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Census 2018: NPC in the dark due to budget delays

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In an exclusive interview with The Guardian, NPC’s Director of Public Affairs, Muhammad S. Isah, said the commission is set to conduct the head count once funds are made available.

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With the uncertain fate of the N272b proposed for the 2018 national population census, and a lull in pre-census activities owing to financial constraints, these are indeed very uncertain times at the National Population Commission (NPC).

Due to financial constraints and lull in pre-census activities, the fate of the head count for 2018 now hangs delicately in the balance, even as Speaker of the House of Representatives, Yakubu Dogara, recently advised that the exercise be shifted till after the 2019 general elections so that it does not get compromised by politicians.

At the moment, one of the core pre-census activities executed by the National Population Commission (NPC) is the Enumeration Area Demarcation (EAD), carried out in only 74, (that is 10 per cent) of the 774 local councils in the country. That exercise is still generating ripples as workers are querying the N3, 500 daily allowance paid for the exercise.

The delay in assenting to the 2017 budget by the president, which would have buoyed pre-census activities, has only succeeded in making a bad scenario worse.

In an exclusive interview with The Guardian, NPC’s Director of Public Affairs, Muhammad S. Isah, said the commission is set to conduct the head count once funds are made available.

“We are ready and the staff are waiting. As soon as we get funds to go ahead with activities lined up, we will mobilise them to the other local councils and see what we can do before the year runs out,” Isah said, adding that the commission is currently in the dark about the budgetary allocation to it.

“We are yet to see the breakdown of the appropriation made for us as it is yet to be transmitted to the President as we speak. Even when it is, it’s nitty gritty would have to be ironed out. So, right now, we don’t know how much was budgeted for the commission out of what we requested.

“We proposed about N33b for pre-census activities, and we are hopeful, but we don’t know how much we will be given eventually. However, the sum of N272b was proposed for pre-census, census year and post-census activities,” he added.

The public affairs director explained that a lot went into the EAD this time around, in comparison with what took place during the 2006 census because, “This time, the NPC is employing technological support to facilitate a precise demarcation exercise, with the use of satellite imagery to identify the localities. Also, computer tablets called, Data Capture Android (DCA) would be used to capture the data from different households and areas. This is different from what obtained in previous census exercises.”

Isah insisted that the improved demarcation exercise is a near-perfect and accurate one, with the use of the technology-assisted pegs, especially the satellite imagery and digital mapping. The last time census was held, the commission did not have access to the technology being employed now. Most of the satellite images used at the time were urban-based. But this time, the satellite imagery covers the entire country; both the urban and rural settlements,” Isah explained.

Despite the constraints, stakeholders have joined the Speaker of House of Representatives to call for a shift. According to former Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) commissioner, Prof Lai Olurode, “I think it makes sense not to simultaneously embark on two major projects, such as the census and the election into the National Assembly, a presidential election and state assemblies, as well as, electing majority of governors. This is because the census of a nation involves the entirety of the population of that country. It is a massive project and in terms of geography, and the landscape of this country, it is going to task all our resources. In terms of age, we need a lot of funding to be able to carry out the exercise, as well as doing recruitment of adult personnel on a large scale. So, it will not be advisable to do it at the same time we are mobilising resources to do elections.

“I think I agree with Dogara’s position. The economy is very bleak; it is not a robust economy, where a quarter of the budget is expended on servicing debt.
And it is not really good for us to rely on the philanthropy of international development partners to do such major and sensitive projects as census and election,” the Dean, Faculty of Social Science, University of Lagos stated. For former National President of the Ijaw National Congress, Prof. Kmse Okoko, whether the census is done now or after the elections, “we will not be able to get accurate census figure in this country because there are people who are ready to manipulate the exercise for their own selfish interests, and to extend their fictitious dominance of a group over others.

So, it is irrelevant whether it is done before the election, or after the election. So long as we have this kind of dominance mentality, and political elites that are hell bent on manipulating the census for a particular ethnic group, we will not have an accurate census figure in this country. Census figures in this country have never been transparent, therefore, they have always fallen far short of expectations since they do not reflect the reality on ground.

“The point I am trying to make therefore is that so long as the system remains unstructured, we will continue to get fake census results just as we have fake election results. So, Yakubu Dogara is just wasting his time making irrelevant comments and not facing the truth, or not wanting to face the truth. The truth of the matter is that census in Nigeria is not designed for the economic advancement of the country. So, let the Speaker know that whether we do it before or after the general elections, the result will not be acceptable.”

Social critic and public affairs commentator, Paul Eko, agrees with Dogara saying: “Yes, the speaker has a point because credible census results have eluded us as a people for far too long.

Apart from being a major source of concern for sometime now, it beats my imagination why at this point of our national life we do not have reliable population figures to premise national developmental efforts on.

“It is in that light I consider this whole pressure to do census just before the 2019 general election as a ploy by politicians, who are plotting to benefit and exploit the situation. I agree absolutely with the Speaker because I also see politicians angling to blow up population figures to suit them, and help them falsify election results. You cannot separate those two because they are interlinked. “Once the census figures are bloated, which of course you know is going to happen, it will now enhance their rigging capacity. For Dogara, who is a politician to express such fears, I think it is based on a lot of weighty facts at his disposal. I see it as a call, which if not adhered to, could jeopardise the entire census, make the exercise a sham and a waste of funds.”



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