The signs that the ethnic nationalities in Delta State are still not very comfortable living together under the same name, came to fore once again, when Deltans from across the three geo-political zones sent in strong requests to the recently concluded Senate Committee on the review of the 1999 constitution demanding for as much as eight new states to be carved out of the present Delta State.
The states which have been demanded for are; Anioma State by the movement for the creation of Anioma state, Urhobo state by the Urhobo Progressive Union, Warri state by the Itsekiri Model, Coast State by the Ijaws ans Itsekiri’s leaders forum, New Delta state by the movement for the creation of new Delta state, Ado State by the Isoko people and Ethiope State by the movement for the creation of Ethiope state. An eight state, Toru Ebe state intends to accommodate Ijaws from Delta, Edo, Ondo and their kinsmen around the South western penninsula, just like Bayelsa did with Ijaws from the Old Rivers, Bendel and later Delta states in 1996.
According to the report summarizing the memoranda submitted to the Senate Review Committee in respect to the creation of new states, the South South region actually top the list with 17 demands and Delta state alone is leading with the demand for at least Seven states.
Since the creation of Delta State by then President Ibrahim Babangida in 1991, the disquiet and pronounced anger which greeted the contraption woven together twenty one years ago, has not really died down completely, despite the efforts of politicians, especially those seeking the governorship position, to create the impression of unity and togetherness amongst the ethnic nationalities.
Prior to the 1991 creation, there had been the predominant agitation for two new states from the old Bendel State. They were; Delta State and Anioma State. The signs that new states would be created was heightened after the Gideon Orkar led Coup d’etat of April 22, 1990 and the bids from the agitators of Anioma and Delta states were so strong that there was little doubt the two states would be created in the next tranche of new states.
But General Babangida suprized every one and angered a substantial segment of the new bedfellows, when he created Delta state but put the capital in Asaba, the heart and proposed capital of the Anioma agitation.
It was a strange decision by Babangida, which many say was influenced by his late wife Maryam and in response to this unsolicited companionship, the rest of the new Delta state simply refused to set down roots in the new state capital for several years, preferring to visit and conduct their business with the administrative seat of power and returning to their bases in as short a time as possible.
The situation was so tense at that time that it had to take the courage of Comrade Ovuozuorie Macaulay to bridge the gulf and by becoming the first non Anioma in a recognized top public office to build a house in Asaba, thus creating a friendly atmosphere for others to at least re-consider their apathy towards the new capital.
But for over eight years Asaba remained in the doldrums of underdevelopment even with its status as a state capital under a military regime and it was not until 1999, when Chief James Ibori won the election as the governor of Delta State in the new political dispensation, that some cosmopolitan structures began to emerge. A new government House was built, a couple of new roads snaked out and some new areas were opened up to allow people who believed in Ibori’s expansive and accommodating spirit to buy land and build.
Ibori opened up Asaba but by then, the message was very clear and the obvious scenario was that the agitation for the creation of new states from Delta state would always be pursued once the opportunity arose.
Politics also contributed to further heighten the agitation for new states as the issue of power rotation amongst the three geo-political zones, Delta Central, Delta South and Delta North became a major talking point, especially during the run up to the 2007 governorship elections when no one was quiet sure where the power would shift to after Ibori’s reign.
When Dr. Emmanuel Uduaghan emerged as the next governor of Delta state, his supporters and loyalists quickly upheld the power shift argument and tied his victory as a Delta South candidate to the actualization of power rotation from Central to South.
But those who followed that election know that Governor Uduaghan, despite his sterling public service credentials as Health Commissioner and SSG, was simply selected and anointed by his cousin James Ibori as the next governor, especially against the backdrop of the fact that three of the leading candidates; Ovie Omo-Agege, Godswill Obielum and Ifeanyi Okowa had come from the Central and North.
Governor Uduaghan, since he assumed office in 2007, has actually exhibited a greater zeal to develop Delta State. The Asaba International Airport stands out as the stellar project of his administration and there have also been impressive achievements in the Health sector, Micro-Credit, Education and Special Infrastructure amongst others, but the fact that most Deltans may not have been very impressed with his leadership style was revealed during the governorship re-run election of January 2011 and indeed the general election of April 2011, which he may have won with a landslide but in which the opposition in Delta State finally made tremendous gains for the first time since 1999, over the his ruling PDP where he is the leader of the party in the state, especially in Delta Central and some parts of Delta North.
