Globally, census is an important as well as expensive national assignment. This is because it figures are critical for national planning. It is for this reason, among others, that most countries of the world carry out this exercise once every ten years. SAMSON BENJAMIN in this report examines the uncertainties about Nigeria’s population and the need for another census 13 years after the last one was conducted
The federal commissioner, National Population Commission (NPC) for Lagos state, Mrs Abimbola Salu-Hundeyin, recently said Nigeria was overdue for a census for effective management of the country’s populace.
Speaking at an enumeration area demarcation (EAD) exercise in Lagos, Salu-Hundeyin, said the country would continue to live in darkness developmentally without a census.
She said: “Because without accurate data, no government can manage the people and government must have data to know how many children are being born, how many schools will be needed, how many hospitals, how many workers are in town.
“This is how to manage a nation successfully; the rate at which we are going, it is a tough job for anybody to manage this country without a census,” she said.
The commissioner said 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, the 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 because the last census was in 2006. Until it becomes a law like the election, we cannot impose it on the federal government; right now Nigeria is overdue for census.”
She said the EAD was being conducted to obtain data at desegregated level and also serve as a pre-censors activity and a foundation on which the census stand.
“Therefore, the EAD is a passport to sustainable development and censors are the visa to modern livability of any nation. So, people must show interest and cooperate with us and that is why we are going around on advocacy to let our people know that the EAD is as crucial as the census.
“Also, while the EAD is going on, we also do what is called continuous birth registration of every child who is below the age of five for free.
“By doing so, we are trying to ensure that we at least have accurate data of people in the country, particularly Lagos state,” she said.
Uncertain population figure
Going by international best practices and conventions, nations are expected to conduct population census once in every ten years. However, the last time Nigeria conducted a population census was in 2006. Nigeria’s population then was put at 140,431,790 million with estimated growth of less than three per cent yearly.
Significantly, thirteen years after the last census, there appears to conflicting figures about the size of the population of Nigeria. Consequently, many figures are been bandied around.
Last year, the chairman of NPC, Mr Eze Duruiheoma, put Nigeria’s current population at 198 million people, with urban population growing at an average annual about 6.5 per cent.
Duruiheoma announced the figure in New York while delivering Nigeria’s statement on Sustainable Cities, Human Mobility and International Migration at the 51st Session of Commission on Population and Development.
The NPC boss said the estimated figure of 198 million was not just concocted but from annual growth of 3.2 per cent, judging from the last census of 2006.
He said: “There are deaths and births and nobody imagined that there will be more deaths than births.
“Irrespective of what anyone thinks about deaths, there are always more births than deaths and that is why the 3.2 annual growth rate is used in arriving at the current population figure.
“The most important thing now is to conduct another census to ascertain the country’s actual population. We want to do away with projected figure because there is more to census than funds and we are waiting for presidential proclamation that will empower NPC to conduct the head count.”
Duruiheoma said having accurate data about a country’s population was essential in planning as it would be used for social, economic, political and other needs.
Specifically, since the revelation of the new population estimate, the controversy over Nigeria’s exact population has reared up its head. While some think the figure is a mere assumption, others seek to know how NPC arrived at it.
Mr Soji Omotosho, a statistician with Population Watch, a non-governmental organisation, told Blueprint Weekend that the way and manner NPC “arrived at a figure of 198 million without diligent national head count, puts the estimate to question.”
He warned that dishing out bogus population figures can be very contentious and will be difficult to defend, ‘’especially if the figures are based on the 2006 population census that was contested by many states, particularly Lagos.”
Similarly, speaking with Blueprint Weekend, Dr. Yakubu Angie, a lecturer in the Department of Economics, Nasarawa State University, said: “The storm over Nigeria’s actual population figure is a recurrent issue, which gives room for various estimates from both within and outside the country.
“The truth is that we do not know exactly how many we are. Consequently, it is not that simple for the NPC or any other authority anywhere, to come up with figures that will not raise doubts.
“In 2016, the World Bank estimated Nigeria’s population to be 186 million. Also, the United Nations in 2017 put Nigeria’s population at 180 million with a growth rate of 2.7 per cent. Prior to that, in 2016, the former Director- General of the NPC, Alhaji Ghali Bello, estimated Nigeria’s population to be 182 million with a growth rate of 3.5 per cent.
“If the base population from which the estimates are made were correct, why then are the figures different? Certainly, each of these figures is questionable and each estimate is based on a different base population.”
