2018 census as compass out of recession
No doubt, Nigeria is living with the unpleasant realities of economic recession having witnessed a period of economic decline in two successive quarters of 2016. Recession is indeed a painful reality that has not only placed severe strains and stress on the citizens but also made governments at all levels to re-order priorities to perceived critical areas of need. For most government agencies and their programmes, economic recession is a bitter pill they have to swallow as they are confronted with stiff competition for the ever dwindling government resources. The case of the National Population Commission and its pet project for the next census is not an exception.
Understandably, the tendency in an economy like this is to focus on short-term palliative programmes that will impact on the living standards of the people and mitigate its negative impacts. The bulk of government resources goes into social welfare programmes, construction or rehabilitation of infrastructure such as roads, electricity transportation, job creation and, of course, payment of salaries. The allocation of resources to the collection of vital demographic data required for planning purposes even if they are time-bound such as the conduct of population census is considered a luxury which can wait till a more convenient time simply because its outcomes are not tangible.
However, this short-term response to recession has its limitations. First, it treats recession as a purely economic phenomenon neglecting its more enduring social dimension, particularly the human element. Indicators on economic recession are not just mere figures but concrete realities that affect human lives. The people are basically the victims of recession who have to contend with its consequences such as unemployment, food shortages, job loss, inflation, inadequate access to social facilities and so on. There is no way the implications of a recession on the people can be fully understood unless a census is conducted.
An economic revival programme must be for the people by the people and for the people. In other words, the people must be the agents and beneficiaries of the economic revival programme. It must be for the people in the sense that the welfare of the people particularly the need to improve their living standards must be the driving force of the recovery programme. The people must also be the active participants in the effort to get out of the recession and, of course, by the people means that the people must be the leading agent.
The need to make the economic recovery programme people-oriented, therefore, places the demographic factors at the centre of that plan. There must be adequate knowledge of the population size, characteristics and composition of the population and census being the most comprehensive source of demographic information of the country offers the best way to formulate and implement people friendly economic revival programmes.
Conducting census in a recessive, therefore, economy cannot be a luxury but an absolute necessity. A census is the primary source of information about the population size, composition and characteristics of a country. Its strength and distinctiveness arise from complete coverage, continuity of statistics from census to census and the details it provides about individuals in local areas and population sub-groups. No other data source meets these needs. A census also provides the baseline for demographic data that are crucial for sectoral planning. Data gaps are inevitable without a current census and the lack of basic population data will lead to serious policy and resource allocation distortions.
Though recession does not directly affect the population profile of the country but it does have decisive impacts on key demographic profiles such as population distribution, dependency ratio, employment rates, literacy rates, household characteristics and access to facilities and amenities. It goes without saying, therefore, that any attempt to address Nigeria’s economic problems must proceed with a deeper understanding of its population structure, how it has been affected by recession and what can be done to ameliorate the ways recession has worsened the situation. This, therefore, makes the case for the conduct of the census in this period of economic recession an absolute necessity rather than a luxury that can be shifted to a more ‘convenient time.’
The human elements must be taken into account and properly addressed and recovery efforts must provide answers to questions such as how unemployment rate has increased dependency ratio? What has been the pattern of migration, both internal and external, occasioned by recession living? How has loss of income by many families affected their pattern of household? What has happened to their access to facilities such as electricity, water supply and sanitation? In what ways have job loss and difficulties in payment of teachers’ salaries affected the literacy level? In what ways have challenges in the health sector affected access to reproductive health and consequently on maternal and child mortality? Are the harsh economic realities promoting early marriages? These are demographic questions of the economic recession that must be addressed if the recovery programmes must be sustainable and purposefully relevant to the aspirations of the people.
However, providing answers to these key issues will not come through any other source than the census. For census to play these roles, it must be current and reflect current realities. The last census was conducted in 2006 and the population size of Nigeria has undergone tremendous transformation not only in terms of size but also composition, distribution and characteristics. There is no way a census conducted 10 years ago will be adequate to confront the realities of 2016. The task of economic recession is too complex and risky to be based purely on administrative records and sample surveys that are not capable of capturing the human impact of the economic recession in its diverse nature and complexities.
It is in this regard that the 2018 Census is the desirable compass that will guide Nigeria out of the current economic recession and usher in a new era of sustainable economic growth and improved living standards for the citizenry.
• Dr.Yahaya is Deputy Director of Public Affairs at the headquarters of the National Population Commission, Abuja.