The National Population Commission (NPC) recently revealed that the nation’s current population is 198 million people. The Acting National Chairman of the Commission, Yusuf Anka, who disclosed this in Abuja at a media briefing to mark the 2019 World Population Day, said: “the commission arrived at the figure through application of appropriate census tools.
He also urged the media to set an agenda for the conduct of population census in the country. Not quite long ago, the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) revealed that the nation’s population was 201 million, a figure the Federal Government fiercely disputed. But based on the United Nations (UN) recommendation that census should be conducted every ten years, the Federal Government should earnestly put measures in place to ensure that a national census is conducted so soon. We cannot continue to do national planning based on estimated population figures. As the nation’s population continues to grow, there is indeed urgent need for the conduct of an accurate national census.
We recall that some of the previous census figures were trailed by controversies. Such controversies were quite inevitable in a polity where census figures were used for allocation of national revenue. To avoid past census mistakes, government must ensure that the next census exercise is devoid of the irregularities that marred previous exercises. There is need for enlightenment campaigns on the benefits of having an accurate census. Nigerians should begin to see the census as an exercise to determine the accurate number of Nigerians and not which ethnic group is bigger or smaller.
The consequences of increasing population and how it affects national development plans should be the focus of the population count. The government should know the population of children, youths and the aged. It should know the population of unemployed Nigerians. Population census can also be used to determine the standard of living of Nigerians.
The United Nations Secretary-General, Antonio Guterres, alluded to this fact in his remarks during the 2019 World Population Day. According to him, “The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development is the world’s blueprint for a better future for all on a healthy planet. On World Population Day, we recognize that this mission is closely related with demographic trends including population growth, ageing, migration and urbanization.”
It is worth pointing out that Nigeria’s population was estimated to be 190.9 million people in 2017, according to projections from the last census. At independence in 1960, the nation’s population stood at 45.1 million people. After some postponements, Nigeria conducted a national census in March 2006. The exercise was allegedly marred by under-coverage, over-counting and other infractions.
The 1963 census, the first after independence, put the nation’s population at 55.6million. The results of the 1973 enumeration were not accepted. The 1991 census exercise put the nation’s population at 89.0 million. However, the UN population division put the nation’s 1991 population at 93million. In a country which grows by nearly 3 million persons per year, it implies an average annual growth rate of 2.8 per cent instead of 2.5 per cent. Therefore, a new census has become compelling. Government must put aside the contentious issues and conduct a hitch-free census exercise.
The current estimated population of Nigeria represents 2.35 per cent of the world’s population which arguably means that one person in every 43 people on the planet is a Nigerian. While the nation’s population is growing rapidly, the GDP (Gross Domestic Product) is slowly growing at 1.8 per cent. This should make the government to commence without much delay a new census exercise. In doing this, the government should be mindful of the pitfalls that rendered previous exercises controversial and put in place adequate measures to check them. Without doubt, having an accurate census will enhance planning and good governance.
It will also be useful to researchers, civil society organisations and international agencies. The population data will also provide the benchmarks for monitoring the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Therefore, all tiers of government must work in concert to ensure that the nation conducts an accurate census.