• Wed. Apr 17th, 2024

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#2023Census: “We await Presidential Nod” – NPC

Before the 2023 population and housing census was postponed or re-scheduled, the 2023 population and housing census was at its final stage, according to the Director, Public Affairs of the National Population Commission (NPC) Dr. Isiaka Yahaya.

The immediate Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, acknowledged this in his statement that announced the postponement. The rescheduling was about the fifth since the NPC began preparations for the conduct of national population exercise in 2014. By convention, national population census holds every 10 years (sometimes, five years in some countries). Nigeria had her last nationwide head count in 2006. This means that another head count was due in 2016. Unfortunately, Nigeria had not been religious in the conduct of population census.

The 2023 exercise would be the fifth since independence in 1960, and the first digital census to be conducted in the nation’s history. Nigeria had her first population census in 1963 as an independent nation. Actually, the first census in pre-independence Nigeria was conducted by the British colonial govern- ment in 1866, but it was limited within the colony of Lagos.

The first ever nationwide head count in the country was in 1921. Nigeria’s second census as an independent nation was in 1973, which was 10 years after the first one in 1963. Her third was in 1991, some 18 years after. The fourth one was in 2006, which was 15 years apart. At the moment, it is 17 years after the conduct of the last population census exercise in the coun- try, and at the moment, the nation is still relying on the figure from the 2006 national population census for her national planning and development. The 2006 census put Nigeria’s population at 140 million. But the latest United Nations data put the nation’s population at 221.3 million as at June 24, 2023 which it said, is equivalent to 2.64 per cent of the total world population.

Nigeria is said to be the 7th most populated nation in the world with population den- sity of 226 people per square kilometre. The country has a total land area of 10,770 square kilometres or 351,650 square miles. Without conduct of a population cen- sus, one wonders the perimeter this figure was arrived at.

This was probably based on the assumption that “in sub-Saharan Africa, the population is growing at 2.5 per cent, more than three time the global average. Some of that can be attributed to the people living longer, but family size remains the driving factor. Women in sub-Saharan Africa on average, have 4.6 births each, twice the current global average of 2.3.” The 2023 census exercise would have resolved this puzzle.

Before the postponement, the NPC which is the body saddled with the responsibility of conducting population census in the country said it was ready for the exercise. As a matter of fact, the postponement came just few days to the May 3 take-off date scheduled for its commencement. The 2023 national population census had suffered several postponements. It could not hold in 2016 when it was due because the NPC said there was “poor budgetary allocation” for the exercise by the Federal Government. Besides, the commission said it needed to give the Muhammadu Buhari administration, which came into office in 2015, time to settle down. The exercise was therefore, fixed for 2017, which unfortunately did not happen because there was partial economic recession due to fall in the price of crude oil in the international market.

However, with the recovery of the economy, NPC was told by the presidency to submit a revised census budget with a timeline. This was submitted, but the emergence of the Covid-19 pandemic adversely affected some of the processes.

The Federal Government had in 2016, reportedly approved the sum of N14.5 billion for the NPC to complete its nation- wide Enumeration Area Demarcation (EAD), which is a process of delineating the entire land area of the country into small geographical and demo- graphic units. This is a preparatory exercise for the actual census. Despite this preparation, then acting chairman of the commission, Dr. Eyitayo Oyetunji, said there was no specific date for the conduct of the census, although he claimed the commission was ready for the exercise once approval is granted. The exercise was eventually fixed to hold from March 28 to April 2, 2023, but was shifted to between May 3 and 7, because of the governorship election, which failed to hold on March 11 as earlier scheduled.

The NPC spokesperson, Yahaya, noted that “if not for the rescheduling of the gubernatorial elections, the census would have held because we felt after the initial fate, the post-elections’ healing would set in which would have allowed the smooth conduct of the census.” He added:

“Technically, we are ready as we have the enumeration area information of all the 774 local governments in the country. We have used various methods to collect the data on all the houses in the country including places where there is insecurity, and we are ready to go into those places to conduct the census.”

The NPC said 855,600 ad hoc staff selected from over three million peo- ple that applied have been trained and ready to go to the field. The nation has at the moment, in- vested hugely, both human and mate- rial resources, in preparation for the census exercise that to abandon it now would be a colossal waste to the country.

The Federal Commissioner representing Ekiti State at the NPC, Ayodeji Ajayi, said the country cannot afford to throw away the sum of N200 billion that has been spent so far on the project. Ajayi, who also confirmed the readi- ness of the commis- sion for the census exercise said NPC is ready to go to the field within 72 hours, once the president gives the directive for the commission to go ahead. According to him, “we are technically ready and for the first time, the NPC used an electronic platform to do all its recruitments. We have detailed information of everyone working for us including where they stay and account de- tails; even payment were done from the Accountant General office.

“We have done trial census and tested all devices and equipment to take off but the appointing authority, which is the president has the power to proclaim when to go for the census going by the law.” The immediate past administration on the eve of its departure, said the exercise was postponed to a date to be determined by the incoming adminis- tration. This decision was welcomed by Nigerians due to the importance of population census in the life a nation. Labour Party’s (LP) candidate in the last presidential election, Peter Obi, for instance, noted that national census is a critical development and nation- building tool.

His words: “Even though Nigeria is long overdue for a census, conducting one requires proper planning and diligence to ensure the sanctity of the results; the efficacy of the data gathered therefrom, as well as their utility in driving national development goals, our living standards and growing national housing deficits. It is hoped that when eventually the census is conducted, it will serve as confidence-building measures instead of being fraught with the usual controversy.” Though the new administration is about a month old, it is expected that by now, there ought to be a high-level meeting with the commission on the timeline for the conduct of the exercise.

Fortunately, the NPC board was not among government ministries, departments, agencies and parastatals dissolved recently by the Federal Government. Population census is the live wire of any nation. It may not be wrong to state that some of the developmental chal- lenges facing the country is due to lack of accurate head count. Relying on data obtained some 17 years ago, or an esti- mated figure from the United Nations’ agencies, for policy planning is a vio- lation of the UN decennial conduct of census. Nigeria is too big a country not to know the population of its citizens.

News Editor

Our News Editor, Muyiwa is an information management expert and Development Blogger with more than a decade experience in investigative reporting and journalism. He is passionate about human angle stories to all social issues in Nigeria and Africa.