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Matters arising on Nigeria’s population

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As the 11th phase of Enumeration Area Demarcation (EAD) of Nigeria nears its end (it began on December 9, 2020 and is scheduled to end on January 20, 2021), many questions are naturally arising regarding the appropriateness of the next population census slated for next year. The posers have to do not only with the controversies that have trailed past census, but also the need to consider the impact of current realities on the proposed exercise.

Firstly is the issue of availability of funds for another census, followed by the ravaging Coronavirus pandemic that has forced lockdown and restrictions on many activities. Besides, can the country conduct a head count that will be free of controversies, having regard to past exercises? And isn’t it time to review population as an issue on account of planning and maximizing available resources?

According to Chairman of the National Population Commission (NPC), Nasir Isa Kwarra, the country’s current population is estimated at 206 million, which is not surprising considering the growth rate and the 198-million figure arrived at about two years ago. One of the concerns is that while population is ordinarily an asset for a country in terms of political and socio-economic development, the reality in the country is that much of the people fall into the bracket of poverty-stricken people of the world. That makes the asset to become a liability.

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The need to know the population of any country, including Nigeria cannot be over-emphasised, for the purpose of planning for development and infrastructure such as schools, health care facilities, public transportation and other necessities. Unfortunately in Nigeria, practically every population census had been enmeshed in controversies and highly politicized, such that the figures are not generally accepted.

Against this backdrop of absence of a reliable census figure in the country upon which to base a projection, the latest estimate by the NPC may yet add to the controversy which nevertheless does not reduce the importance and critical nature of the subject. The NPC chairman announced the country’s estimated 206 million people at the commencement of the 11th phase of Enumeration Area Demarcation (EAD). He added that the next population and housing census would hold by middle of 2022.

Kwarra, who said the new figure was based on projection, noted that it would be challenging to know the exact population of the country since it has not been able to hold a census in the last 14 years. He said about 260 local government areas out of the 774 in the country had been fully demarcated. He also assured Nigerians and the international community that the commission was determined to deliver to the country a population and housing census that would stand the test of time.

That, indeed, is a big challenge. A national population census was earlier scheduled for 2018 but was shelved due to budgetary and other logistics constraints. A whopping N272 billion was proposed by the NPC, which triggered public alarm. It is not yet stated what the 2022 census would cost, but sourcing the fund will be another obstacle, going by the current recession of the economy. And COVID-19 will remain a daunting impediment,

Apart from previous census, controversies have dodged various estimates and projections of the country’s population. For instance, in 2016, the World Bank estimated Nigeria’s population to be 186 million. The following year, the United Nations put it at 180 million with a growth rate of 2.7 per cent. Prior to that, in 2016, the then Director-General of the National Population Commission (NPC), Ghali Bello, estimated Nigeria’s population to be 182 million with a growth rate of 3.5 per cent. All these figures tended to cause disagreements among stakeholders, including government officials.

The population authorities, while seeking to surmount the challenges and necessary funds, will do well to utilize various existing data bases such as the register of births and deaths, Voters’ Register, Banks Verification Number (BVN), National Drivers’ license, National Identification Scheme and others. These can be used to make reasonable projections in aid of planning.

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In a situation where population is politicized because it is the basis for sharing the common wealth, it is imperative of government to restructure the polity and allow the states more power to conduct their head count. This may be less rancorous if the states are also allowed to manage their resources instead of begging for federal support at the flimsiest of excuses. The enthronement of true federalism will remove much of the controversies around population census.

Beyond knowing how many Nigerians there are, the country needs to invest in human capital development, particularly to ensure that children have access to schools and education; and that young graduates are provided with jobs. Sadly, government officials seem to prefer spending money on controversies than using the same fund to provide job opportunities or to raise education standard. Can there be progress when millions of the youth are out of school and not in any productive ventures?

Pending when the country can boast of a reliable census figure, it is wise to canvass small families, as a way of reducing the present population which clearly overwhelms available resources. Put in another way, Nigeria cannot afford a runaway population in the absence of adequate schooling, housing, healthcare, infrastructure and job opportunities. Many developed countries worry more about developing their human capital than in their population. Nigeria should follow their example and develop her citizens into a potent human capital resource.

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