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Endless search for acceptable, credible population count


• Technology Will Overcome Human Error, Nigerian Factor-NPC
• Biometric Census To Replace Unscientific Paper-based Exercise-Lakoju
• Manipulation Of National Census Data, Inability/Refusal To Use Data Stunts National Development- Okoye

During the colonial era, there were several attempts to conjecture acceptable estimates of the Nigerian population. But the maiden attempt at a nationwide population census was that carried out in 1952-1953. That exercise put the total population of Nigerians at 31.6 million.

This head count was considered an undercount for a number of reasons including, inadequate training of enumerators in some areas; logistical challenges in reaching several remote areas; apprehension that the exercise was related to tax collection and political tension in the East at that time.

All these notwithstanding, the 1952-53 census has been regarded as far less problematic than all of its successors. This is so because subsequent attempts to conduct credible post-independence census have been enmeshed in controversy, with only one attempt officially accepted.


The country’s first post-independent headcount in mid-1962, was called off after widespread allegations of over-counting in several parts of the country areas. A second attempt in 1963, which was officially accepted, was also bedeviled with allegations of inaccuracy and manipulation for regional and local political purposes.

Even though the 1963 figure of 55.6 million as total national population was accepted, it was heavily criticised as being inconsistent with that of 1952-1953, as it implied a virtually impossible annual growth rate of 5.8 per cent.

An attempt at another headcount was made in 1973 after the 1967-to 1970 Nigerian Civil War, but again the results were canceled after the exercise was mired in controversy.

Up until 1990, most official national population estimates were based on projections from the 1963 census. Owing to the absence of reliable, up-to-date census figures, different groups and bodies bandied figures the way it suits them despite the dire consequences that come in tow with such development.

For instance, the United Nations in 1987 estimated the country’s population at 87 million, while the World Bank put it at 106.2 million, and the National Population Commission (NPC) then placed it at 112.3 million.

The 1991 census, sort of put things in perspective as the exercise, which was deemed to have been carefully conducted, concluded that there were 87.5 million Nigerians living in the country, even when the World Bank believed that the number should have been in excess of 120 million.

At the turn of the new millennium, a headcount, was originally slated for 2005, but based on logistical challenges, it was shifted to March 21 to 25, 2006. At the end of the exercise, which was five years overdue, the country’s population was put at over 140 million.

Barely 11 years after the last census, the Director-General of NPC, Ghaji Bello, said Nigeria’s population was currently 182 million, with more than half its people under 30 years of age.

According to him, this population surge has put a severe strain on the nation, with its slowing economy and declining revenue, making the provision of enough schools and adequate health facilities, among others a huge challenge.

Bello pointed out that the latest estimate was based on the population of 140 million recorded in the last census a decade ago (2006), using an annual growth rate of 3.5 per cent, weighed against other variables such as rising life expectancy and a declining infant mortality rate.

According to him, the present commission, (which was constituted in June 2012 with a chairman and 37 members representing each state of the federation and the Federal Capital Territory) is fully aware of the imperative of bequeathing credible census data to the country during the next exercise.

Only last month, Bello disclosed that the next National Population Census would hold in 2018, if necessary logistics were provided. He added that the exercise is expected to cost the country an estimated N272 billion.Speaking in New York, United States, Bello said the exercise should have been conducted in 2016 in line with international practice.

He said however, “If we are given all the resources that we need today, we may need possibly the first quarter of next year before we can do proper census.
“Because there are quite a number of processes that have to be undertaken as part of the preparatory activities between now and the actual census phase itself. And that would be sometime in the first quarter of 2018 and thereabouts. Ordinarily, it ought to have a cycle of its own and that cycle should be five years or 10 years. We should have conducted the last census in 2016, but for a variety of reasons outside the control of the population commission, we were unable to do it.

“One, in 2015, there was a general election; because of the preparations towards the general election, that in a way affected our ability to be mobilised to move with full gear for the 2016. Secondly, once the election was concluded and there was a new government in place, that government also had to get its foot on ground before it can move forward. But no sooner had it started to settle down than there was the issue of recession, collapse of oil price in international market and a variety of other reasons. Again, it just didn’t happen,” the NPC chief stated.


