On the 2018 population census

The Speaker of the House of Representatives, Yakubu Dogara, has already suggested that the census be postponed till after the 2019 general elections to prevent politicians from hijacking it for their own selfish interests.

The uncertainty over the 2018 population census due to budgetary constraints would be removed if the National Population Commission (NPC) would aggregate all available bio-metric data bases into a one family reliable picture of the nation’s population rather than embarking on an all-out headcount that would end up being politicised.

Besides, the delay in kick-starting the preliminary activities for an effective census warrants postponing the event to a later date when the needed funds would be available to carry out a hitch-free enumeration.

The Speaker of the House of Representatives, Yakubu Dogara, has already suggested that the census be postponed till after the 2019 general elections to prevent politicians from hijacking it for their own selfish interests.

There is no need embarking on another wild goose chase, for the umpteenth time, in the guise of conducting a census that would be discredited and it is better, this time around, to do a thorough job and resolve the dilemma of not having a valid population figure for the country.

According to reports, the NPC is in the dark owing to an unclear financial situation. Consequently, there is lull in pre-census activities, which ought to have begun in earnest long before now.

For instance, a core pre-census activity, which is the Enumeration Area Demarcation (EAD), which the NPC ought to have concluded by now has only been carried out in 74 (10 per cent), out of the 774 local government areas in the country.

The NPC had proposed the sum of N272 billion for the entire census exercise including post-census activities. Out of this amount, N33 billion meant for pre-census activities has not yet been made available.

Indications are that the NPC is waiting for funds to mobilise workers to complete EAD in the remaining 700 local government councils. That, indeed, is a huge responsibility. The importance of data for national development planning cannot be over-emphasised.

Worldwide, censuses are organised to obtain data, which is critical for national development planning. Unfortunately, that is not the case in Nigeria where population figures are manipulated for political reasons since it is the basis for revenue sharing.

Given Nigeria’s peculiarly awkward historic situation, the onus is on the NPC to adopt scientific methods of population enumeration. If the country must develop, common sense requires that data must be collated properly. Without data, there can be no planning and no development.

This newspaper had advised that the NPC should pull all vital statistics together and have them aggregated. The NPC should work on the quantum of bio-metric database that have been gathered by banks, licensing offices, immigration, customs, JAMB, WAEC, and many others.

School enrolments, birth and death registrations, voter’s cards, ID cards, BVN and the various vital statistics should be aggregated and used to extrapolate the country’s population. Otherwise, full-blown census is not working and it is likely to be a waste of money.

Aggregating the data and extrapolating it won’t present any problem using advanced computer software. The NPC could actually solve the age-long population conundrum if it really wants rather than chasing shadow in census.

It is unfortunate that the British colonial masters distorted the population in favour of a section of the country and that mischief has remained the benchmark for assigning dubious population figures to those areas even when in reality, the numbers are lacking from school enrolment records.

This anomaly can be corrected by using active vital registration programme, which, like the American social security number system, assigns number to every new-born and automatically deletes deaths. Countries that have active vital registration programme have no problem in updating their population figures.

It is shameful that Nigeria cannot get a reliable census and the country does not know how many citizens there are. Practically, everything is based on speculation.

Above all, Nigeria should stop using population as basis for sharing national resources. With federalism, all sections of the country would be free to do an accurate head-count, plan and, if they choose, create as many local government councils as they wish.

So far, there has been no sincerity of purpose on the issue of population census. And that must change.



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