‘How poor census figures stall progress’
• Fashola at The Guardian, decries failure of 2006 enumeration
• Says citizens’ count crucial to budget, electricity supply, housing
• Insists privatisation of power sector stays
The Federal Government yesterday gave an insight into what is perhaps the nation’s biggest obstacle to development – lack of credible data for planning.The Minister of Works, Power and Housing, Mr. Babatunde Fashola stated the government’s position at the Rutam House Headquarters of The Guardian during a courtesy visit to the Editorial Board. Fashola argued that the failure of the 2006 census has left the country with less than credible data for effective socio-economic planning.
Lack of accurate population figures for Nigeria, as admitted by the minister means that government planning could go off-track and undermine genuine efforts at budget implementation and social welfare schemes. Government agencies and private sector operators have continued to guess population numbers — ranging from 160 million to 180 million. “We were playing games with the 2006 census and now we are paying dearly for it,” Fashola said, explaining that, “The nation is the sum total of individuals and families.”
The census figures had stirred controversy when the Asiwaju Ahmed Bola Tinubu-led Lagos State government, which conducted a parallel headcount of its residents with that of the National Population Commission (NPC), challenged them in a court of law. The court declared that Lagos State had more residents than the figures allocated to it — much more than those of Kano State.
“It is even difficult to know the amount of power Nigeria uses because we do not really know how many we are,” Fashola remarked, suggesting that the so-called housing deficit could have been anchored on wrong data gleaned from wrong population figures.
Nigeria has held a head count of its citizens only four times since its independence 56 years ago. Since 1963 when the first national census was conducted, issues of ethnicity and religion have continued to test the political will of the nation’s leaders to produce generally acceptable population figures for effective national planning. The headcount planned for last 2016 was also aborted as the NPC was not ready due to financial and administrative constraints.
Ideally, national headcounts are conducted in various countries every 10 years for effective economic planning. After its first post-independence attempt in 1963, Nigeria had another census 10 years later but had to wait for 18 years before holding another headcount in 1991 under Military President Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida. The next population census came 15 years later (2006).
The minister’s courtesy visit to the Editorial Board of The Guardian provided the needed platform for Fashola to clarify the deficits in Nigeria’s road and power infrastructure. Board members, led by Prof. Wale Omole sought answers to questions on inadequate power supply, poor road infrastructure and official efforts at evolving realistic and affordable housing for Nigerians. Present were Publisher/Chairman of The Guardian, Lady Maiden Alex-Ibru, Executive Director, Toke Ibru, Gen. Chris Ali (rtd), Amb. Dele Cole, among others.
Fashola said since Nigeria is part of the global community, “global dynamics could have local consequences” in apparent reference to price volatility in international oil price. He explained: The administration is still planning, and planning takes time. This year I am optimistic that results will manifest but we are climbing out from recession instead of experiencing growth. It will be better in my estimation than what we experienced the previous year. But there are things outside government control.”
The minister stated government’s resolve to push through the power sector reforms started by the previous administration. Nigerians, including members of the National Assembly have called for a review of the electricity sector reforms that ceded power distribution to a few private investors whose capacity to manage this critical component of the energy chain has been questioned.
“For 50 years, we managed power publicly, yet it didn’t meet our expectation. There are things that should have been done differently in terms of privatisation. My attitude is, let us manage the flaws, we can correct them instead of canceling the privatisation,” he said.
On Nigeria’s transmission infrastructure, Fashola explained that government has completed some grid projects in Alagbon, Okada, Benin and Sokoto to bring the total carrying capacity of the grid to 7200 megawatts. “So, it can’t be correct to argue that the grid can only carry 5000 megawatts. Our grid expansion projects are in Kaduna, Kano and Oshogbo. It is an underutilised capacity yet someone is paying for it. Grid capacity is also a function of simulation and requires consultation with anybody using it. 72000 mega watts is now the grid capacity. At worst it is 6500. So, it is no longer 50,000.”
The minister also spoke on embedded power projects and why such may not be ready options in search for solutions to inadequate electricity supply. “Having sold the assets to some companies under certain terms and conditions, those who live in the area are their customers and anybody who wants to supply will be infringing on the commercial and proprietary rights of the companies,” he explained.
Assuring on prioritised road construction and maintenance across the country, Fashola said the Lagos Ibadan Expressway is already being given deserved attention and that government is “planning to start a maintenance programme, taking audit of all schools, roads and work order.”
For the mortgage subsector, he explained that government would not do it without an effective private sector participation but would have to first set the stage for investor buy-in.
“We are going to use private sector to drive and mass-produce it; government then becomes the off-taker,” he said, stating that the Federal Mortgage Bank reported half-year surplus account — about N400 million — for the first time in many years.
Over all, Fashola argued that the ‘sensible’ thing government is doing in the face of the non-availability of proper and reliable census figures “is first just to increase the power. He said until there is a census that shows the actual population and number of households, planning for housing would remain difficult; “Otherwise, we do unrealistic and unempirical targets. If that (2006) census was faulty, on what numbers was the housing deficit being projected? We need power audit and national census to ensure that everyone has enough at peak period.
“Our national policy is affordable housing, yet there is no plan to deliver it. I am building a national housing programme that must be acceptable. And this cannot be uniform because of our diversity.”