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Aligning credible 2023 population and housing census with national development

By Gbenga Akinfenwa
02 April 2023   |   4:06 am
Statutorily, Nigeria is seven years behind in the conduct of its Population and Housing census. Ideally, a census should be conducted every 10 years, but since the last exercise held in 2006, multiple factors have prevented Nigeria from conducting the exercise as at when due.

Some Nigerians at a public function<br />

Statutorily, Nigeria is seven years behind in the conduct of its Population and Housing census. Ideally, a census should be conducted every 10 years, but since the last exercise held in 2006, multiple factors have prevented Nigeria from conducting the exercise as at when due.

A fresh exercise was due in 2016, one year after President Muhammadu Buhari assumed office. But the new government could not conduct the census due to the economic recession in 2017.

Another attempt to conduct the exercise in 2020 was thwarted by the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic that grounded activities across the country and beyond.

Now, 17 years down the lane, the Federal Government is set to conduct a green census. Initially scheduled to hold between March 29 and April 2, the exercise is now billed to hold between May 3 and 5.

The first census in the country was conducted in 1866. It was followed by censuses of 1871, 1881, 1891 and 1901. However, all the earlier censuses were restricted to Lagos Colony and its environs. The 1871 census marked the beginning of decennial census taking in Nigeria in line with the British decennial tradition.

Following the amalgamation of the Lagos Colony and the Southern Protectorate in 1906, the 1911 census extended to some parts of the Southern Protectorate. It was marred by incomplete enumeration because some parts of the South had not recognised the legitimacy of the Colonial Government.

The 1962 population census covered the entire country and was done simultaneously during the month of May. Although the census was given adequate publicity, the results were not acceptable to the regions on the grounds of high politicisation.

The refusal of the government to accept the population census of 1962 prompted the 1963 population census, which critics claimed was arrived at by negotiation rather than enumeration. The result was contested at the Supreme Court, which ruled that it lacked jurisdiction over the administrative functions of the Federal Government.

The 1973 Census conducted between November 25 and December 2 was not published on the ground of deliberate falsification of the census figures for political and/or ethnic advantages.

The 1991 Census was conducted under Decree 23 of 1989, which set up the National Population Commission (NPC). It was conducted all over the country from November 27 to December 2, 1991.This was described as the most scientific and most acceptable until the 2006 Population and Housing Census.

In March 2006, Nigeria, for the first time, conducted a Population and Housing Census. Several stages were involved in the project. For the first time, the use of GPS and Satellite Imagery to carve out Geo-referenced EAs was adopted. Also Machine-readable forms (OMR/OCR/ICR) were used to record information from respondents.

According to analysts, the importance of census cannot be overestimated. A population census is at the centre of every planning activity and no meaningful development planning activity can be conducted without taking into account population census data.

Experts say conducting census will provide viable database needed to build population and workforce projections, a database needed to study social phenomena to develop policy analysis, national programme management, resource allocation, revenue estimation, governmental contracting, and the strides towards national equity and inclusion.

Concerned Nigerians are of the view that Nigeria’s lack of comprehensive and detailed data on its population also accounts for the lack of accurate demographic, social, and economic growth indicators, which hamper its policy implementation.

They opined that vital indicators such as birth, mortality and population growth rates in Nigeria’s lowest administrative or geographical levels are missing, adding that the country doesn’t have any viable record of immigrants, but is working with estimates, with low degrees of precision.

Last year, while speaking during the national stakeholders’ summit on the 2023 Population and Housing Census held at the State House, President Muhammadu Buhari confirmed that the irregular and long interval of census taking in Nigeria has denied the nation the huge benefits of comprehensive baseline data for evidence-based decision-making.

“The country’s inability to conduct a population census in the last 16 years has created an information vacuum as the data from the last census conducted in 2006 has been rendered out-of-date for planning purposes. It has therefore become imperative for the nation to conduct another national census to produce a new set of demographic and socio-economic data that will provide the basis for national planning and sustainable development.

“Population is a critical factor in a nation’s efforts toward achieving sustainable development. People are both the agents and beneficiaries of the development process. Knowledge of the national population in terms of size, distribution and socio-economic characteristics is required for planning purposes. This, therefore, makes the conduct of census an essential governance activity.”

Speaking few weeks ago at a high-level partners engagement in Abuja, the Minister of State for Budget and National Planning, Clem Agba said the census would be conducted in partnership with various development partners including the UNFPA and EU, among others.

He noted that a total of N869b ($1.88b) would be required for the exercise including post-census activities; N626b ($1.36b) for census at $6 per capita and N243b ($527 million) for post-census activities up to 2025.

Though the date for the full exercise has been fixed, some analysts and cross section of Nigerians are raising concerns about the ability of the NPC to conduct a hitch-free and acceptable census.

Based on reports, the 2006 population census was adjudged fair in comparison to the previous ones, as it was the first population and housing census the country had, yet it was marred by allegations of irregularities and falsified figures.

According to analysts, the country’s previous population censuses do not paint a great picture. From 1866 to 1991, the censuses were marred by restrictions, tampering with figures for gerrymandering, deliberate falsification of census figures, disruptions caused by political instability, ethnic clashes, and a dearth of skilled personnel and technical know-how for data collection and management.

A rural development expert based in Zaria, Kaduna State, Mallam Yusuf Abdullahi, who spoke with The Guardian, said the lingering dichotomy and suspicion between the ethic groups in the country on census has always been an issue of great concern whenever the exercise is conducted.

“In matters of national interest, there has been this lingering dichotomy and suspicion between the various nationalities in Nigeria. Census has been one of those exercises that always attract this type of suspicion and distrust.

