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The Walter Ollor proposition: ‘250 ethnic-based states will reduce cost of governance, boost job creation’

A long-standing Professor of Economics, Rivers-born Walter Ollor has tabled a proposition for, at least, 250 ethnic-based administrative units or states in Nigeria.

The proposition was tabled on Saturday, December 19, 2020, at the Hotel Presidential where the Walter Ollor Foundation mounted a top colloquium to mark the professor’s 70th birthday. Ollor specialised in Econometrics & International Economics, considered cost of governance before suggesting the number of states.

As if the solution lies in the problem itself, Ollor, who began top academic climb as a graduate assistant in the University College, Port Harcourt, in 1976, and became a research assistant, Iowa State University, Ames, USA, in 1977-80, said his proposition would create jobs and cut cost of governance.

In the 44-page presentation at the colloquium, Ollor, who is pressing hard to establish a university to drive his dream Silicon City probably at the empty vast forest between Rivers and Akwa Ibom States, quoted many previous authorities that had suggested ethno-based states to drive development, create healthy competition, and facilitate national stability through sustainable development.

The crux of his proposition is that each administrative unit would have one mineral resource to exploit and boost internally-generated revenue and remit 50 percent to the centre.

He said the proposition would settle once and for all the vexed issue of resource control and true or fiscal federalism in a win-win method.

He went on: “Critical questions are usually for critical moments; meant to change a thing or to deepen understanding. What is Nigeria: A geographical entity (expression) or a social entity?

“If it’s a geographical entity, then what is the optimal number of regions, states, or local councils? Engineers and planners always look for optimal numbers in solving their problems. So, what is the optimal number for Nigeria’s sustainable development?

“To reach efficiency level, you need to determine optimum numbers. A look at Niger Delta generations over the periods would reflect at the era of the likes of Prof. Tekena Tamuno down to the present generation. The argument could be viewed in some legs. One leg is Niger Delta strategies and the other is my experience on civil rule; Akasa raid (Nembe), Adaka Boro issue: how he fought, how he died here in Port Harcourt, and Ken Saro-Wiwa’s struggle and death.”

According to him, “The third generation would look at the likes of Wiwa, the Ogoni struggle, Kaima declaration, etc. My experience: 1989 Constitutional conference would force a look at the warning we gave then that resource control would cause problem in Nigeria if not properly handled. We recommended that the OMPADEC be backed up in the constitution and that ecological fund be set up to help address environmental crisis.”

He went on to narrate how and some others struggled and got 13 percent derivation. “But we realise that the Niger Delta has been shortchanged because anything they set up for the Niger Delta, they set up two in the north.”

The case for 250 states

Ollor, a one-time senior lecturer at the then University of Science & Technology (UST) now Rivers State University (RSU), took his elite audience beyond geographical reasoning, and declared:

“Nigeria can do with 250 states based on her 253 ethnic groups. The likes of Obafemi Awolowo of the blessed memory once canvassed for ethnic-based state creation to enable each ethnic nationality decide its growth path and speed. This will automatically create 250 cities and development centres. Every state should keep 50 per cent of whatever wealth it developed and its IGR.”

The main objective of the proposition, he said, is to massively create jobs. “It will also localise needs and solutions so that each ethnic group would choose their leaders and hold them responsible. The national unemployment growth rate is signal for disaster. In 2010, Nigeria had three million unemployed persons with two million in the rural areas and one million in the urban areas. In 2018, it jumped to 20 million, with five million in the urban and 15 million in the rural areas. This gives 75 percent rural areas rate. The growth rate is 85 percent. This is alarming and an imminent danger. This way, Nigeria cannot make the list of 20 top economies in the world.”

He harped on the fiscal dimensions of leadership and said the currency re-denomination that was not accepted in the recent past is needed now: “Ghana and Germany did it. Nigeria rejected this some years ago.”

The 2007 Ag. Director, Centre for Niger Delta Studies who was professor of Banking and Finance, Igbinedion University, Okada (2007 – 2012) said: “Sustainability and Stability will help the economy to get better. It will help to create jobs and reduce tension. How? If you remove oil/gas from the economy and Nigeria will go into coma. Mineral map shows that each state has something to exploit and develop. If states become autonomous and are ethno-based, they will develop what they have and give birth to a new Nigeria.”

Reacting to fears of large ethnic groups in one state versus smaller states, Ollor gave examples of such states in the US, saying large states would command the advantage of scale while smaller states can merge to maximise their smallness.

Everyone is in danger – Joseph Ajienka

Chairman of the colloquium and former two-time vice chancellor of the University of Port Harcourt, a professor of engineering, Joseph Ajienka, said insecurity is linked to joblessness. “Lecturers look back 10 years after and see those they taught still unemployed. It is at frightening level and must be taken seriously. Let all persons reflect on the plight of joblessness seriously.

“Everyone is in danger. #EndSARS is mere warning. Nigerians must sit down and find solution to the country’s problems. Ollor has set the ball rolling. He is one of the best from Rivers State,” he said.

The emeritus professor, who set up and first ran the famous petroleum institute in the Uniport, said Ollor’s presentation as his latest intellectual activism, ‘A Toddler Nation’ is an account of the stunted growth of Nigeria. “He is a man who puts his thoughts together. He has made suggestions on the way forward.”

