Reps and the national population question

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Census in Nigeria is usually tales of controversies with the latest conducted in 2006 perceived as inaccurate thereby rendering growth rate projections not reliable, The House of Representatives last week took a look at the call for a realistic population number for Nigeria. JOSHUA EGBODO writes.

Estimated current population 

Available statistics has it that Nigeria, featuring over 500 ethnic groups with different languages is currently with a population put at over 200 million, ranking 7th on the scale of most populated countries of the world.

The total surface area of the country is approximately 923,768 square kilometers, so with the nearly 200 million persons, the population density of Nigeria is around 212.04 persons per sq km. This confirms that Nigeria has the highest population of any African country.

Most populated cities

The nation’s demographic statistics suggested that Lagos is by far the largest, with a population of around 17.5 million. The other cities ranked by population are Kano, Ibadan, Benin City, and Port Harcourt.

Population distribution

The country’s population is widely considered to be relatively young. For both males and females, the median age is put at18.4 years of age, with the gap between the males and the females reported to be quite even. There are, according to estimates, about 1.04 males to every 1 female in the country. 

Difficulty in managing population 

As stated earlier, Nigeria is one of the most densely populated countries in Africa with approximately 200 million people in an area of 920,000 square km. Approximately 50 percent of Nigerians are urban dwellers, with the rate of urbanization being estimated at 4.3 percent. 

The country is also home to over 250 ethnic groups, with over 500 languages, and the variety of customs and traditions among them gives the country a good measure of cultural diversity. This has posed an impediment to possible unified population control policies by successive governments.

Also, the nation’s religious life is generally split between Christianity and Islam, with the Muslim population predominantly located in the northern part of the country, while the Christian population is located mainly in the middle and the southern part. Religion plays significant role in the lifestyle of the people, and population management is not exclusive.

Several empirical reports pointed out that life expectancy in Nigeria is, unfortunately, the lowest in West Africa, with the average around 54.5 years of age (World Health Organisation WHO); men living an average of 53.7 years and women living an average of 55.4 years. The low figures were attributed to indices such as poor healthcare services, prevalence of AIDS, and a very high child and maternal mortality rate, high rate of illiteracy among other challenges. These fluctuating indices, mostly fuelled by lack of the needed will by government also affect plans at population management issues.

In all of these, experts believed that government must naturally rely on population control as a way to saving the country from economic collapse. 

Reps intervention 

Moved by the challenges posed, and the seeming inaccuracies in the country’s population figures, the House of Representatives last week passed a resolution, asking the federal government to immediately set in motion, preparations for the conduct of a comprehensive national population census, expectedly before the end of next year. In the opinion of the House, the exercise is long overdue.

It expressed worries that Nigeria, unfortunately keep relying solely on projections by foreign bodies on her population figures for planning, a situation the House feels not realistic enough, and so the importance of conducting a new national population census.

Sponsor of the motion on the need to commence the exercise, Hon Ademorin Kuye, a member of the All Progressives Congress (APC) from Lagos state, described population census as an important national assignment because its figures are critical for national planning.

According to the lawmaker, the lack of accurate data on the population of Nigeria has been affecting national planning and development at all levels, and therefore prayed the House to urge the National Population Commission (NPC) to come up with a comprehensive timetable for the conduct of the census.

He argued that because of the importance of population figures, countries across the world carry out this exercise once every 10 years, adding that without a census, and an accurate data of the number of people in a given country, no government can provide adequately for its citizens.

He said “at the moment, the country’s population is predicated on projected figures provided by foreign organizations 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”.

He recalled that since the first census held in Lagos in 1866, there had been a trend towards better planned and more reliable exercises in subsequent exercises, adding however that the 1952/1953 census was the first modern, national and carefully planned census in the country and the outcome was generally accepted.

Kuye, however, expressed concern that the last national census was conducted in 2006, which if the practice of 10 years interval was sustained, another census would have been conducted in 2016, adding that until it becomes mandatory to conduct census at given intervals like elections, Nigeria will continue to have delays in organizing the exercise.

“It has become extremely important to conduct another census to ascertain the country’s actual population in order to do away with projected figures, a development that will enable the Government to plan better for the citizens.

“If adequate measures are not put in place to ensure that population census is conducted periodically, at least once every 10 years, Nigeria will be lacking in the statistical data of its citizens either politically or economically”, he submitted.

He was further concerned that often times, figures based on projections by international bodies were usually conflicting, recalling that in 2016, the World Bank estimated Nigeria’s population at 186 million, while the United Nations put the figures at 180 million with a growth rate of 2.7 percent. 

He said that in 2018, the National Assembly called for the postponement of the proposed 2018 population census on the ground that such an exercise, coming on the eve of the 2019 general elections, could end in chaos, possibly occasioned by usual disputes that trail population figures, adding that Nigeria was a dynamic economy with a large population which is expected to double in the next two decades.

Would government heed?

Experts have opined that it is usually difficult for government to effectively plan without the right population figure of citizens, which they pointed out to include the practical experience of strain on public health facilities, schools and other social amenities. Is the population going out of control? This can only be answered through accurate data. Would the current government therefore heed the call? Popular opinion is the the affirmative that it do so.

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