By Ademola Yaya
POPULATION census is not limited to headcount of the people of a particular country alone. According to United Nations Population and Housing Census 1992 Handbook, “A population census is the total process of collecting, compiling, evaluating, analysing and publishing or otherwise disseminating demographic, economic and social data pertaining, at a specified time, to all persons in a country.” It also defines it as a “process of collection, reception, assessment, analysis, publication and distribution of demographic economic and social data, which relate, at a given moment in time, to all residents of a country or of a well-defined partial geographic area.”
Population census is an expensive exercise taken every 10 years. Although, some countries like Japan, Austria and Canada hold it every 5 years. The first national census conducted in Nigeria was in 1952/53 which put our population at 31.6 million people; while the last was conducted in 2006 by the National Population Commission (NPC), putting our population at 140.43 million people. NPC was established in 1988 by the Federal Government to collect, analyse and disseminate demographic data in the country. It also has the mandate to undertake demographic sample survey, compile, collate and publish migration and civil registration statistics as well as monitor the country’s population policy.
We were supposed to be due for another census in 2016. Perhaps, for the new government, which was yet to settle down and paucity of funds as a result of inherited economic recession, it was not conducted.
In the proposed 2021 budget, pending for consideration before the National Assembly, President Muhammadu Buhari has approved N14.5 billion with immediate release of N10 billion in this 2020 and N4.5 billion in 2021 to the NPC for the conclusion of EAD in preparation for the next census. EAD means Enumeration Area Demarcation. It is a process of delineating the country into small geographical and demographic units in lieu of actual census. It is after the successful conclusion of EAD that the time of the next census will be announced.
A sincerely conducted census of general household survey will provide information needed by government to determine effectiveness of its policies and interventions. It will be a useful tool for improved and effective policy making. It will be a pointer to monitoring the performance of Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) indicators and consequently assist MDG achieve its targets and provide database for social research. Its advantages are not limited to these. A genuinely conducted census is used to providing indicators for monitoring and evaluation of socio-demographic characteristics; household conditions; employment; health; household enterprise; child nutrition/breast feeding; income and expenditure, among others too numerous to be listed. Hence, no country can properly plan for its growth and development without census.
In our own case however, it is a different ball game entirely. The results of the census are always tied to what a State gets. For instance, the result of the population census determines how much each State and Local Government gets from the Consolidated Revenue Fund/FAAC. It is 30% of the horizontal allocation formula for states and local governments. The population figure determines how many seats a state has in the House of Representatives. Other criteria are basic equity of State 40%, Landmass and Terrain 10%, Internal Revenue effort 10%, Education 4%, Rural potable water 3%.
As a result of this arrangement, every census conducted in Nigeria from 1953 by the British colonial power to the last done in 2006 had ended in controversies, as political interference had always been suspected. There had always been politics of inflated and deflated figures.In 2006 census for instance, Kano State was said to be 9.4 million people while Lagos State was said to be 9 million people. Lagos however rejected the results and conducted its own census and arrived at 17.5 million – almost twice of the census figure NPC declared!
The ruling elite of a particular region or state, as the case may be, try to outsmart themselves in inflating and deflating headcount figures in their favour because of numerous entitlements attached. Therefore, for the forthcoming population census, there is an urgent need for legislation from the National Assembly to remove every entitlement tied to the headcount figures as highlighted above. We cannot continue to be doing the same thing the same way all the time and expect different results. Otherwise, we shall continue to deceive ourselves and be wasting away humongous resources that could have been used for some other meaningful enterprise to a deceptive census conduct.
If the ruling elite are sincere in the development of the country as they usually claim, they should not interfere in the process this time. As they specialise in rigging elections, so they are in census figure manipulation. But they cannot do it alone. They will need the support of the poor people who are so naive to comprehend the repercussions. Moreover, the poor working people comprising workers, farmers, market men and women, artisans, unemployed, students should not allow themselves to be used to manipulate the figures. Manipulated census figure is a precursor to haphazard planning that will never result to any meaningful development. It is impossible to plan properly and know how many people live and earn in the country when the population census figure is adulterated. In the long run, adulterated census figure as a result of political interference is not in the interest of the country as it is one of the harbingers of underdevelopment and ultimately, it is the poor people that will suffer most.