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On Nigeria’s population estimate

By Editorial Board
27 April 2018   |   4:00 am
Once again, the controversy over Nigeria’s exact population figure reared its head the other day when the Chairman of the National Population Commission (NPC), Eze Duruiheoma, stated...

Once again, the controversy over Nigeria’s exact population figure reared its head the other day when the Chairman of the National Population Commission (NPC), Eze Duruiheoma, stated that the estimated population of the country is 198 million.

Duruiheoma made the disclosure in New York while delivering Nigeria’s statement on sustainable cities, human mobility and international migration at the 51st session of the Commission on Population and Development.

According to him, Nigeria currently ranks as the seventh most populous nation in the world. He said the urban population was growing at an average annual rate of about 6.5 per cent, a figure hardly seen anywhere and too high to portend danger.

If the population is actually growing at that rate, then, the country must do something about it or face a demographic crisis arising from population explosion with all the attendant consequences.

Maybe, based on this frightening rate of growth, the World Population Prospects recently predicted that by 2050, Nigeria would become the third most populous country in the world, as the country would have overtaken the United States in human numbers.

Duruiheoma expressed fears that with widespread poverty, under-employment and unemployment at an average of 18.4 per cent, according to the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) 2017 report, coupled with existing urbanisation trend and internally displaced person (IDPs) in cities, critical challenges are posed with regards to securing sustainability of our cities. Already, there is a dearth of infrastructural facilities to cope with the growing numbers.

How the NPC arrived at a figure of 198 million without diligent national headcount, of course, puts the estimate to question. A national population census was earlier scheduled for 2018 but has been shelved due to budgetary challenges. A whopping sum of N272 billion was proposed by the NPC, a sum the nation could hardly afford.

The last census was conducted in 2006 after which many states, particularly, Lagos, contested the figures credited to it by the NPC. Nothing can be more contentious than for the NPC to be dishing out bogus population figures that would be difficult to defend.

The storm over Nigeria’s actual population figure is a recurrent issue, which gives room for various estimates from both within and outside the country.

The truth is that Nigerians do not know exactly how many they are. Consequently, it is not that simple for the NPC or any other authority, anywhere, to come up with figures that raise doubts.

For instance, in 2016, the World Bank estimated Nigeria’s population to be 186 million. Also, the United Nations in 2017 put Nigeria’s population at 180 million with a growth rate of 2.7 per cent.

Prior to that, in 2016, the 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. If the base population from which the estimates are made were correct, why then are the figures different? Certainly, each of these figures is questionable and each estimate is based on a different base population.

It is, therefore, not surprising that the Statistician-General of the Federation, Dr. Yemi Kale, in 2016 disputed the estimates, which put Nigeria’s population between 170 or 180 million as incorrect and one based on mere speculation.

Kale’s contention reinforced earlier doubts about Nigeria’s exact population figure. Even without that, the frequency with which figures are released from different sources about the same population, almost on yearly basis, increases the doubts.

The latest estimate of 198 million from the NPC is not in any way different from the others earlier released.

It is common knowledge that population is politicised in Nigeria because that is the basis for sharing the national cake. The more populated a section of the country claims, the more resources are allocated to it.

That has also made accurate head-count almost impossible as figures are doctored by people with vested interests. The result is that there is no reliable population figure on which to base development planning.

The problem of Nigeria’s population is also historic and traceable to the colonial era. It is a fact of history that the pre-amalgamation census of 1912 was deliberately falsified by the British colonial masters in favour of a section of the country with a view to making it the custodian of political power.

A certain Harold Smith, a former colonial administrative officer, once admitted that “the British were very scared of handing over to the enlightened incommodious south. Despite seeing vast land with no human but cattle, we still gave the north 32 million.”

That act of dishonesty sowed the seed of discord and injustice in the country. It has also remained the bane of Nigeria’s progress and development.

This falsehood will be difficult to erase until a competent NPC under a patriotic leadership decides to right the wrong. The NPC should therefore not help to escalate the problem. It should be more interested in how to conduct a reliable census that would give accurate figures.

It needs to be emphasized again that the problem does not really abide in numbers but in human capital development. How is Nigeria developing her human capital? What plan is there for the education of the population? Can there be progress when millions of the youth are out of school and not in any productive ventures?

Countries such as China, India and the United States that have large population are not bothered about the numbers but focus more on the development of the human capital. Nigeria should follow the example of these countries and see the strength in its huge population by developing it into a most potent human capital resource.