By Nnamdi Elekwachi
In Nigeria, the North enjoys the game of numbers such that certain political interests and power brokers there would do everything, even the unthinkable, to ensure that the North remains ahead of other regions in that game. Reason I will always posit that the basis of the claim that the North has the largest human population in Nigeria remains unsettled and in limbo until a reliable national register or database domiciled with agencies like National Population Commission, NPC; National Identity Management Commission, NIMC; National Bureau of Statistics, NBS; Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC; National Boundary Commission, NBC and others is established. This, however, is not to diminish the fact that the North actually has population.
Like it or not, 2023 is a year of numbers. For Nigeria, it is both election cycle and a population and housing census year (should the Federal Government keep to its word on population census exercise later this year). Both exercises – election and population census – are games that favour only the majority. Population is itself key to how constituencies are delimited and new polling units created by INEC which, to a great extent, determines who gets what in terms of federal legislative seats among the federating units.
In November of 2021, for example, INEC created additional 56,872 polling units bringing the number to a total of 176,846. A bulk of these units were awarded to the North which got 93,191 units while the South got 83,665 units. Considering that each polling unit, by the provision of the Electoral Act, should have 500 voters, the North, following this exercise, boasted 4,768,000 registered voters more than the South. This is the reason today the North is seen as the beautiful bride, coveted by all presidential aspirants, political interests and parties. Although this demographic may change when INEC creates more voting points before the next general elections in 2027 given the turnout observed in the last Continued Voter Registration, CVR, still, the primordial North-South dichotomy in Nigeria’s political landscape remains as macroscopic as ever.
In a nation where resources are unevenly distributed, revenue sharing follows such a formula that 30% of what is to be shared (usually 26.72% of the nation’s revenue) is horizontally distributed among the thirty-six states based on population. Though 40% of the allocable revenue is shared based on “equality of states” and 10% on landmass, we know which region gets more in terms of the three criteria of: population, equity/equality and landmass. There is also 13% derivation for the oil-rich states which falls outside the horizontal sharing arrangement. But this pales in significance when you consider the fact that it is not created based on proportion. By horizontal sharing arrangement in Nigeria, revenue is shared among the 36 states on the basis of five principles of: equality of states (40%), population (30%), landmass (10%) social development effort (10%), and internal revenue generation (10%). The formula used here had been in existence since 1946, long before independence! This is how the house of Lugard had been kept decades after.
The vertical sharing formula meanwhile is seen in the fiscal federalism that operates in Nigeria in line with intergovernmental relations – among the three tiers of government. The Federal Government, one single amorphous entity, gets 52.68%, over half of what is to be shared; the 36 states get 26.72% on horizontal arrangement while 774 local government councils get 20.60%. Sadly, this lopsided vertical sharing formula has not been revisited since 1992! It is to be understood that states share their paltry 26.72% of the revenue amongst themselves, then proceed to hijack the revenue that should accrue to the councils and grassroots because of a notion of illegality enshrined somewhere in Section 162 of the 1999 constitution known as state joint local government account.
Nigeria has 15 border states with Lagos, Kwara, Kebi, Niger, Adamawa, Cross River, Ogun, Sokoto, Borno and others contiguous with some African nations. Also has Nigeria about 11 contiguous African nations including those she shares maritime boundaries with (Sao Tome and Principe, Ghana, Equatorial Guinea, Cameroon, Gabon etc) as a coastal state with access to maritime highways. So hundreds of borders in Nigeria are not manned or are simply compromised by authorities that should protect them.
Maritime awareness is low, if not totally absent, in Nigeria. Worst for the country is that the issue of border and immigration falls within the 68-item exclusive list of the 1999 constitution (as amended) where only the Federal Government can legislate upon. States have no business with borders, not even with their own boundaries as boundary dispute resolution between and among states are left to National Boundary Commission, NBC.
