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Nigeria’s next census without politics

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The House of Representatives’ recent call on the Federal Government to “immediately” conduct a national population census is in order considering that the last census was conducted in 2006. The country is overdue for another census, which justifies the lawmakers’ call on the government to take action on the national planning critical issue.

A 10-year interval is the ideal global best practice approved by the United Nations (UN). That is to say, we ought to have conducted another head count since 2016. Failure to carry out this strategic responsibility has been attributed to several contending issues at the time, including preparations for the 2019 general elections. Now that the elections are over, it behoves the government to put the necessary machinery in motion to prepare for another census.

The House of Representatives made the call at a plenary while adopting a motion moved by Mr. Olalekan Afolabi, entitled, “Need for a clear-cut policy to check Nigeria’s rising population.” The House claimed it was disturbed that Nigeria’s population had been growing faster than the economy.

Furthermore, the lower house asked the government to fund and equip the National Population Commission (NPC) to be able to carry out its functions efficiently.

With two years down the line, we are, definitely, behind schedule and should plan to have another census without further delay. We need to update and have a fairer picture of our population figures rather than relying on projections (by international organisations) that are contentious and unreliable. Different figures are being bandied as representing Nigeria’s population at the moment.

Not long ago, for instance, the Director-General of the National Population Commission, Ghali Bello, revealed that Nigeria’s population stood 182 million. Of course, there is reason to doubt the NPC because Nigeria battles with controversial population figures. We don’t know, exactly, how many we are.

Thereafter, Eze Duruiheoma, another chairman of the National Population Commission came up with another population projection of 198 million. He said Nigeria ranks as the seventh most populous nation in the world, adding that the annual urban population growth rate was about 6.5 per cent.

It is probably on the basis of this frightening growth rate that the World Population Prospects recently predicted that by 2050, Nigeria would become the third most populous country in the world. By that, Nigeria would have overtaken the United States.

Just last year, the NPC declared that Nigeria’s population was nearing 200 million. And early this year, the United Nations Population Fund stated that Nigeria’s population had risen to 201 million people.

It is curious how the different institutions are arriving at their projected population figures for Nigeria. The truth therefore can only be established through a reliable headcount.

Nigeria’s population is always alleged to be over-bloated for political reasons because that is the basis for sharing resources. There have been publications and revelations that Nigeria’s population was doctored right from independence in 1960 for the same political reasons and has since not been corrected.

For instance, the 140 million recorded in the 2006 census remains contentious. Lagos State strongly disputed the figure of 9.1 million assigned to it, by the NPC, which was below that of Kano State’s 9.4 million, after it obtained a higher figure of about 18 million from the simultaneous enumeration it carried out along with the NPC.

The 3.5 per cent growth rate used by the NPC in its projection is quite unreliable. Nigeria’s population growth in 2013 according to the World Bank was 2.8 per cent. And the 2016 estimate according to Index Mundi is 2.44 per cent. There is no doubt that urbanisation, post-modernisation, the use of contraceptives and other developments have reduced the fertility rate of women and by extension the population growth rate. The NPC may have used outdated growth rate figures, unfortunately.

It is not surprising, therefore, that many believe that no census conducted in Nigeria had been flawless. The Statistician General of the Federation, Dr. Yemi Kale, not long ago, said that estimates, which put Nigeria’s population between 170 or 180 million were unreliable. Kale sincerely believed that census figures were inflated in the past, giving the impression that more population of humans reside in certain areas of the country.

Dr. Festus Odimegwu, the erstwhile chairman of the National Population Commission (NPC), once, stirred the hornet’s nest when he declared that Nigeria had not had any credible census since 1816.The unwavering position of the two top government officials reinforced each other on the entrenched disagreement, which Nigeria’s population portends, which cannot be wished away.

This newspaper has reiterated several times that there are modern methods of gathering accurate population data, which the NPC should seek out and adopt. While census enumeration is the traditional method, we don’t subscribe to any census at this critical time for the mere fact that it would amount to a waste of time and resources.

So, rather than embarking on another wasteful census that will end up in controversy, the NPC should work on the quantum of biometric database that has been gathered by banks, licensing offices, immigration, customs, JAMB, WAEC, telecom firms, national identity cards agency, school enrolments, birth and death registrations, voter cards, and the various vital statistics should be aggregated and used to extrapolate the country’s population. That would give a better and fairer idea of the population.

Aggregating the data and extrapolating it won’t present problem using advanced computer software. We need statistical estimate of the population based on concrete data of available human beings. This will be a reliable national population census without an eye on politics of revenue and power sharing.

Above all, Nigeria should stop the use of population as the basis for sharing national resources. With federalism, sections of the country would be free to bloat their population if they want, and create as many local government councils as they wish. This should be within the context of subsidiarity – an organising principle that matters ought to be handled by the smallest, lowest or least centralised competent authority.


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NPCOlalekan Afolabi
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