The creation of a new Region out of Northern Region

Tue, 17 Mar 2009 Source: Haruna, Mahama

.A case for accelerated development and administrative efficiency.

The Northern Region of Ghana is the region that covers the largest piece of land in the country, covering an area of 70,384 sq.km out of Ghana's approximately 237.626 sq.km. It is one of the regions that have the highest number of different ethic groups with the major ones being Dagombas, Gonjas, Mamprusis, Nanmbas and Kokombas. Tamale the capital of the region has been found in a 1994 survey by the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) to be the fastest growing town in West Africa.Notwithstanding this fact, the attention that Tamale gets is not enough to help different parts of the region to grow or develop.

Roads is many parts of the region are very bad and telecommunication, electricity, water,schools and other essential needs are inadequate. In fact many of the districts under the administration of Tamale suffer from neglect. This is borne out when one notices that by any available index of progress and development (education, health, roads etc) Gonjaland for instance comes out extremely poor.

The Director of the University of Ghana Centre for International Affairs (LECIA), Professor Kofi Kumado who proposed the creation of ten additional regions to facilitate efficient administration and reduce conflicts between majority and minority ethnic groups in some of the existing regions in the country at one of Golden Jubilee lectures also said that most of the current regions were too big to be administered by one Regional Minister and that the chunk of the resources allocated to the regions went to the Regional capitals and surrounding towns to the neglect of remote towns and villages.

The foremost justification that I therefore find in the call for the creation of a new region out of the present Northern Region is the limited attention given to the development needs of other parts of the region. Infrastructure development projects by central government such as roads, water and telecommunication network, primary health care and educational facilities in the other parts of the region appear not to have been given the kind of importance like Tamale.

For fear that we may end up like African French speaking countries, where only their capital towns are developed and rest of the people living under deplorable conditions, I suggest that the Northern Region be divided into at least two regions to speed up development at the grassroots level and further enhance the decentralization process so that each part will handle their problems.

The Northern part of Ghana is unique in many ways and would need a different approach, an accelerated development plan that would make it like other parts of the country. By doing this, we can make this part of the country attractive to people to settle as well as do business. The Northern Region lacks many things especially industrial and economic projects. It needs to be divided so that the limited resources, in the north will be effectively used.

Too many demands from different ethnic and pressure groups through the same regional office can sow seeds of discord which could result into ethnic disharmony. The uneven development or inequitable distribution of development projects in the Northern Region is one reason for ethnic groups antagonizing each other. Each ethnic group believes that some others are oppressing or sabotaging their development efforts.

I think that the Northern Region is too big to be controlled from Tamale; it is too big to be one administrative division. The is the reason some regional ministers in the past considered the region as ungovernable. It needs to be divided into two manageable regions in place of this one amorphous and unwieldy region.

If all the boundaries of Gonjaland alone for instance were retained or considered as a region, it would have been bigger than most administrative regions in Ghana. Even with the reduction as some parts are in the Brong-Ahafo region, Gonjaland and its six districts with a total of 36,783 sq.kms are still bigger than as many as eight (8) regions in the country. These regions are Ashanti (24,390.59 sq.kms), Western (22,096 sq.kms), Volta (20,570..59 sq. kms.), Upper West (18,476.59 sq. kms.), Upper East (8,818.59 sq.kms) and Greater Accra (4,540.59 sq.kms).

Undoubtedly, the argument that could follow the case of Gonjaland would be that of population. With a population of 440,976 in the Six districts of Gonjaland out of 1,820,806 for the Northern Region (as quoted by the 2000 Population and Housing Census), some people argue that Gonjaland has fewer people and that it may not be altogether feasible to grant a region based on its boundaries.

The Counter argument I wish to put accross is that Gonjaland's population (440,976) is just a little below the 576,583 quoted for the Upper West Region. Even if Nanumbaland's two districts; Nanumba North-Bimbilla and Nanumba South-Wulensi, with a population of 144,278 are added to Gonjaland the population of the proposed region will be 685,154 which far exceed the population of the Upper West Region and just a little below the Upper East Region with a population of 920,089.

Moreover, I find it difificult to understand why both the Upper East and West regions with an arae in square kilometers of only 27.354 and a population of only 27,354 and a popualtion of 1,496,672 is not a single region but Northern Region alone with an area in square kilometers of 70,384 and a population of 1,820,806 (324,134 more than the two Upper regions) remain undivided.

I am also of the conviction that population alone cannot and should not be the justification of not given serious consideartion to the creation of a second region out of the present Northern Region. It is a well known fact that parts of the world such as Siberia in then Soviet Union, the Western Provinces of China, the Amazon in the Brazil, Alaska in the United States of America, self adminstration was granted to help accelerate development in these areas.

Have we stopped for a minute to ask why Gonjaland is least populated and why it is not attractive to many people? Of course, if the area has no future in terms of modern development, no one would be attracted to it.

This in itself is enough reason to grant a second region preferably based on the geographical boundaries of this vast area of land.

