Despite the prevailing insecurity across the country, the Federal Government has announced its plan to conduct a national population census between March and April 2023. The Director General of the National Population Commission (NPC), Nasir Isa Kwarra, made the disclosure after the Council of State meeting in Abuja. According to NPC, the exercise will commence with a pilot census scheduled for June this year.
The last population census was conducted in 2006. Seventeen years is long enough time not to have a population count. The need for a national population census, therefore, cannot be overemphasised. No doubt, the data emanating from the exercise will be crucial for planning and development by the three tiers of government. It is sad that Nigeria has relied so much on estimated population for its planning purposes for many years. Such estimations by United Nations bodies cannot be said to be the accurate population census of the country. The country has paid dearly for such gross dereliction of duty in housing, roads and other infrastructure deficits.
While the plan to have an accurate population census of the country is desirable, we believe that the timing of the proposed exercise is wrong and inauspicious due to the rising insecurity across the country. Apart from the general insecurity, the census will come shortly after a major general election. The exercise is also coming barely one month to the end of the tenure of the current federal government. With these in mind, the proposed census is ill-time. We therefore propose that the exercise be postponed until a time Nigeria is secure and free from other issues threatening its corporate existence.
Moreover, population census outcome is one issue Nigerians can never arrive at a consensus. The deployment of population figure as a factor in revenue sharing has not really helped matters, as it has led to falsification of census figures. For instance, the1962 population census was reportedly politicised and rejected. The 1973 census figures were not published on the grounds of deliberate falsification of figures. The 1991 census was marred by suspicions. The last time Nigeria conducted a population census was in 2006 and the result of the census put the nation’s population at 140.43million people comprising 71.3 million males and 69.0 million females.
However, World Bank records put Nigeria’s population at slightly over 206million, while the United Nation’s Population Fund places the nation’s population at slightly over 211 million with a 2.6 per cent growth rate. The differing figures of our population make the planned headcount imperative. We are in dire need of an accurate and acceptable population census, which will engender optimum planning and development.
Since the last population exercise was conducted, the nation has made its plans based on projections by the Nigeria Bureau of Statistics (NBS). There will be no meaningful planning and development without accurate population census. The NBS had projected the country’s population at 193million persons in 2016, a 37.8 per cent increase over a 10-year period. The National Development Plan (2021-2025) is based on an estimated population of 200million persons in Nigeria. This represents a 42.4 per cent growth in the last 15 years based on the 2006 census count. The plan estimates Nigeria’s population growth rate at 2.5 per cent per annum on the current 200million.
We acknowledge that a good census exercise will provide the data that will make room for realistic planning, but the timing of the planned headcount is not realistic. The timing looks like a deliberate ploy to make the census fail. The worsening insecurity in the country will not allow a seamless exercise. The general election is a big national event. It will be difficult to conduct a general election and census back-to-back.
Therefore, we urge the government to postpone the census. The resources for the census can be channeled towards curbing the insecurity and lifting millions of Nigerians out of poverty. Conducting the census at a time when some Nigerians will be excluded due to insecurity negates the essence of the exercise.