In the same vein, the Statistician-General of the federation, Dr Yemi Kale, had earlier disputed the nation’s population’s figures that were being bandied about. In 2016, he disagreed with the estimates which put Nigeria’s population between 170 or 180 million, arguing that it is incorrect and based on mere speculation . In addition, Dr Kale has dismissed NPC’s latest estimate of 198 million as incorrect.
Census, the only way out
Similarly, Dr Angie urged the government to put the controversy about Nigeria population to rest by conducting a population census.
He said: “The federal government should fix dates for national census as soon as possible as a way of ending the uncertainties surrounding Nigeria’s actual population size because different figures being bandied around is as a result of government failure to count its own people many years after the last exercise.
“Nigeria has a dynamic economy and a large population which is expected to double in the next two decades; and census is pivotal and necessary tool for the growth of any emerging society, which in turns informed decision-making at all facets of public and private sector.
“Lack of up-to-date and accurate data on the population in Nigeria had affected national planning and development at all levels and has culminated in human and agricultural insecurity in Nigeria.”
Endless search for acceptable census
During the colonial era, there were several attempts to conjecture acceptable estimates of the Nigerian population. But the first attempt at a nationwide population census was carried out in 1952-1953. That exercise put the total population of Nigerians at 31.6 million.
This head count was considered an undercount for a number of reasons including, inadequate training of enumerators in some areas; logistical challenges in reaching several remote areas; apprehension that the exercise was related to tax collection and political tension in the East at that time.
Similarly, the post-independent headcount in 1962 was called off after widespread allegations of over-counting in several parts of the country. A second attempt in 1963, which was officially accepted, was also bedeviled with allegations of inaccuracy and manipulation for regional and local political purposes.
According to the National Bureau of Statistics (NBC) “Even though the 1963 figure of 55.6 million as total national population was accepted, it was heavily criticised as being inconsistent with that of 1952-1953, as it implied a virtually impossible annual growth rate of 5.8 per cent.”
An attempt at another head count was made in 1973 after the 1967 to 1970 Nigerian Civil War, but again the results were canceled after the exercise was mired in controversy.
Up until 1990, most official national population estimates were based on projections from the 1963 census. Owing to the absence of reliable, up-to-date census figures, different groups and bodies bandied figures the way it suits them despite the dire consequences that come in tow with such development.
For instance, the United Nations in 1987 estimated the country’s population at 87 million, while the World Bank put it at 106.2 million, and the National Population Commission (NPC) then placed it at 112.3 million.
The 1991 census, sort of put things in perspective as the exercise, which was deemed to have been carefully conducted, concluded that there were 87.5 million Nigerians living in the country, even when the World Bank believed that the number should have been in excess of 120 million.
At the turn of the new millennium, a headcount, was originally slated for 2005, but based on logistical challenges; it was shifted to March 21 to 25, 2006. At the end of the exercise, which was five years overdue, the country’s population was put at over 140 million.
Politics of census
Similarly, the speaker of the House of Representatives, Yakubu Dogara, had last year called for the postponement of the planned 2018 population census on grounds that such an exercise, coming on the eve of the 2019 general election, could end in chaos.
He said: “If indeed we must observe the ritual of a headcount to validate the projection that we are currently over 180 million in population, let us not do it on the eve of an election. If it holds as scheduled, chances are that the figures will not be credible and that could on its own engender crisis”
“I, therefore, subscribe to the suggestion that the exercise should be shifted till after the election in 2019. That is the only way to avert a political crisis in a nation where groups fiddle with numbers on every critical issue. It is, therefore, important that before the exercise, there is need for a reorientation of Nigerians to see population counts as an instrument for economic planning rather than for the allocation of unearned resources.”
Aside the political consideration, finance is another major challenge facing the conduct of another long overdue census in Nigeria. Duruiheoma had during a session with the members of the senate committee on National Identity Cards and National Population Commission, led by its chairman, senator Suleiman Hunkuyi on an oversight visit, said Nigeria required N222 billion to conduct accurate, reliable and accepted national population and housing census.
Similarly, the clinical officer, Planned Parenthood Federation of Nigeria (PPFN), Mrs. Funke Hassan, told Blueprint Weekend that, “carrying out a census is quite an expensive procedure so the authorities always find other ways to divert funds allocated for the purpose. The process also gets postponed often because no one wants to bear the huge financial costs.”
“Even developed states have to spend significant sums to calculate the population of their area. Nigeria’s resources are limited, so it is even more difficult for our country to cope with this task. As a result of this, the procedure does not get carried out efficiently and as regularly as it should be,” she said.