One thing that needs to be made crystal clear is that the proposed new region based on Gonjaland will have all the requisite qualities for the sustenance of a viable region.

Farming the main source if livelihood for Ghanaians could potentially prove a strong backbone for the economic development of the new region since the natural vegetation is predominantly guinea savanna. It would also be a bread basket of the country as far as the production of food and cash crops such as maize, yam, millet, sheanut, cashew, cotton and others are concerned. Livestock animals such as cattle, sheep and goats can be reared in large quantities.

The new region may also boast of lands with mineral deposits. The Barite at Daboya, Brine deposits at river bed of the White Volta and Gold at Bombir, Bauxite at Digma, Diamond at Fimbu, (West Gonja), Gold at Dakurpe and Tinga (Bole), Limestine at Buipe (Central Gonja),Gold at can be tapped for the socio-economic development of the area and the country as a whole.

The Black Volta, White Volta River Oti and Daka are major rivers in Gonjaland. Fishing could therefore be boosted by applying the requisite methds. The potential of Buipe for fuel and Hydro power are very clear. The Bui Hydro Electric Dam which is under construction is located between Gonjaland and the Brong Ahafo.

Many of the most important tourists sites in the country are found here. Mention can be made of the Game Reserve at Mole, the Ancient Mosque and Mystic Stone at Larabanga (West Gonja), Ndewura Jakpa's Tomp at Old Buipe (Central Gonja), the Slave Market and Wells at Salaga (West Gonja), as well as the Hippopotamus Sanctuary at Ntereso and Royal Mausoleum for Gonja Kings at Mankuma (Bole).

This proposal I urge, should not be made by only people living in the Northern Region or people of northern descent like me, but a national proposal for national development and integration. I believe that breaking the region into two would allow for more creativity, innovation, effective adminstration and growth for the people of this very big region.

While creating a new administrative region would not immediately remove all the problems of the Northen Region, it would nevertheless create an opportunity for an effective management of the problems through effective decentralization.

Perharps it would be useful for those who argue against the creation of a new region to pause a while to reflect on the reasons why the then Upper Region clamoured for the partitioning of the region into what is now known as the Upper East and West Regions, even though as explained earlier on, that region was much smaller in terms o both size and population if campared to the Northern Region. The Northern region has nothing to lose by having another region but a lot to gain.

It is noteworthy that during the 2005 parliamentary vetting of ministerial nominees, John Mahama then Member of Parliament for Bole-Bamboi asked Hon. Ernest Akubuo Debrah and Boniface Abubakari Sadique who were the outgoing and incoming Northern Regional Ministers respectively about their opinion on this topic. Both nominees were unequivocal on the enormity of the daunting administrative challenges that the sheer size of the region poses to effective governance.

It was quite significant that John Mahama was the one asking the questions because as a key member of the NDC administration and presently the Vice- President of Ghana, his interest in the subject may have been motivated by his party's position on the matter or at the very least by his own convictions on the subject. At any rate it gives an indication of the fact that there would be support from both the majority and minority for any proposal on the floor of parliament to partition the Northern Region into two or more administrative regions. Such a bi-partisan support or the idea will clear the cobwebs out of minds of people that the ruling government has an interest in the whole issue.Governors, Secretaries, and Ministers since independence had at a time voiced out the daunting task of administering the Northern Region.

Some of these personalities (many deceased) were Alahji Hudu Yahaya, Col. Abdulai Ibrahim, Alhaji B A Fusheini, Col. Iddisah, Alhaji Seidu Iddi, Ben Bukari Salifu, Adam Kaleem, Charles Bintim, Alhaji Haruna, Edward Bawa, Ernest Akuoba Debrah, Boniface Abubakari Sadique and Mustapha Ali Idriss.

By carving out another region from the current one, it will significantly help to reduce the mass exodus of our youth to cities like Accra, Kumasi and others in search of the so called greener pastures. A close look at the phenomenon of "kayayo's" or "Head Porters" in Accra and Kumasi will make a disturbing revelation. It would be realized that about 85% of these "kayayo's" are specifically from the Northern Region.

Even though this situation can be blamed on the northern conflicts and the rather sometimes volatile situations in some parts of the region, the bulk of it emanates from the neglect most areas have suffered due to the size of the area. This situation taunts the image of the country given the deplorable situation these younsters who are mostly females live in. It does not auger well for our efforts at attracting tourists into our country.

This is especially true given that these people live and sleep under verandas and at the entrances of shops and other public places in our cities with the concomitant problems.

Going by the dictated of the local Government Act 462, the conditions for the creation of another region out of the current one have fully been met. For instance and once again if we look at the demographics of the region, it can conveniently be classed as the fourth highest in Ghana. With a population of about 1,820,806 people (2000 population and housing census), the Northern Region is home to about 10.1% of the Ghanaian population next only to the Ashanti, Greater Accra and Eastern regions. In fact holding all parameters constant, the northern region is more then qualified to be divided in to two. Take the Upper Regions as an example. The population figures for both regions do not sum up to the population of the Northern Region and yet they are separate regions.

