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Feyi Fawehinmi: P is for Power


Feyi Fawehinmi: P is for Power

by Feyi Fawehinmi

I have tried to make the point in the past that as a result of scarce resources in Nigeria, the larger a state or Local Government becomes in terms of population, the poorer it’s citizens become in per capita terms.

A quick way to test this is to compare the revenue allocated to the largest LG in terms of population in March 2010 [Alimosho, N303m, Pop: 1.3m] and the smallest [Bakassi, N53m, Pop: 32k]. So while the population has increased by a multiple of 42, the revenue has only increased by a multiple of 6….or to put it another way, population is driving at a speed of 140km/hr while revenue is driving at 20km/hr.

So if people get poorer per capita as population increases, what then is the benefit of having a large population? What does a large population in Nigeria get you? The short answer to both questions is power.

How Does Population Translate Into Power?

On paper Nigeria has got a pretty decent looking structure from the ground up. However the fact that we have never truly been a federal unit has meant that an inordinate amount of power remains concentrated at the Federal Govt level. This in turn makes the centre (or the Presidency) a huge prize in Nigerian politics.

So how does population hand you control of the centre? Strictly speaking, the prizes to be controlled are the Executive and Legislature.

Let us exclude the Senate from the legislature for the purpose of this analysis. The composition and size of the senate is not determined by population size; each state simply gets 3 Senators to represent it. No smoking gun here, let’s move on.

But the Federal House of Representatives is strictly determined and composed by population. In carving up the country into 360 federal constituencies, the idea was that each constituency should be made up of roughly the same number of people in terms of population. But dont take my word for it, here’s what the 1999 constitution says in Section 49

“49. Subject to the provisions of this Constitution, the House of Representatives shall consist of three hundred and sixty members representing constituencies of nearly equal population as far as possible, provided that no constituency shall fall within more than one State”

Now using the 2006 census which puts Nigeria’s total population at 140,431,790, this would mean that each constituency in Nigeria should be 140,431,790/360 = 390,088 people or thereabouts.

The next thing to do is to test how accurate this is. For ease, I have consolidated the numbers up to the geo-political level.

The total population of the South West is/was 27,722,432 which equates to 20% of the total population. How many Reps does the South West have in total? 71, which equates to 20% of the total number of Reps. Nice isnt it? Let’s keep going. The South East has 16.4m people and 43 Reps which works out at 12% for both. In the South South there are 21m people sharing 55 Reps which again works out equally at 15% in each case. In the North West there are 35m people and 92 Reps working out at 26% for both.

You are probably getting bored now so I will tell you that the percentage of the population for each zone exactly matches the percentage of the Reps it has in the House. It gets better; when you break it down to state level, all the 36 states and Abuja have identical percentages for their share of the population vis a vis their share of Reps in the House [due to rounding Lagos has 6% of the population and 7% of the Reps…same as Bayelsa with 1% and 2% respectively but every other state is exactly equal].

This is very accurate indeed. And that is exactly the problem; it is too accurate.

Some sharp readers would have noticed a big flaw with my calculations above. What I am doing is using population numbers for 2006 for constituencies which were drawn up in 1998(?). And my answers are dead accurate! How is this possible? How is it that the constituencies delimited in 1998 are predicting the census figures for 2006? At the time the current federal constituencies were drawn up in 1998, the latest available population figures were from the 1991 census which put the country’s total population at 88,992,220.

The best way to answer the questions above is to test the movement from the 1991 census to the 2006 census.

Between both censuses, 6 states were created by General Sani Abacha in 1996. Nasarawa was cut out of Plateau, Ebonyi out of Enugu, Gombe out of Bauchi, Zamfara out of Sokoto, Bayelsa out of Rivers and Ekiti out of Ondo. [Again you will notice that 1 new one has been created in each zone to maintain the status quo]. So for the purpose of comparison, I added in the population numbers for the new states into their old states to get back to 30 states for both censuses.

Let’s analyse by geo-political zones again. In 1991 the North Central’s population was 12.5m and 15 years later it had increased to 20.3m. In both cases the share of the population was 14%. For the North East it was 12m in 1991 and 19m in 2006. Again in both cases, the share of the population was 13%. For the North West it was 23m and 36m respectively. And, you guessed it, 26% of the population in both years. It depresses me to report that each geo-political zone’s share of the population in 1991 was exactly the same share in 2006. Not even a 2% swing between zones. Using the South East as an example [this zone has the highest and lowest increase across the 2 censuses] Abia State increased by 22% while Enugu increased by 73% while Imo and Anambra increased by 58% and 49%. In the end, the zones cancels itself out and the status quo ante is maintained.

