It has been more than 10 years since the last census in Nigeria and 2016 should have technically been a census year but like every other activity of national significance in the West African nation, there continues to be controversies and doubts about its credibility.
The 2006 census was as controversial as the census in 1952, 1963, 1973 and the one that was quickly discredited in 1991. In former President Olusegun Obasanjo’s autobiography “My Watch”, he mentioned the reason why his administration annulled the 1973 census while serving as deputy to Murtala Mohammed. He described the figures as highly manipulated and stopped the publishing of the reports from the activity.
I will speak a little on the 2006 census. I remember being counted at boarding school in Edo State but I permanently resided in Lagos. One of the biggest controversies was why Kano state had a larger population than Lagos state. Lagos state was the former capital of the country, had majority of the embassies at the time, most multinational and national corporations had their facilities and head offices in Lagos. People from the North, East and all over the country arrive Lagos on a daily basis seeking greener pastures. The politics of census is responsible for this
Most state governments rely on federal government handouts rather than internally generated revenue, and the formula simply is that the higher a state’s population the more money it receives. Also it is a determinant in the numbers of representatives allocated to each state for representation in the national assembly.
Former National Population Commission Head, Mr. Festus Odimegwu gave an interview on national TV saying that no census in Nigeria’s history has been valid and that trying to count Nigerians was “impossible”. He also went on to say that politicians were responsible for undermining the 2006 census. He spoke of the dispute he had with Kano state governor Kwankwaso and how the governor was to be the biggest beneficiary of the fraud.
There are other factors to be considered when conducting a successful census in NIgeria. In the Northeast, Boko Haram remains a challenge. Meanwhile, the Southeast is home to Biafran agitators who believe they are not Nigerians and may for this reason not want to participate in the census. The South-South is struggling to deal with the avengers, while in the North-Central the infamous Herdsmen continue to cause problems. Add to all these to the rising amount of Internally Persons all over the country and we have enough reasons against a successful census in 2017. Would the NPC postpone to 2018 or would they follow through?
Nigeria is popularly referred to as the Giant of Africa or the most populous black nation in the world and there is no doubt we are the largest on the continent. However the pertinent question is, how many Nigerians are there? How many are Igbos or Yorubas? How many are Christians or Muslims? How many eat three times a day or once a day? How much is Mama Nkechi or Baba Tope making on an annual basis? We lack data.
What method apart from the door-to-door head count can the Nigerian Population Commission (NPC) emulate? Canada is currently in the process of conducting a census using a mandatory long form census sent to households to be filled and returned before certain dates. These forms come in English and French and a phone number is available at the back of the forms to request the survey in a few other languages.
If you fail to resend the form, a new one is sent and if you still fail to do so, census officers visit your address up to six times. Countries are beginning to embrace geographic information systems and remote sensing technologies to conduct census exercises. In Nigeria, the structure is simply not there, there is no proper mailing system, the census is conducted in English and does not accommodate for those who speak just their local languages. On a side-note INEC (Independent National Electoral Commission) has announced it will use e-voting for the 2019 General Elections. How would this be implemented without sufficient information on the citizens inside and outside the country?
It is essential that Nigeria and the NPC create a credible method that can capture the true population of Nigeria. This is important for the socio-economical and political imperatives of moving Nigeria forward because planning for national prosperity requires comprehensive data on the country’s human capital.
written by Tobe Martin Ugo
The census should be free of manipulation of data by political leaders and interest group to overstate the population of their regions for economic gains. The benefit of the census also extends to businesses to understand demographics while marketing new products, selling some of this information with more insights can also be a revenue generating tool (provided people’s privacy are respected). We need to put an end to this ‘yeye-ness’ and encourage competency in all aspect of governance and public service.