In fact, the opinion on most streets in the state and across the three geo-political zones is that Delta State is actually comparatively worse off now in the five years of Governor Uduaghan’s administration than at any other time in the twenty one year history of the state.
The indices for this conclusion are mainly empirical, especially the roads in Asaba, Warri and other major towns and cities. Delta State Commissioner for Information explains this situation by arguing that for the first time in the history of the state, things are now been done properly and the Uduaghan administration has embarked on constructing drainages first before fixing the roads so that they will last longer and certainly beyond the next rainy season and these things take time to complete.
But it is doubtful if his explanations have managed to convince Deltans, who complain that the Uduaghan administration is rather slow to respond to the situation and address the obvious pains which the people are going through and many of the sceptics are fully convinced that one sure way to address the development challenges which now exist in Delta State is to be given their individual states.
Another act which further motivated the demand for the creation of new states was the decision by the then President Olusegun Obasanjo to legally compel the national Assembly and by extention the oil producing to pass a law establishing Oil Producing Areas Development Commissions in all the Oil Producing States of the country, which will be entitled to 50% of the 13% derivation revenue accruing to such states from the federation account.
This led to the establishment by law of the Delta State Oil Producing Areas Development Commission, DESOPADEC and with the sizeable chunk of half of the 13% derivation revenue going to the Commission the polarities between Oil Producing and non Oil Producing Communities became more pronounced, not just amongst the Oil Producing Communities themselves, but indeed within the ethnic nationalities that constitute some of the communities.
The fact that both Delta Central and Delta South, which make up the key oil producing communities are actually asking for six new indigenous states, while Delta North has maintained its demand for the one and only Anioma state, speaks volumes for the impact a Commission like DESOPADEC has created in the demand for new states amongst Deltans.
The argument now, according to a school of thought is that given what is presently happening in Delta state, any zone that eventually succeeds in producing the next governor, will only develop its region at the expense of others, so the best way to go is to ask for new states.
In fact, at the just concluded Zonal Advocacy Workshop on Economic Diversification and Enhanced Revenue Generation (South-South Zone) Organized by the Revenue Mobilization, Allocation and Fiscal Commission (RMAFC), in Asaba the feelers indicate that the core Oil producing Communities are so unhappy with the way the 50% from the 13% derivation is been managed by the state governments, that they are now asking for either an amendment on the existing law setting up the oil commissions or a new legislation by the national Assembly where the money would be paid directly by the federal government into an account made up of and controlled by the Oil producing Communities instead of the Governors. The sequel to this, once it is achieved, will eventually be the intensified agitation for the creation of a core Delta or Coastal state in the near future.
Many Delta watchers also believe that the heightened demand by Deltans for the creation of new states may also have been influenced by the political uncertainties that surround the outcome of the 2015 general elections in the state.
The obvious scenario in Delta State today is that only very few people are actually convinced by the power shift ideology on which the Uduaghan loyalists anchored the victory of their principal in 2007 and 2011. Besides, that argument is only tenable in the ruling PDP, and with the emergence of President Goodluck Jonathan, the new interpretation now is that the power balancing structure can only be defined after the top job had been taken, which implies that the governorship in 2015 is for all comers and only those who are serious enough, as Chief E.K Clark has clearly pointed, can get it.
So, once that is settled, the other geo-political zones and ethnic nationalities that lost out can now be factored into the subsequent positions, like the SSG, the Speakership and others.
There is no doubt that against the back drop of these scenarios and indeed the many more that are likely to unfold before the 2015 general elections, the agitation for states creation will continue to be a burning in our national life, even when some of the agitations appear quite unrealistic.
The Federal House of Representatives had in the previous Assembly, affirmed that new states would be created in 2013 and indeed Senate President David Mark, who is a staunch advocate of Apa State, from the present Benue State has already said that new states will be created soon.
Indeed, Deputy Senate President, Ike Ekweremadu sums up the debate for the creation of new states thus: “If Nigerians agree that there is need for more states and that there are injustices that needed to be addressed in area of state creation, and they believe that the imbalances need to be adjusted in all parts of the country where there is dominance against the other, we must address it. So if Nigerians agree in that regard, I am sure we can build consensus around it and go ahead to create the state. I think it is something we are going to give a trial because there are valid requests there that need to be addressed,”.
So will new states be created in 2013?