From Tony Ogbechie
Thirty years after the creation of Delta State from the Bendel, former Military President, Ibrahim Babangida, has cleared the air on why Asaba, a town in the extreme was made capital of the oil rich state.
The ex-president who turned 80 today, said Asaba did not become Delta State capital because his wife, Mariam, hailed from the town.
His position sharply contrasts with the widely held sentiments that Asaba was pronounced capital in 1991 upon the creation of the state.
Babangida created nine states including Delta on August 27, 1991 to bring the total number of states in Nigeria to 30 at the time.
Giving reasons for the creation of more states, Babangida in an interview at his Hilltop Mansion in Minna, Niger State, said stipulated criteria were strictly followed to create states.
He said agitation for more states would continue to dominate the polity due to the urge for dominance by ethnic groups and personalities.
“Well I will tell you something. First of all, let me clear one thing because that question will lead to that. I did not make Asaba the state capital because my wife came from Asaba. That is out of it.
“We listed criteria for state creation for the country and we strictly followed those criteria to create states.
“We started with two states, Katsina and Akwa Ibom. Why did we do that? These two states were the most prominent among agitations for creation of states.
“And you can understand there was no serious contention about this. Katsina used to be in the North Central, with Kaduna and so on when they were once together.
“So, it was easier to handle that because two provinces – Katsina Province and Zaria Province, were earlier put together to form Kaduna State. So, we created Katsina and brought it out of Kaduna. And, politically, it was a very good decision
Now, Akwa Ibom. The agitation for the state started as far back as 1938. They had been very consistent. They talked about it, they fought for it. I don’t know whether you were born when people were talking about CORE State – Cross River, Ogoja and so on.
“So, because of history, we had no problem in creating Akwa Ibom State. Then we realised that people would continue to agitate and we didn’t close our doors to that. We had to take a second look again to see which ones were viable.
I will tell you a very good story. I had very good friends from the South East at that time. I remember people like the late Pius Okigbo and other very prominent persons who came to me as my friends and talked about creation of Abia State.
“We looked at the whole thing and decided to strike a balance between the South East, South South and the South West, especially about the number of states that occupied the Yoruba and Igbo territories.
“They are the most dominant tribes in these regions. I think you are old enough to know that there were times when people argued that there was still no balance, that there should be balance between the East and the West.
“That is the greatest contention up till now. We tried to strike that balance. Unfortunately, it remains the way it is now.
“I am not surprised that these agitations are even becoming more vocal now, trying to balance the South East and the South West. It is a very serious issue; I believe the next administration would have to find a solution to that. Otherwise, knowing Nigerians, there will come a time when people will like their towns or villages to be states.
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“Right now, I think I read last week, agitation for 20 more states! So, we could get to a stage where somebody would say, perhaps, Item (the MD’s village in Abia State) should be a state!
“Government needs to have a position and stick to that position. I am glad the Senate said the news of creating 20 more states is fake news, otherwise, it will be most unviable.
“But, whether it is viable or not, government should not close the chapter but look at it very dispassionately without interest to say ‘yes, this criteria qualify for a state,'” the former leader stated.