creation of more states in the country throughout his political life, particularly for minorities like the Ogoja, Tiv, Jukun, and Ijaw, as tribes which deserved to have their own states. The party then pointed out that its non-representation at the Ekwueme committee should not be misinterpreted.
Eric Teniola, a former director in the Presidency, Writes from Lagos.