Population Census: Can Nigeria have a credible count?



Census matters had always been a thorny issue in Nigeria. KEHINDE OSASONA in this piece, revisited the preparation towards the much anticipated 2020 census.
In 2016, the World Bank estimated Nigeria’s population to be 186million, while the United Nations (UN) puts the figures at 180 million with a growth rate of 2.7.The global body recommends that population censuses be taken at least every 10 years and many countries have adopted it and even gone ahead to enshrine the requirement in law.But speaking at an Enumeration Area Demarcation exercise in Lagos in 2018, a federal commissioner, National Population Commission for Lagos state, Salu-Hundeyin, lamented that the country would continue to live in darkness developmentally without a census.According to Hundeyin, Nigeria was overdue for a census for effective management of the country, saying that without accurate data, no government can manage the people, children that are being born, how many schools would be needed, how many hospitals, and its workforce.

She said, “The rate at which we are going, it is a tough job for anybody to manage this country without a census.“NPOPC would have wanted census every 10 years as obtained in other countries but the Census Act and the constitution did not allow that.“We have written to the federal government and we are showing our preparedness by the EAD, birth registration and other things that we do.“But until government gives a proclamation, we cannot hold a census and it is over 10 years now since the last census held in 2006,” Explaining further, she said, “Until it becomes a law like the election, we cannot impose it on the federal government. Right now, Nigeria is overdue for census,”

Census exercise in Nigeria: A tie-back
Although, census exercise in Nigeria predates the geo-political entity, available records show that collection, compiling, publishing demographic and economic data of persons started as early as 1866, but was limited to areas comprising Lagos Island and small parts of the mainland.However, the first attempt at enumerating the entire country was made between 1950 to1953. While enumeration took place in Lagos with a total number of 272,000 persons counted in 1950, the same exercise took place in northern Nigeria in 1952 with a figure of 10,840,000 persons.
The same exercise took place in eastern Nigeria; where a total number of 7,218,000 figure were recorded. According to findings, had it been that the 1962 population census was not cancelled over dispute concerning the inflation of figures, it could have passed for a credible exercise owing to some level of improvement recorded over previous exercises. But in November 1963, a National Census Board, assisted by State census Offices conducted another population census exercise where the country’s population was put at 55.6 million.

 Although the handling of the then census exercise was challenged in the Supreme Court, the court ruled that it had no jurisdiction over the administrative function of the federal government.Interestingly, while the total population of Nigeria as recorded in the 1991 population census was put at 88,992,220 million, 15 years after, the head-count that was conducted in 2006 by the National Population Commission (NPC) puts the total population of Nigeria at 140,003,542 million.  Also, addressing journalists at the event, Alhaji Gaji Bello, the director general of the commision said lack of legislation on the conduct of census in the country had brought a lot of set-backs to the commission.Bello also stressed that without accurate data from a head-count, there would not be proper planning in the country; therefore, he appealed to the federal government to make provisions for a national census.           
Politics of census and matters arising
In 2018, when the National Assembly called for the postponement of the proposed 2018 population census, arguments propped up that such an exercise, coming on the eve of the 2019 general elections could end in chaos.On the grounds of arguments that played up in the chamber, the House subsequently resolved to ask the federal government to put an end to the uncertainties surrounding the nation’s actual population by putting in place necessary machineries to conduct the national census not later than 2020.Championing the advocacy at a recent session in the House of Representatives, members asked the federal government to immediately put in motion preparation for the conduct of a comprehensive national census before the end of 2020, saying that the exercise was long overdue.

The House noted with regret the country’s reliability on projection by foreign bodies on her population figures for planning, adding that it was extremely important to conduct a new national census.Consequently, a motion for the commencement of the exercise was moved by Hon Ademorin Kuye, an APC member from Lagos.While describing the population census as an important national assignment, Kuye noted that population figures are critical for national planning.He said, “The lack of accurate data on the population of Nigeria has been affecting national planning and development at all levels.“I therefore ask the House to compel the National Population Commission to come up with a comprehensive timetable for the conduct of the census.”Explaining further, he said, “Due to its importance, countries across the world carry out this exercise once every 10 years in order to get an accurate data of the number of people in their country.“At the moment, the country’s population is predicated on projected figures provided by foreign organisations like the United Nations, thus making planning extremely difficult in the absence of a population census which the National Population Commission (NPC) would have conducted every ten (10) years as is obtainable in other countries.“Since the first census was held in Lagos in 1866, there had been a trend towards better planned and more reliable census exercises as subsequent census exercises.” 

However, the 1952/1953 census was the first modern, national and carefully planned census in the country and the outcome was generally accepted.In his submission, Kuye held that until it becomes mandatory to conduct census at given intervals like elections, Nigeria would continue to have delays in organising national census.
Concerned Nigerians speak
In doing away with projected figures and its attendant controversies, some social commentators believe that as a way of ascertaining the country’s actual population, there is the need for periodic census exercise.According to Silas Gomwak, population census, if conducted at least once every 10 years, would enable the country to sustain a valid statistical data of its citizens, saying doing that would fast track all round developments across the country.

He said, “By my own estimation, we are simply not doing the needful by jettisoning an avenue through which countrymen and women data could be collected.“The implication is that development would continue to elude us with less disadvantaged states or local government at the receiving ends.”
In his reaction, an Abuja based public commentator, Adi Annas, wondered why government placed so much emphasis on election when something more important like the census exercise did not enjoy desired attention.He said, “I think the time to engage our lawmakers on serious matters has come. For instance, when your representatives are not robustly engaged on germane issues, they would end up bringing up irrelevant issues which hardly add values.“Look at the death sentence for ‘Hate Speech’ bill. As much as I won’t condemn it just yet because of its sensitivity, I nevertheless think that there are other pressing issues that should be raised and discussed exhaustively on the floor of the House.”  
Will the proposed 2020 census be a reality?

But despite endless arguments by stakeholders on the need for periodic conduct of the census in Nigeria every 10 years, questions agitating the minds of many have been whether the proposed census 2020 would be a reality after all.
Significantly, the yearning for authentic data has remained a ghost haunting the country, especially when statistic is to be churned out for public consumption.
It is believed in some quarters that for government to plan better for the citizenry, issues bordering on periodic census must be included in the act to make it mandatory to hold a census just as it is compulsory to hold elections every four years.Apart from giving it legal backing, critics are of the opinion that paucity of funds which has always been a hurdle should be looked into.