In order to be in tandem with the United Nations 10-year benchmark, he said the commission was pushing for a constitutional amendment that would allow for scheduled conduct of the census.Of the estimated N272 billion, he said the Federal Government would fund the exercise by only 51 per cent while the international donor community would fund the remaining 49 per cent.

“The submission we have made to the Federal Government is in the region of N272 billion. But the good thing is that the N272 billion is not for one year. It is spread along a four-year tenure. There’s pre-census activities, that is the preparation; the census proper and the post-census enumeration activities.”

Bello harped on the need for the government to leverage on the international community to help with the necessary assistance, noting that this would go a long way in defraying the cost of the exercise.

“Normally, there is no country that does census on its own and more so, it is a very capital-intensive activity. Funding is important because we have to demarcate. There is an exercise that is called Enumeration Area Demarcation (EAD), which is supposed to be the foundation or the building block of census. And that is supposed to be carried out in every hamlet, every village, every local government, every household and then the entire nation. That is normally a costly exercise, very expensive. And of course, up till now we have only been able to do 74 local councils out of 774.

“It means we have done only 10 per cent. So, for us to be able to do the remaining 700 local governments, it means there is a lot of work to do. Essentially, we are on track; we have the capacity in-house, but again there are quite a number of things, unless you are funded, you won’t be able to move forward,” Bello said.

At the moment, the Federal Government is in dire need of correct data about its citizens because apart from it aiding proper planning, it would also facilitate the optimisation of resources to sectors that really need such intervention, in addition to having implication for trade, for manufacturing and for security.

But as preparations towards the all-important national exercise build up, prominent Nigerians, including Speaker, House of Representatives, Yakubu Dogara, are not at home with the idea of conducting it before the 2019 general elections.

Commissioner representing Edo State at the NPC, Dr. Tunde Lakoju, thinks things may not be that bad if the right decisions are made. “Knowing Nigeria for what it is, mixing census with election can be quite problematic. We have also been looking at that, but we were thinking that if we have the opportunity of doing it in the first quarter of 2018 since pre-census activities have long begun, then the census proper would not be such a big problem. Frankly, Speaker Yakubu Dogara, spoke like a politician, and I sympathise with his position. Having done the Enumeration Area Demarcation in two local councils in every state of the federation, if we have the go ahead and the resources, we can complete everything about the enumeration before October this year and once we have done that, which is the main issue that produces the map for enumeration across the country, and also involves numbering all the houses in the country, then the real census is a little thing.

So, if we are given the opportunity to do these crucial things in the first quarter of 2018, then it would be smooth sailing because by the time the election and campaigns starts heating up, we would have finished the difficult phase and would be doing the processing while the elections will be going on. If we don’t do these crucial things by the first quarter of 2018, frankly we cannot do the census before 2021 because 2019 will be for the general election and 2020 will be for litigations and all of that.

“Now that we have the manpower, if we are given the opportunity, and the resources to procure all the equipment that before the end of the year, we would have been able to complete the demarcation of the whole country before the end of the year,” he stated.

While warding off fears that politicians would compromise the exercise for their selfish gains, he said, “I don’t see how politicians can hijack the exercise because we are going in for what we call a biometric census, and not just a paper-based census. Paper-based census is not scientific enough and anybody can hijack the process, but in biometric census, you will not be captured unless you are physically present. To complete the process of capturing an individual, we capture their fingerprints, and facial expression, including their eyelids, and no two people have the same eye lids in the world. So, tell me how is anyone going to hijack the census? If people are mobilised to register 10 times, by the time we are processing, the machines that have been pilot-tested would reject nine and take only one. So, whatever politicians try to do which of course they will make efforts to do, will not work.”

Lagos State is still contesting the figures credited to it by the NPC in 2006. But Lakoju, who represented Akoko-Edo Federal Constituency in the House of Representatives from 1999 to 2003, insists that with the way technology has taken root, human errors committed by design or default would be adequately addressed.

“As far as we are concerned, human errors and the so-called Nigerian factor have been overcome by technology we are going to deploy. I mean, if I come to your house and capture three of you that are physically present, there is no way you can change it. What happened in Lagos State has been a very interesting argument. Lagos State, apart from being the melting pot in this country, is also the country’s commercial capital. Don’t also forget that it used to be the country’s capital city. Now, the inflow of human beings to Lagos is so massive. But lets consider two things. One, during census, a lot of people in Lagos will go back to their hometowns to be captured. So, when they go out of Lagos to be captured, they are no longer available to be counted in Lagos.

