I was somewhat bemused last week when I read a news story in which the Director-General of the National Population Commission (NPC), Ghaji Bello, was reported to have said that Nigeria’s population stood, as at last week, at 182 million. The report was published in the Vanguard of Thursday, 10 November 2016.
If you are looking for any credible census data to confirm Bello’s estimate of Nigeria’s current population, you will look for eternity. The fact is Bello’s estimate was based not on any dependable recent census data but on mere conjecture. This is quite astonishing. I am amazed the head of a sensitive government agency could rely on mere inference to determine our country’s current population.
Vanguard reported that Bello’s approximation of Nigeria’s population “was based on the population of 140 million recorded in the last census a decade ago, using an annual growth rate of 3.5 per cent weighed against other variables, such as rising life expectancy and a declining infant mortality rate”. You can make anything you like out of Bello’s stupefying population estimate but it is not an accurate or credible figure.
My first reaction was framed around several questions. How could the head of the National Population Commission announce publicly that Nigeria has a population of 182 million people without conducting an official census? Could a country that pays little regard to realistic statistics determine the population of its people without conducting a census? Why do senior public officials say things that expose our inability to do things properly, convincingly, and credibly in the way the rest of the world does?
Owing to inconsistencies and astonishing figures released intermittently by government officials, many citizens have been compelled to join in the game of speculation about national population. Some would tell you that Nigeria’s population is around 170 million. Others estimate the country’s population to be 200 million people, while some others conclude that we are no fewer than 250 million in Nigeria. These figures are inconceivable or beyond belief simply because they are not based on the outcome of any official and realistic head count.
Long before 2015, everyone was informed that Nigeria would conduct national census in 2016. Six weeks to the end of 2016, no one is talking about a census anymore. There are also no indications the government would be putting into place arrangements to conduct a census during the remaining few weeks of this year. In fact, there are no indications that a census would be conducted between now and 31 December 2016.
The last time official census was held in Nigeria was 10 years ago, in 2006. At the end of that exercise, the National Population Commission told the nation there were 140,431,790 people in the country. Many people shook their heads in disbelief, describing the number as a deliberate miscalculation of Nigeria’s population. That should not surprise anyone. Nigeria’s population has always been vigorously disputed. If the population number released by the NPC was contested 10 years ago, following an official head count, should anyone blame the public for pouring scorn on the latest unofficial population figure released by Bello, the Director-General of the NPC, when there was no recent census to support his unimaginable national population figure.
Rather than throw around national population numbers that are unfounded and unverified, it might be best to make sure that NPC officials get the next official census (whenever it is conducted) correct, even though some people with dark motives might wish the census disrupted, contentious, and unreliable. After all, earlier census data had been subjected to endless debates owing to irregularities, factual errors, overstated numbers, as well as conscious attempts to serve the nation half-fried information about the number of people who live in Nigeria.
There are just as many well-founded reasons Nigeria needs correct census data. Immediate former Governor of Lagos State, Babatunde Fashola, said in August 2015 that the nation’s socioeconomic development will run off target and, therefore, make national planning impossible to achieve, if we had no accurate census data. He said: “If the work of government is to provide services to people, its efficiency will be determined by its knowledge of how many people need service. And therefore, without accurate census figures, it may seem that we are not determined to go on the path of development.” His argument is irreproachable.
I don’t know if officials of the National Population Commission understand how destructive inaccurate census data or data based on personal assumptions can be to the nation’s development. As Fashola pointed out last year, inexact census data will impact negatively on various government services, economic agenda and strategies, all of which will further affect the national economy, provision of medical services, agriculture, the manufacturing sector, as well as businesses, large and small.
Planning for the present and the future will be impossible to achieve if government cannot determine the number of people who reside in the country. If you have no idea about the number of people whose welfare and wellbeing you are planning to cater for, you will not be able to provide anything reasonable that will make a difference in the lives of the people.
As at the time Fashola spoke in August 2015 on the importance of having accurate national census data, he also said Nigeria’s population had floated between 160 million people and 180 million people. Obviously his estimate was equally flawed because it was not based on any national census data and could not be authenticated. Fashola’s view of the total number of people in Nigeria was merely speculation unsupported by a reliable population figure.
Fashola also alluded to the incredulous figures produced during the 2006 national census. He recalled: “…We worked with the National Population Commission (NPC). When they returned a number of over nine million, it was clear that it had become, Fela’s words, ‘government magic’…I recalled very clearly that for 11 nights and 11 days, we did not sleep… And the population commission told us that they were going to enumerate households and the definition of a household is one family of husband, wife and children. At the end of the exercise, we enumerated 4.5 million households in Lagos. Yet, they returned with only nine million, as Lagos population. It meant that all households ‘in Lagos have only husband and wife, and no children’”.
The boss of the National Population Commission should commit to work hard during the day and during the night to produce credible and widely acceptable census data on which the nation’s future development plans should be based. However, I must also state upfront my concern about the ability of the NPC and its senior officials to furnish the nation with credible and reliable census data. I don’t know how that could be achieved in the current environment in which there are discrepancies about the true population of Nigeria.
As I argued in a previous essay, if Nigeria does not know how many people reside in the country, she cannot determine scrupulously and methodically the exact number of people who are unemployed as well as the number of job vacancies that ought to be created. A government that operates with erroneous postulations about the total population of the citizens will never be able to construct budgets that will strengthen and develop the economy. Without reliable statistics, Federal and state governments cannot plan and finance higher and primary education. Without correct census data, public and private businesses will operate on the basis of inaccurate estimates rather than on demonstrable facts.