The Federal Government under Buhari shut all the borders to tackle influx of illegal migrants and/or imported rice, but under Buhari’s watch, illegal migration from as far as Mali happens. Small and light weapons, SALW continue to find their way into Nigeria in an unprecedented level. Buhari who should be building buffer around his borders is building a rail project that will connect Nigeria to Niger, the source of undocumented and illegal migrants. During the last NIN exercise many Nigeriens and Chadians were issued the identity card many Nigerians here were falling over themselves at collection centres to get. This pattern, again, was followed during the recently concluded continued voter registration. Some people in Adamawa can easily walk to Cameroon and back to Nigeria unhindered. But coming down from Sokoto to, say, Enugu one encounters over 50 (and I’m being conservative here) military and police checkpoints.
Each time southern borders had been compromised, it had been largely for economic reasons, maybe to smuggle contraband into the country or to access markets in Nigeria, Benin Republic or Togo or Ghana. As for the North, borders are abused for economic, political and cultural reasons. The cultural reasons are deeply rooted in colonialism.
Pre-existing factors continue to shape migration in virtually all the border states and entry points in Nigeria. Some states and towns in Nigeria were, by colonial forces, cut off from their kith and kin with whom they hitherto enjoyed marital, ancestral, economic and other cultural ties that preceded colonialism. Badagry, for example, is home to the Yoruba but there are the Ogu and Ewe people there too. The Ewe claim ancestral ties to as far as Ghana. Some groups in Ogun State existed as close-knit community with people in Benin Republic today long before 1900 when colonialism was begun. It has remained difficult to break the cultural ties among these groups with artificial boundaries imposed by European superpowers during the so-called “Scramble for Africa.”
In the North, established elaborate state machinery had predated by eons the great-grandfathers of Lugard and Mungo Park, the Kanem Borno Empire being one example. Becoming important in historical scholarship by the 8th century AD, Kanem Empire comprised Libya, Chad and Nigeria. When it reached its apogee, Kanem Borno straddled Nigeria, Niger, Chad and Cameroon (Northeastern part). Many cities sprang up as trading centres and outposts of the old empire but two cities, Ngazargamu and Kukawa, in today’s Yobe and Borno states successively became capital cities of the old empire. Today, Borno and some other states in the North, hold a symbol for these groups in the Lake Chad Basin and had remained the gateway to Nigeria, even down her South.
Northern political elites rely on these ties to succeed in the game of numbers whenever election or population census draws near. Humans, like cargoes, are imported into the country as political mercenaries in a bid to secure numerical superiority. Apart from child voter issue, many who participate in Nigeria’s elections in the North are not citizens of the country. So the result is that the North will get more than it deserves in electoral boundary creation, legislative seats, revenue sharing and other benefits since it has the numbers.
Nothing has changed with these trans-border cultural ties. Certain scholars still argue that the cultural ties and traits inherent in the Lake Chad Basin axis keep Boko Haram formidable.
But Africa missed the opportunity to readjust her borders and right the wrongs of Berlin Conference of 1884/85 following the end of colonialism. The ‘60s which was called “decade of independence” was the era Africa came together to form the Organisation of African Unity, OAU (now succeeded by AU). The nations that had gathered to adopt the principles enshrined in OAU article affirmed their commitment to maintain all existing African borders as created by Europe. It came under the rubric of “respect for the territorial integrity” of member states. Today, over one thousand border and boundary conflicts had plagued Africa since independence!
So when Festus Odimegwu of National Population Commission, NPC, aware of this game of numbers posited that Nigeria had never had a real and genuine population census, and that since 1952/53 Nigeria’s population results had been a fallout of rigging and gerrymandering, he was shown the exit by Goodluck Jonathan because he wanted to “spoil show” for certain interests.
When I read yesterday in the news that 516 immigrants from Lake Chad axis bearing PVCs and NIMC identity cards were caught by our immigration authorities, I mildly asked: why weren’t they intercepted at entry points? Who knows how many of them made it to other parts of the nation, including to the fringes and forest margins thereof? These are the same roots agents of terror ply.
Well, I just want to remind you that Kaduna is landlocked, unlike the other 15 border states, and so who knows whether there are other thousands undetected in other states enjoying access to basic opportunities Nigerians are denied here? Whatever be the case, 2023 is here; a year of elections and population census, so if you want to know more about why numbers matter this season, put two and two together.
Nnamdi Elekwachi, a historian, can be reached via firstname.lastname@example.org