“Two, Lagos at any point in time is where people come to buy and then go out to sell their wares. Because of the nearness to the ports and because of the relative economic advantage it has, a lot of the production companies are there, and the buyers may arrive on Monday and by Wednesday they are gone and a new set comes in. So, there is this constant inflow of crowd into Lagos. Since the city is so heavily burdened in terms of human capacity, it is easy to think that everybody you see in Lagos in June will still be there in July if we are holding the census in July. All these are not to say that Lagos is not heavily populated. However, the population in Kano is a sedentary population; they are living there. In other words, because Kano does not have the same commercial potentials that Lagos offers, most buyers there also stay there,” said the former lawmaker.

“Let me at this point stress that because it is going to be a biometric-based census, it will bring the reality of all of these issues we are talking about. Then if we do it properly, people will see the rationale for what we are doing and whatever figures we project from there, will be figures that will be more verifiable than some of the figures we have had in the past,” said the commissioner.

He appealed to Nigerians not to be pessimistic saying a “situation where we begin to talk about census as if all our calamities are around it would only ensure that we miss the point. As an agency, we don’t have the number of staff to carry out the exercise, so we have to employ plenty. If all of us are ready and willing to work towards a credible census, what we will get will be what we desire.

Former National Publicity Secretary of Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), Festus Okoye, who is of the view that “only blind and irresponsible nations plan in a vacuum since national population census is meant to assist countries plan for the present and for the future,”noted that, “some of the challenges facing our country stem from our irresponsible manipulation of national census and our inability and sometimes refusal to use data and statistics for national development.

“Unfortunately, I agree that we should defer the organisation of the exercise till 2020 because population census on the one hand has huge financial and national security implications, while the general election has national security implications also. In view of all these, we can afford to defer the census but general election is of constitutional, regional and international imperative and deferring it has unimaginable constitutional and national security implications. We cannot at this point in time afford to organise a population census that will be useless on account of the manipulative tendencies of the political elite,” the legal practitioner said.

Okoye, a member of defunct Justice Uwais Electoral Review Panel said: “It is true that we have failed, neglected and refused to utilise the results of previous population census for purposes of national planning, but that does not obliterate the fact that in all our endeavours, we need data from population census for planning. We need to know the number of school-age children in Nigeria and how many of them are in school. We need to know the number of our people that are in paid employment; we need to know where our people live and what they do. Without accurate data and statistics, we will plan in vacuum and leave a huge lacuna in our planning for today and tomorrow.”

On whether accurate census data can be beneficial to the country politically, he responded in the affirmative: “Accurate population census is fundamental to accurate constituency delineation. The entire work of the National Population Commission is crucial to the work of the Independent National Electoral Commission.  Section 49 of our constitution provides that the House of Representatives shall consist of 360 members representing constituencies of nearly equal population as far as possible, while Section 91 of the same constitution provides that the House of Assembly shall consist of three or four times the number of seats that state has in the House of Representatives divided in a way to reflect, as far as possible, nearly equal population. The delineation of constituencies relies to a great extend on accurate population figures.


“Furthermore, by the third schedule to the Constitution the National Population Commission is mandated to undertake periodic enumeration of population through sample surveys, censuses or otherwise. They are also mandated to publish and provide information and data on population for the purpose of facilitating economic planning and development.”

They are also obligated to establish and maintain machinery for continuous and universal registration of births and deaths throughout the federation. Unfortunately, despite the huge population movements arising from conflicts, urbanisation and geography, INEC must rely on what already exists for the purposes of its organisation and planning. We must therefore enable a good environment for the conduct of a credible census.”

In proffering a way out of the endless circle of lack of trust and absence of accurate data, Okoye said: “We must realise that we need accurate population census for economic planning and development. We defeat ourselves and plan blindly without accurate data and this hurts everybody without exception. The leadership of this country must rise above the artificial fault lines of ethnicity and religion and organise a population census for national development. We must also populate the National Population Commission with patriotic citizens with a mission and vision to give Nigeria accurate population census. Playing politics with census and manipulating census results is a national embarrassment and defeatist.”

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