Monday, 2nd October 2023

Before embarking on the next census controversy – Part 2

By Editorial Board
11 April 2023   |   3:55 am
The NPC had announced that the Commission would begin the second pre-test exercise in 444 Enumeration Areas in the 148 Local Government Areas (LGAs) across the 36 states of the federation and the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja in preparation for the population and housing census.

The NPC had announced that the Commission would begin the second pre-test exercise in 444 Enumeration Areas in the 148 Local Government Areas (LGAs) across the 36 states of the federation and the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja in preparation for the population and housing census.

Nasir Isa Kwarra, the commission’s chairman, explained that the pre-test exercise was aimed at “testing the census methodology, the questionnaires, data collection methods, the manuals for field staff, instruction manuals, data editing and coding, data processing and tabulation in preparation for the actual census.”

Why the NPC is seemingly desperate on conducting a census against all these odds is baffling, and does not seem to have a correlation with the mere fact that a census is overdue, going by United Nations recommended standard. Is the Commission out to do a good job or just to spend the huge money budgeted or granted for the project? There is no doubt that an accurate census is important for planning and development purposes for the country. But it should be done well. The census had been postponed twice in 2016 and 2018 due to several contending factors that have still not abated but escalated instead. But it makes little sense to meet a recommendation of the United Nations with a result that will likely be unacceptable both for its figures and for planning purposes

A national commissioner once reportedly said: “NPC is ready to conduct census in 2022. Though the money budgeted in the 2022 Appropriation Bill was insufficient, we will get support from some foreign donors and other development partners. That is not our challenge in the commission. Our big headache is insecurity. Some states in many parts of the country can’t be reached. The insecurity is very bad. Our officers on the field can’t get to some areas and we are scared that things can get worse.”

Kwarra also once revealed that the commission had almost concluded the Enumeration Area Demarcation (EAD) in 772 local government areas. Two local government areas were outstanding. And he emphasised that the inability of the commission to demarcate the two outstanding local government areas in Borno and Kaduna states was as a result of severe security challenges being witnessed in the affected areas.

“Out of 10 wards in Birnin Gwari in Kaduna State, we have only been able to demarcate two because of security challenges in those wards; the second is in Abadan in Borno; the security challenge there is heavy and we couldn’t even go there at all.” The NPC scribe said the commission was worried that some states in the South East, one state in the North Central, four in North West and one in North East may not be accessible by enumerators and census officers during the exercise. He listed Imo and Ebonyi states in South East; Niger State in North Central; Katsina, Kaduna and Zamfara states in North West and Borno State in North East as areas that were classified as unreachable due to insecurity, adding that parts of Yobe might be affected too.

Indeed, there is no part of the country that is safe. The rampant killings, kidnappings and banditry across Nigeria place a huge burden on safety at every stage of the census activity. Having regard to what happened to INEC officials some of who were kidnapped while moving from one area to another in the course of their official assignments, it is safe to warn that officials of the NPC may likely be thrown into the same hazard, and this may further affect the outcome of the exercise. Why risk the safety and lives of Nigerians? It is noteworthy that promises in the recent past, by law enforcement agencies to provide security for public officials on national duty have been observed more in breech; and the hapless officials have been the worse for it.

The option is to use modern technology and digital databases to overcome the obstacles, integrating all the data from formal and informal sources to make a fair projection.

Besides, the potential of political high-jacking of a headcount is still rife, as census figures are used for revenue sharing and to claim regional superiority. The 2023 elections controversy provides ready insight for such dubious intention. And so, from all calculations, a census now will lack credibility while consuming huge human, financial and other resources now highly prized in the country.

In view of the controversies and huge public funds that have always dogged census in the country, we reiterate that it is time the NPC adopts data bases available in Births and Deaths registers, Voter Register, National Identification Number, Bank Verification Number, Drivers’ Licences, licensing offices, Immigration, Customs, JAMB, school enrolment figures, WAEC and other relevant bases to update and project the country’s population. A lot of development projects in education, health, housing, infrastructure and security can be achieved in the country with or without census figures. Census in Nigeria has been a colossal waste of time and money, besides dangerously controverting the polity.

Above all, Nigeria should stop using population as sole basis for sharing national resources. Rather the country should adopt a feasible federalism, where the federating units of the country would be free to manage their population and plan according to their resources.