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Unrealistic population census proposal

By Editorial Board
17 December 2021   |   2:57 am
Ongoing efforts by the National Population Commission (NPC) toward conducting a census for the country next year cannot be more untimely and inappropriate

Population. PHOTO: LUCY LADIDI ELUKPO

Ongoing efforts by the National Population Commission (NPC) toward conducting a census for the country next year cannot be more untimely and inappropriate, being so close to the next 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 being conducted in parts of the country are being hampered by severe security challenges in some states.

The truth however 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.

Therefore, President Muhammadu Buhari should not succumb 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 N200 million expected for the exercise from government is not sufficient, it would get appropriate funding from international donors. As it were, the situation on ground is a very good recipe for a failure of any headcount at this 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.

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, 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 is the NPC seemingly desperate on conducting a census irrespective of the odds? Is the Commission out to do a good job or just to spend the huge money being budgeted 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 and more recently worsened by the COVID-19 pandemic.

A national commissioner reportedly said: “NPC is ready to conduct census in 2022. Though the money budgeted in the 2022 Appropriation Bill is 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 revealed that the commission had almost concluded the Enumeration Area Demarcation (EAD) in 772 local government areas. Two local government areas are 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. He added that parts of Yobe might be affected too.
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. 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 provide ready opportunity for such dubious intention; and so, from all calculations, a census now will lack credibility while consuming huge 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, it is time the NPC adopts data bases available in births and deaths registers, Voters’ Register, National Identification Number, Banks Verification Numbers, 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.
 
Above all, Nigeria should stop using population as basis for sharing national resources. Rather the country should adopt true federalism where sections of the country would be free to manage their population and plan according to their resources.