I am not a student of population studies [if any population student is reading please school me where I am wrong] but these numbers are amazing to say the least. Can it really be that each geo-political zone’s population is increasing in lock step with every other zone?

To rub insult upon injury, each state’s share of the total population in 2006 in percentage terms is exactly the same as it was in 1991. No difference at all across any of the states. Of all the crazy things that happen in Nigeria, the way our censuses are calculated must the biggest LWKMD of all.

The only conclusion from both examples above is that population numbers in Nigeria are merely an allocation of numbers using a formula that has been in existence for many years now… but I am sure you knew that already.

The Question of Zoning

Geopolitical zones dont exist in the context of the Nigerian constitution but we do have ‘Federal Character’ which has been enshrined in our constitution since 1979. In theory they are 2 different things but in the hands of mischievous politicians they become almost intertwined.

What makes Nigeria’s geo-political zones a dangerous thing is that a deliberate imbalance has been built into it. Take a look at the map of Nigeria below for a few seconds.


The trick that has been played here is the inclusion of Jigawa State in the North West zone. It is for this singular reason that the North West has 26% of the population of Nigeria and by extension, 26% of the Reps in the House. Using the 2006 population ‘numbers’ again, if we move Jigawa from the North West to the North East, this significantly balances the federation across the 6 zones and no one single zone crosses the 25% mark [The North West drops from 26% down to 23% and the North East moves up from 14% to 17%].

What seems to have happened here is a weird game of ‘pass the population’ in which Jigawa state was used as a weight to ensure one zone was significantly more powerful than every other zone in Nigeria. Assuming we are going to even buy into this zoning business in the first place, we can see that the game is badly rigged from the get go. It’s difficult to see exactly how anyone can look at the above map and conclude that Jigawa state is in the Western part of the North. Even a butcher at Odo Eran abbatoir in Lagos would have done a better job of carving up the country.

This should come as no surprise at all. The ‘geo-political’ zone idea crept into our national consciousness under General Sani Abacha and unwittingly Nigerians have come to accept it as a way of life. It was never an official pronouncement from his government yet today, 15 years after his death the idea has been firmly embedded in the consciousness of all Nigerians. So even though we reject zoning [the PDP brand] we are comfortable with zones. Another example of how bad leadership is not restricted to the tenure of the bad leader… the echo can be heard many years later.

Now you are probably asking yourself ‘if this guy is saying geo-political zones are a bad idea, why has he used them in his calculations above?’. The simple answer is that we need to see the mischief in the idea behind the things we are being fed by our leaders. So for example when you look at the movement of the population of the South East states across the 2 censuses what you see is 22%, 49%, 73% and 58%. Looking at those numbers don’t show up anything suspicious. But when you take the Igbos as a whole in the South East, it becomes a weird zero sum game……all that movement just to stand still. Furthermore, all the movement ensures that each state of the federation maintains it’s ‘share’ of the national cake by way of it’s population. You are not permitted to rise above your station……you musn’t speak until you are spoken to… and do not come forward until you have been called… etc.

So of the 13 different men who have ruled Nigeria [military and civilian] as President/Head of State, 5 of them have come from the North West zone… or 38% of the time. The kleptocracy works be it in khaki or agbada.


When you look at the mischief being played with numbers in Nigeria you can see how wobbly the legs on which the country stands are. A state or region cannot vote more than it’s population so elections in Nigeria can be seen as a controlled exercise in a sterile laboratory. They are designed to keep out everyone but a few people from participating. Membership is by invitation only.

While we continue to debate each other over the size of the North as opposed to the size of the South, the fact of the matter is that that very debate is a red herring. The North or whoever gets the largest share of the population does not benefit from it…..when you view it from the point of the people who are supposedly being counted. It’s why P is not for population in this note…but for power.

The road ahead of us as a nation is a rather long one and laced with landmines… but I find it strangely impossible to give up on this country.

So whereas Abraham Lincoln prayed on November 19, 1863 that government of the people, by the people, for the people shall not perish from the earth… my prayer is simply that one day it shall find it’s way into our land Nigeria.

Feyi is an accountant in London with several unreconciled balances to deal with on any given Tuesday. He takes his job of commenting on any policy issue in Nigeria from the safety of faraway London very seriously. Everything he knows about economics, he learnt from reading reviews of textbooks on Amazon. Twitter: @DoubleEph

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