National head count: When next?
It is a known fact that census is an important exercise. Its relevance to socio-economic development cannot be over-emphasized. No country can make any tangible progress without reliable and accurate census figure. For planning, census figure is paramount. Population is dynamic and with the inter-play of mortality and fertility, population of an area will witness either an increase or decrease. So it becomes imperative to conduct census regularly.
The recommendation of United Nations is that census is better conducted every 10 years; that is, decennia. With this, it will be easy to monitor the population and have a good grasp of the changes that have taken place in the population over a period of 10 years. This knowledge will assist the policy makers and the nation tremendously. For instance, in budgeting, government will know what to allocate to various sectors; the housing needs can be easily estimated; there will be adequate plan for health, education, infrastructural needs of populace. So a country with regular population enumeration will certainly have knowledge of its population dynamics and planning for the nation will not be an issue.
Ironically, in Nigeria, census has not been regular. Historically, Nigeria experienced what can be called census in 1893 when the headcount of Colony of Lagos took place. In 1871, another headcount took place in the Colony of Lagos. This exercise continued unabated every 10 years until 1911 when the country had its national headcount which put the population at 16.1 million. The 1921 national census put the population at 18.7 million.
There were other censuses in 1931, 1952-3, 1962-3, 1973, 1991 and 2006. These dates clearly show that census has never been regular in Nigeria. Attempts were made by colonial masters to make it regular but immediately after independence the exercise became irregular. After 1991 census, Nigeria waited for 15 years in 2006 before another one could take place. Since 2006, series of events have taken place; there have been changes in demographic component – fertility, mortality and even migration across the six geo-political zones. It is therefore necessary to know the current population of the country rather than relying on projections or rough estimates which in most cases are far from realities.
The last census conducted in Nigeria was in 2006 indicating that another one should have been held in 2016 following the United Nations recommendation. We are now approaching the end of what should have been census year, that is 2016, but unfortunately, nothing is happening. Even though National Population Commission (NPC) recently carried out demarcation of enumeration areas and going by our little knowledge of NPC’s activities, the Commission is almost ready with the schedule that will be used, but the readiness and commitment of government cannot be ascertained. In spite of the recent proclamation of National Assembly towards the conduct of another census in 2018, there is nothing on ground to show that government is yet committed or being on the same page with National Population Commission. The Proclamation by Senate to have another census in 2018 is still waiting for the ascent of the President. Again, the international agencies that morally and financially supported the National Population Commission during the 2006 national headcount is yet to show any interest in the forthcoming national headcount. What this portends is that the decennial rule has failed and nobody is sure of when the next census will take place in Nigeria.
Census is not a simple exercise and it requires a lot of activities and planning. There is need for demarcation of enumeration area, which good enough has been completed by the Commission; there is need to have a very good census questionnaire that will be acceptable to all and sundry and there is publicity aspect that should be carefully handled by professionals. Apart from the above, there is a lot of training that should be done for all those that will be involved in one way or the other among various other activities. The logistic and some other activities have to be planned. For the exercise, a lot of fund will be needed. The country was lucky during the 2006 census to have received support and financial assistance from international agencies. However, this time around, it seems as if the agencies are not willing to be involved in the conduct of the forthcoming census in Nigeria. Maybe, these agencies are waiting for Nigerian government’s reaction and/or commitment towards the exercise for them to decide on what will be their level of involvement in population enumeration. This is the more reason why President’s ascent to the Senate proclamation is necessary now and other necessary actions should immediately follow.
However, from all indications, it seems census is not considered one of the priorities of the Nigerian government. For instance, there was no provision for census in the 2016 national budget and one is not sure if it is given any serious consideration in the 2017 budget. Hence, it has been difficult for the National Population Commission to say categorically when the next census will take place. Initially, the Commission was optimistic and hopefully believed that the next census would come up in 2016. When this was no longer feasible due to lack of commitment from Nigerian Government and based on the attitude of all international agencies that supported the commission in the previous exercise, the hope shifted to year 2017. Now based on the recommendation of National Assembly, the exercise will take place in 2018. But if the exercise will be for the year 2018, one should be seeing the sign now; the horizon is not clear enough for anybody to see what government is doing towards having a credible census in 2018 as recommended by National Assembly. It takes nothing less than one year to plan for a census that will worth its salt for a country as huge as Nigeria. Census is not a simple exercise.
If Nigeria would not conduct its national headcount in 2016 and 2017 then when will the next census come up or for how long will the country wait before another census is conducted. In Nigeria, much emphasis is placed on politics forgetting the invaluable role of population figures even for political activities. Census is very important; without accurate census, governments at various levels will continue to base their plans on estimated or projected figures. This is one of the reasons why Nigeria as a nation has not been able to make any tangible progress in all ramifications. Unfortunately, this year 2016 is already gone and census can no longer hold in 2017. The basic question then is when would the next census be conducted in Nigeria?
• Ogunjuyigbe is a professor and president, Population Association of Nigeria (PAN)