Before embarking on the next census controversy
Against all odds, the National Population Commission said it is ready to conduct a national headcount from May 3, 2023, after the commencement date was shifted from March 29, following shifts also of the conduct of the governorship election nationwide. Minister of Information and Culture, Lai Mohammed, has recently also confirmed the arrangement. Nevertheless, it would seem that only the Federal Government is optimistic of the success of the impending census.
Certainly Nigerians are not exactly inspired by the proposal, understandably so, given the myriad of intractable problems surrounding it. For instance, the country is reeling seriously from the aftermath of the general elections, following grave complaints by stakeholders against the conduct and outcome of the Presidential, Governorship, National Assembly and State Assemblies’ elections. Even as a plethora of cases are daily pouring into the election tribunals, segments of the populace are embarking, or planning to embark on civil protest to express their dissatisfaction with the state of affairs in the country.
Nigerians are still ruing their losses from the naira cash crunch that prevented them from accessing their money, thus increasing their sufferings all round. The police are embattled trying to contain the brewing unrest; and all law enforcement agencies are evidently overstretched and overwhelmed in efforts to repel criminality ranging from insurgency, terrorism, banditry, kidnapping, armed robbery, cultism and other numerous crimes. Presently, a number of officials of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) are in the custody of kidnappers who are negotiating humongous amounts, in cash that is largely unavailable to Nigerians, with the families of the hapless abductees.
This is not to mention dozens, if not hundreds of other Nigerians across the geographical entity that are being daily attacked, killed, maimed, raped and kidnapped for purely criminal motives. Most of the victims are entirely on their own as their fate depend largely on what their relatives can do to assuage their criminal abductors. The police are overburdened and prefer to look the other way, coming alive only when the victim is a high public figure.
That the National Population Commission can adamantly insist on this period to conduct a census amounts to nothing but over-ambition, and laying foundation for yet another controversial headcount that most Nigerians will not respect. The NPC is clearly planning to fail, as shoddy preparation leads to shoddy outcome as Nigerians have witnessed in many national assignments.
If the government sincerely wants to conduct a national census, there should be adequate preparation in all ramifications to ensure that the exercise yields the desired result. More than that, there must be a convivial environment that will be conducive to making a success of the headcount and with minimal hitches. The issue of census remains one of the thorniest in the country because of its politicisation for selfish ends. The planned census, therefore, should ordinarily provide another opportunity to right the wrongs inherent in previous headcounts; and give the country a reliable population figure that doesn’t currently exist.
According to reports, the information minister made the announcement at the end of the Federal Executive Council (FEC) meeting presided over by President Muhammadu Buhari in Abuja. He told State House correspondents that the 2023 population and housing census earlier scheduled for March 29, 2023 has been shifted to May 2023, explaining that the decision was necessitated by the rescheduling of the governorship elections from March 11 to March 18. He also said that the council approved the sum of N2.8 billion for the NPC to procure software to be used for the conduct of the census.
The Federal Government, it would be recalled, had said that over $1.88 billion (N869 billion) was needed to conduct the exercise. In April 2022, the Federal Government announced that it would conduct the census in April 2023 after the elections. And officials of the NPC have been making pronouncements ever since expressing determination to conduct the census. Speaking at a high-level partnership engagement in Abuja, Clement Agba, Minister of State for Budget and National Planning, said the Federal Government has provided 46 per cent of the budget, remaining an outstanding sum of N327.2 billion needed to carry out the exercise effectively.
The ongoing efforts by the NPC to conduct a census for the country cannot be more untimely and inappropriate, being lumped up with the general election, and at a time of critical security challenges afflicting practically the entire country. These factors will undoubtedly affect the census’ outcome adversely. Even by its own admission, the NPC’s pre-census test, conducted in parts of the country, were reportedly hampered by severe security challenges in some states.
The truth is that the actual insecurity in the land is far worse than the picture of insecurity painted by the NPC. And given also the pitiable financial state of the country, it is time the commission explores other avenues outside census to carry out its duty of projecting Nigeria’s population to enhance its planning and development.
As it were, President Muhammadu Buhari appears to have succumbed to pressure from the commission to approve or release money for the conduct of the census. Already, the NPC leadership is ruing the approval, and even envisaging that if the over N200 billion expected for the exercise from government is not sufficient, it would get appropriate funding from international donors.
Truth is that the situation on ground is a very good recipe for failure of any headcount at this inauspicious time, which is better avoided than added to the many woes that had characterized census in this country. All the past censuses were controversial; and it is not enough to conduct a census just for the sake of it when all the pointers show a clear negative outcome.
To be continued tomorrow