“Even where it is being done very freely and fairly, where the rules are observed, there is tendency for one of the various parts of the country not to accept the outcome wholeheartedly, just like election results,” he said.

A Professor of History from the Osun State University, Osun State, Prof. Siyan Oyeweso, who consulted for Lagos State during the 1991 population census, regretted that issues of transparency and integrity have always rubbished whatever successes recorded in previous census exercises.

“For the NPC to avoid the problem of the past, there should be a qualitative improvement on previous census exercises because we are not inventing the wheels along that line.


“The NPC should ensure transparency and integrity of the whole exercise and ensure that majority of the people are counted. This is very important for planning, to plan our future with viable statistics. The challenge of Nigeria is that we plan without statistics. So, census is very vital for planning purposes and for future implementation of policies and programmes.”

The chairman, Publicity Committee, NPC, Dr. Eyitayo Oyetunji, who doubles as the Commissioner representing Oyo State in the upcoming census, told The Guardian that the commission has put many innovations in place to ensure the credibility of the exercise and ensure that possibility of figures falsification is erased.

“We are conducting the first digital census for the country. So many innovations have been put in place to ensure accuracy, and part of this is the digital methodology. We are undertaking this in a way that will ensure our enumerators collect information and the information will be streamed directly to servers that are allocated in the cloud.

“With this, the possibility of figures falsification will be out of it because there’ll be no manipulation, every building will be identifiable. This time around, everybody that will be enumerated will be able to show where they live.”

The Publicity Committee chair regretted the delay in the conduct of another census since the last one was done 17 years ago, saying that the country has been working more or less blindly.

He added that without accurate information, the tendency to optimise the limited resources available would not be achieved. “When you have information that tells you how many people that are in various demographic characteristics, you are able to target your intervention more accurately and to achieve more profitable results.

“So, there’s no one that does not know that we are too late to have had a census – we are far behind because almost a generation of Nigerians have come without us having information about them. So, having a census at a time like this is going to help us address some of these security challenges, which means we are going to have information about all households in Nigeria and for the first time, we are working towards a census that is geo-databased.

“We used the satellite technology to do our enumeration area demarcation – it means we have done a census of all the houses in Nigeria, we know where every standing building is in Nigeria, we have their GPS – Geographic location and we have the purpose why they are being used. That kind of information is massively used not just for security but also for many other things.”

Dr. Oyetunji said the commission is working with NIPOST to get accurate address system for the entire country, adding that a partnership agreement has already been signed.

“That also enabled us to map out the wards for INEC because until now the electoral umpire does not have the map for their wards, it is going to help in constituency delineation, to help them for future elections.

“At the economic front, the information we are going to collect will help with details on households, infrastructure that is available to various households, and this will enable us to know the deficit in terms of infrastructure, in terms of amenities, and the specific areas to make intervention on these matter.

“You know Nigeria has a youthful population, the census will enable us have more accurate information on our youths, on their skills and appropriate intervention will be made to focus on them. This will help to propel this country for development. Intervention for COVID-19 would have been better planned if there was an up-to-date census,” he said.

Aside from the issue of trust and allegations of irregularities linked to previous exercises, one area of great concern to most Nigerians is the level of publicity about the exercise.

Social commentators and analysts are of the view that at this period, when the exercise is just a month away, the commission should have commenced series of campaigns and orientation to enlighten the public on plans and strategies to adopt.

But Dr. Oyetunji revealed that, “we have our various strategies for advocacy and publicity. We have been cautious about these because of the elections. We have been careful not to allow the census process get mixed up with election processes. So, we have been discreet in the kinds of publicity we have been engaged in.

“We have been concentrating on where we have activities to do and when we have activities, but now that elections are over, we have put together various strategies for publicity, among these strategies is the constitution of publicity committees.

“At the national level, we have constituted a national publicity committee under the chairmanship of the Minister of Information and it’s working out strategies to ensure that the entire landscape is filled with census messages, publicity and enlightenment.

“In the process of constituting similar committees at the state levels, it was slowed down because of the gubernatorial election as most of the state officials were involved in that election. But in the next one week or two, those committees should be in place at various state levels.

“Subsequently, the committees will also exist at the local council level. At all these levels, we are working in partnership with the National Orientation Agency (NOA) for grassroots mobilisation and campaign. There’ll be a great significance on the publicity.”

To achieve the desired goal, the rural development expert, Abdullahi, said two aspects are at stake that the Federal Government must follow. “First, there must be rules and regulations guiding national census, as well as national elections must be made in such a way that any offender must be punishable and offenders must be prosecuted. Only application of the law will make election and census cleaner.

“Another angle from which government can take action to make census acceptable is to leverage on technology in mapping the areas to be counted –identifying the counting units and documenting everything. It can be applied to a level that it will be difficult to cheat and falsify results.

“I think technology is one of the solutions to our problems. In addition to technology, we must be law abiding; the law must be seen to be working. When the law is working, everybody will fall in the line. Some countries are not even better than us but because they have stricter laws, their citizens are better behaved.

These are two critical issues aside orientation and publicity.”

On his part, Prof. Oyeweso tasked communities to partner with the Commission to mobilise residents for the enumeration exercise. “There should be a synergy between the NPC and Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC). INEC has database of registrable Nigerians for election purposes, but census is bigger than that.

“I have had the opportunity of consulting for Lagos State during the 1991 census exercise along with some professors. But we discovered at that time that one way of capturing data is also by counting the number of houses, number of households, number of hospitals, number of underaged, number of old women and we discovered that the Nigeria Police Force, when you look at their barrack, , it is amazing the size of population living there.

“So, there should be a qualitative improvement on previous census exercises because we are not inventing the wheels along that line.”