In terms of size the Northern Region is by far the largest in Ghana. It is about five times the size of Upper East, two times the size of Ashanti and God knows how many regions of the size of the Greater Accra can be carved out of Northern Region.

Article 5 Section 2 of the Constitution of the Republic of Ghana states inter alia "If the President upon a petition being presented to him and on the advice of the Council of State is satisfied that there is a substantial need for:

a.The creation of a new region, b. The alteration of the boundaries of a region, whether or not the alteration involves the creation of a new region; or c. The merger of any two or more regions, he shall, acting in accordance with the advice of the Council of State, appoint a Commission of Inquiry to enquire into the demand and to make recommendations on all the factors involved in the creation, alteration or merger"

The fact that the Gonjaland Youth Association has presented more than one petition to the seat of Government for the creation of a new region out of the Northern Region should not be seen as an ethnic group asking for a region. It is a truism that without the tacit support of other ethnic groups in the Northern Region, such a request would be a mirage.

Constitutionally, a referendum is to be held in a region before it is divided. An issue on the creation of a new region out of another shall not be taken to be determined, unless at least fifty percent of the persons entitled to vote cast their votes at the referendum and of the votes cast at least eighty percent were cast in favour of the issue. The Gonjaland Youth Association has therefore taken into consideration all the legal and constitutional provisions that guide the creation of new regions.

The Gonjaland Youth Association is an association for all tribes on Gonjaland. There is no Gonja Youth Association. The Association takes care of the Vaglas, Safalbas, Brifors, Lobis, Hanga, Tampulmas, Mmara, Bartige, Mos, Pantra, Mibor, Norme, Nawuri and Nchumurus. The list does not include people from other parts of the region or country coming to work or settled farmers in Gonjaland. These are people who have been part of this land for centuries.

It would obviously be in the interest of Northerners that the re-demarcation being proposed is done with the least resort to civil strife and any form of conflict. The best way to guarantee this in my view is to ensure that pre-existing ethnic and traditional allegiances are maintained. If for instance Nanumbaland is combined with Gonjaland to form a new region the Yagbonwura and Bimbilla Naa should become the two paramount chiefs with each maintaining their distinct traditions, culture and chieftaincy issues.

The creation of a new region along some specific lines would ensure peace among the traditional authorities and also make for the creation of additional regional houses of chiefs to increase participatory traditional administration in the area.

Administratively, Tamale represents the northern and reactions from Tamale unfortunateky are interpreted as reactions from the people from the north. Sometimes more than half of the region is accused of an unfortunate situation that they are unaware. An instance is when a lecturer at the Ghana Institute of Journalism, where I underwent a Bachelor of Arts Degree in Mass Communication Studies asked me to brief him on everything about the unfortunate Dagbon Conflict since I was a Northerner. Some people believe all ethnic groups in Northern Region are involved in the Dagbon conflict.

I became confused because coming from the western part of the Northern region, precisely Bole District where the conflict has an almost zero effect on, I do not have many facts on why the conflict, which facton is right or wrong and how it can be resolved.

I have studied the geographical map of Northern Region and has realized that whether the region is divided vertically or horizontally, there is land owned by different ethnic groups coming together to form the proposed region, Dagombas and Mamprusis will be on one side while Gonjas and Nanumbas will be on the other should the Northern Region be divided horizontally. This means that apart from the ethnic groups mentioned as being part of Gonjaland we shall also have Nanumbas as another majority ethnic group in the proposed region.

Moreover, since there are four Kings in the Northern Region: Ya-na for Dagombas, Na-yiri for Mamprusis, Yagbonwura for Gonjas and Bimbilla-Na for Nanumbas, I propose that there should be two Kings in each of the regions. Dagomba and Mamprusi on one side and Gonja and Nanumbas on the other. I also think the horizontal division would be better because the capital of the proposed region would not be a town of an ethnic group that already has a capital town.

I am aware that some traditioanl rulers in the region as well as prominent figures and politicains have added thier voices to this clarion call. A case in point when the King of the Gonja traditional Area (Yagbonwura Bawa Doshi) paid a courtesy call on his Excellency President a couple of years ago and ha done same for the present President, to make appeals for the carving out of another region from the Northern. If this is anything to go by then all efforts must be made to transform this into actuality. And the call for the capital of the region which some people proposed be called 'Savanna' to be at Buipe (capital of Central Gonja District) in my opinion is very appropriate. This is in view of the volume of economic activities taking place in this town as well as its potential to develop into a Municipality. The strategic position of the town also adds to its advantages.

I hope that for the sake of unity.even development and equitable distribution of resources, this suggestion would take a national dimension and looked into

By: Mahama Haruna.

email-maharun1@yahoo.com Tel.- 0243-313-113.

The writer is the Secretary of the Greater Accra Gonjaland Youth Association- Bole Branch.

Columnist: Haruna, Mahama