‘Reliable census result may elude this generation’
Social critic and public affairs commentator, Paul Eko, in this interview with ANIETIE AKPAN, deplores the absence of credible census data in the country decades after independence. Even though he prefers another administration to conduct the exercise, he adds that absence of strict monitoring would only ensure that the country yet again takes delivery of figures that are not believable.
Is there a possibility that politicians could hijack the forthcoming census as alleged by the Speaker of House of Representatives, Yakubu Dogara, who wants the exercise postponed?
Yes, the speaker has a point because credible census results have eluded us as a people for far too long. Apart from being a major source of concern for sometime now, it beats my imagination why at this point of our national life we do not have reliable population figures to premise national developmental efforts on.
It is in that light I consider this whole pressure to do census just before the 2019 general election as a ploy by politicians, who are plotting to benefit and exploit the situation. I agree absolutely with the Speaker because I also see politicians angling to blow up population figures to suit them, and help them falsify election results. You cannot separate those two because they are interlinked. Once the census figures are bloated, which of course you know is going to happen, it will now enhance their rigging capacity. For Dogara, who is a politician to express such fears, I think it is based on a lot of weighty facts at his disposal. I see it as a call, which if not adhered to, could jeopardise the entire census, make the exercise a sham and a waste of funds.
Have past census results been a blessing or a curse to the country?
Let me answer your question this way. During military regimes when some of these local councils were created, they were created based on existing census results and sundry statistics. But if you take a look at a state like Kano, some of those local councils are now glorified villages. So, I would add that from onset, these results have been fertile grounds for exploitation.
But some people still believe in our past census results, while many do not. On what part of the divide are you?
I don’t believe in our past census figures and I don’t believe we will ever have reasonable census figures that we can plan with. It is going to take quite sometime and may not even be in our generation the way we are going. Given these issues, I doubt if we can ever have accurate census figure.
How can we do away with this endless circle of lack of trust, and banish the problem of inaccurate census data?
Most importantly, there must be commitment from the government of the day because if government is committed to ensuring that the right things are done in the build up to the 2018 census and during the exercise proper, then we can bid farewell to compromised figures. But right now, I don’t see that commitment because there is so much of corruption in the society, to the point that traditional rulers or highly placed politicians are the ones that are giving out inducements for every system to be compromised. To this kind of people, inducing officials in order to sex up population figures in their domain means nothing to them.
Having said that, let me add that it is going to require serious commitment from the Federal Government to supervise the process and ensure that the country is bequeathed reliable census data this time around. Sadly, judging from facts on ground, I don’t see that happening because the continuous uncertainty that is playing out is an advantage for some people, as it will facilitate their planned manipulation of the system.
They would attempt to do this not just for the purposes of getting improved allocations from Abuja, but for the purposes of representation at the federal level, especially at the National Assembly. So long as they need those figures for their permutations, it will be difficult for the exercise to be flawless without proper, strict monitoring.
So, as a person, I would suggest that exercise should be conducted by the next administration, while the incumbent administration prepares the ground and does everything needed to ensure that our next census is a huge success.