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Okoko: Manipulating census results dates back to colonial era


Kimse Okoko

Immediate past Pro-Chancellor of University of Uyo, and former President of the Ijaw National Congress (INC), Prof. Kimse Okoko, told KELVIN EBIRI, in Port Harcourt, that without restructuring the country to make it function as a true federal state, attempts to get accurate census data would remain a wild goose chase, as the North would do everything to perpetrate their “fake” numerical superiority over the South.

What do you make of Speaker of the House of Representatives, Yakubu Dogara’s call for the postponement of the forthcoming census till after the 2019 general election?
The speaker, I am sorry is missing the point. Whether it is done now or after the elections, we will not be able to get accurate census figure in this country because there are people who are ready to manipulate the exercise for their own selfish interest, and to extend their fictitious dominance of a group over others. So, it is irrelevant whether it is done before the election, or after the election.

So long as we have this kind of dominance mentality, and political elites that are hell bent on manipulating the census for a particular ethnic group, we will not have an accurate census figure in this country. Census figures in this country have never been transparent, therefore, they have always fallen far short of expectations since they do not reflect the reality on ground. On this note I would say, whether it is done today or tomorrow, it will still produce the same outcome. Until Nigerians learn to play by the rules, and be honest enough to carry out a credible census when its time to do so, it will still yield the same faulty and manipulated result. This is the thing that has been happening to elections in the country over time, including the 2015 general election, which was also rigged.

The point I am trying to make therefore is that so long as the system remains unstructured, we will continue to get fake census results just as we have fake election results. So, Yakubu Dogara is just wasting his time making irrelevant comments and not facing the truth, or not wanting to face the truth. The truth of the matter is that census in Nigeria is not designed for the economic advancement of the country. So, let the Speaker know that whether we do it before or after the general elections, the result will not be acceptable.

Why would any group want to manipulate a process, which outcome is considered pivotal to national planning?
Political elites don’t think along those lines; they don’t see accurate census results as facilitating factors for national planning. All they see is the more you are in number, the greater your voting strength, and of course, the greater the share of monthly allocation to you from the Federation Account. For example, that is why we have 44 local councils in Kano State, when we know that the population in that state is smaller than that of Lagos State. So, it is the same sad, corrupt system that has kept us in this messy census limbo. It is really unfortunate.

It appears accurate census results have eluded the country since the colonial era?
In the colonial period, census was manipulated to favour the North, and in the post-colonial period, they still want to maintain the imbalance in the figure between the North and the South. That has always been the case. The reason why there are more states in the North than in the South for example, is based on the argument that the population there is more than what obtains in the South. In other words, we have been perpetuating the wrongs of the colonial and indeed post colonial periods in the census exercise. And those who have benefitted from this injustice will ensure its continued existence.

How can this be corrected?
The only way to solve this problem as far as I am concerned is to restructure this country, and put in place, a true federal system of government, using the regions, and not the vassal states as the federating units. If this happens, we would have solved that hydra-headed problem because every region will be responsible for its accelerated growth and development. So it does not matter whether you have 10 or 100 local councils. Once this happens, compromising census results will no longer arise, as every region would control its resources and develop at their pace. Until we put in place, a true federal system, we will continue to get this bastardised census figures, as well as compromised election results.

But why did British colonialists manipulate pre-independent census?
The British people didn’t know they would leave as early as they did. Secondly, they found the system of government in the North more amiable to their own manipulations, than the system in the South. That was what happened.

Decades after, should we still be blaming colonial masters for our inability to conduct a credible census?
We have not been able to do the right thing because those who have benefited from the fake figures that the colonial system churned out still want to retain that numerical superiority. They want to maintain that disparity between the North and the South. It is going to be extremely difficult for the North to accept a census result that indicates that the South is now more populated than the North. That is the problem. So, we should just restructure the country and leave population figures alone because that will take care of itself, once we restructure the country and everybody strives to develop their region.

You have argued that the North has been the beneficiary of census data manipulation. But the Speaker of the House of Representatives who is raising the red flag is of northern extraction?
It does not make any difference. Leave the system as it is they will benefit from it. You will see that if by any mistake the census is carried out and the South turns out to be more populated than the North, there will be crisis. He is envisaging that kind of situation and of course that is not in his own interest. Perhaps, he wants to go to the Senate, or wants to run for governorship of his state, or even run for the Presidency. So, you can understand he is doing so for selfish reasons. Or he is avoiding the true problem in Nigeria with census.

Why has the South not vehemently rejected the outcome of past census figures?
I am not surprised that southerners are not making the required noise. But in any case, even if they make the required noise, so long as the structure remains the same, it will still be the same outcome. Southerners know the problem, but are just running away from the problem.

Is Nigeria shortchanging herself with perennial inaccurate census figure?
Yes, we are losing a lot. For instance, it creates instability in the polity, as we do not know the exact population of this country. There has been an argument that the South is densely populated than the North. So long as this argument exists, you can see it playing into the issue of instability. They have been claiming we are about 170 million Nigerians or so. The government arrived at this based on the first census figures. You know that you can in a modern era like ours, extrapolate and come up with some figure based on previous census. You could rely on the previous figure and say that the population will within five or 10 years be this or that. But if the first census figure was wrong, then every other thing you do will be wrong, because the base was wrong. Unfortunately, that is what we have been using in this country, and there lies the problem. Accurate population figures are very useful in planning, and correcting sectoral imbalances in the country. Until we restructure the country, nothing will work in this country.

Census is supposed to aid INEC in the delineation and allocation of electoral constituencies. If the exercise is postponed, won’t it adversely affect some constituencies?
Of course, it will because constituencies in the country are not related to population. The constituencies are based on fake population figures. That is why you can see that the membership of the House of Representatives is skewed in favour of the supposedly more populated area of the country. It is only in the Senate that we have something different. So long as this country is not restructured, this malady will continue.

In this article:
Kimse Okoko
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