Ajienka went on: “If Nigeria does not strive to achieve sustainability and stability, everybody will be in danger. Ollor is public intellectual and a concerned citizen who has been in the forefront on sustainable development even before the United Nations Sustainable Development scheme came into focus.

“Ollor is an intellectual activist. In recent times, he marks his birthdays with books, today with two. His presentation before you titled ‘A Toddler Nation’ is an account of the stunted growth of Nigeria. He is a man who puts his thoughts together. He has made suggestions on the way forward.

“If Nigeria does not strive to achieve sustainability and stability, everybody will be in danger.”

Interventions: Did they hit the mark?

Eggheads tried to intervene in Ollor’s proposition but many of them rather said 250 states would blow up costs at a time the 35 states were difficult to run.

Chamberlain Peterside: No to more states

Ollor has been active and vibrant for many years. We must define Nigeria, as the presenter has tried to do. From an economic standpoint, people wake up and question their states (countries) when things are getting bad.

Answer to Nigeria’s problems may not be in the number of states created. Welfare of people is what matters. Consider cost and efficiency quotient of creating such large number of states.

Rivers State started in 1967 with one city, Port Harcourt, but has it created any other city due to decentralisation of power? Has another Port Harcourt been built? Rather, most investments have gone down. Things are on the decline.

Yes, seeking sustainability for economic progress is very good but not through 250 states.

Georginia Ngeri-Nwagha: Arrest population explosion, now

Quality of life is what matters and this has crashed. A viral video showed 20 graduating students of a university interviewed who could not easily spell ‘vice chancellor.’ Next problem is population explosion. Birth control policy or scheme is urgently needed. Most of us in the south make joke of the population surge in the north to say cows vote. I was in the north for elections and I saw things for myself. In some compounds, over 50 Under-15 children will troop out, born by about three women.

Spill over to the south is here. The northern youths are heading to the south, may not be for jihad as we all claim, but there is hunt for greener pastures in every sense. Nigeria must deal with population crisis.

BB Fakae: Develop implementable roadmap

“Talking about 250 states, population explosion, they are important but there is need for making of implementable roadmap. The key thing is to have continuity of development plan from CEO to CEO, from administration to administration in any public institution.

“In the then UST, we did it, we recovered some buildings and put them to use. There is need, thus to enforce continuity in government projects,” Fakae said.

Noble Chukumati: Problem is how to select leaders

What bothers me is how we select our leaders. We need people who have capacity, and do away with tribal propensities that lack capacity.

We have mediocre ruling us. It should be ability, not zone, no sentiment, no ethnicity. We have them plenty. If Nigerians review what has happened so far, we can see we need capacity.

Ebere Nwigwe

The medical doctor said: “I am impressed with Ollor’s achievements over the years. If Nigeria can get its leadership question right, else, the problem remains. Leadership recruitment is the issue. Same people will still come in 2023.

“Thank God Buhari came and proved things. If he did not come, many people would be saying, if Buhari had been allowed to rule, this would have happened, that would have happened.”

Chairman: The gun seems to have more impact in elections in Nigeria these days. Yes, problem is leadership, but the process of choosing a leader in Nigeria has been tainted.

The fear of petroleum engineers! Phasing out fossil fuel is a threat. Cars that use fuel may go out and this will knock the need and value of fuel down. Once you remove oil/gas from cars, consumption will crash. We must build infrastructure to consume what we have and achieve sustainability.

Toast by a retired chief judge: Justice Iche Ndu

Centre of agreement here is that a lot depends on how we choose our leaders. Choice of leaders is key to sustainable development. Effort should be made ensure proper, safe and agreeable way of selection of our leaders.

Ollor delivers hammer blow

The celebrant gave strong key of success to the younger generation.

Note that success is determined by two things; Opportunity, Preparedness. I am always prepared for opportunity. I urge young people to check at their doorsteps if opportunities are not lying waste there. Check if nature has not dropped opportunity for you on your doorstep. Many opportunities are lying waste and idle at doorsteps.

The answer to some of those who wonder how large ethnic groups could fit into one state is thus; “The answer to your question was supplied by the late Obafemi Awolowo several years ago. Large ethnic nationalities will have one State and their large population will be their comparative advantage. See for example California in USA vis-a-vis New England or Alaska. Even at the level of nation states, we have large countries like China vis-a-vis small nations like Finland. It has been the greatest injustice to use population size in demarcation of states.

Ollor’s economic logic for 250 states

Page 20 of the proposition seems to show how 250 states structure is cheaper to run and better to create sense of ownership.

He stated: “It may be argued that about 250 states are unwieldy for national stability. A counter-factual argument is that the present 36 states (and FCT Abuja) and 774 local councils give us a total of 810 administrative units (excluding FCT Abuja) which draw their allocations from the federation account.

By replacing 810 administrative units with about 250 states, the nation would save scarce resources and truly make nation-building the effort of indigenous nationalities. Furthermore, a system of federal government and some 250 states provides us with a two-tier system of governance and gives the opportunities to all indigenous nationalities to compete in the social, cultural, and economic development of their states.

“It is also conceivable that some states founded on this quantum theory could collaborate or merge in order to become viable in a system where each state is the driver of its own destiny and every state supports the Federal Government by payments of agreed percentage of its internally generated revenue (IGR) to the federal government.”

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