• Saturday, May 25, 2024
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How many are we in Nigeria? (3)

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Importance of accurate population figures

Human population censuses are usually undertaken for various purposes. The earliest known census enumerations were conducted for purposes of levying taxes or for military conscription. Some were equally specifically for the political purpose of fixing representation in parliament by population.

It will be difficult, if not impossible, to achieve any meaningful socio-economic development without accurate census figures. Population census data at all levels play a vital role in policy formulation. You cannot plan based on what you don’t know. Hence, in order for government at the federal, state and local levels to plan well the country must know her real population figures.

The Way forward

There are no two ways about it, if we are to have accurate and reliable population figure of the country, then we must have to conduct a transparent and genuine national census. This calls for early, proper and adequate preparation and planning. To  conduct  a  comprehensive,  reliable  and credible population census  in  the country,  the National Population Commission (NPC) must  design new  methodology  and  incorporate new  techniques  and  the  most  modern  technology  for conducting  the  census.

One of the major preliminary activities that must precede a national headcount is geographic work which involves preparing maps and lists of places. The Enumeration Area (EA) maps are particularly important tools for conducting a successful head-count. Without such maps the enumerators will not be able to locate and access the people they are to count. Unfortunately, none of the 15 censuses so far conducted in this country (including the last one that was done as recently as 2006) witnessed the use of accurate and cartographically well designed EA maps. The absence of accurate EA maps signposts the failure of a census exercise. As part of preliminary preparations towards the conduct of any subsequent national population census in this country, therefore, accurate, comprehensive, geographically-referenced, mutually exclusive and non-overlapping Enumeration Area maps, Supervisory Area maps and Locality maps covering every nook and cranny of the country must be made readily available. Moreover, the maps must be produced at suitable scales. The use of modern powerful Geographic Information Techniques such as remote sensing (high resolution satellite imagery and aerial photographs), Geographical Positioning System (GPS), digital cartography and geographic information system (GIS) will greatly facilitate the production of the all-important base maps needed for conducting a successful population census. Similarly, the use of the computer-based GIS for rapid input, management, analysis and output of geographically-referenced demographic data should be fully embraced.

NPC must improve on some of the techniques it used in the 2006 census such as the OMR/ICR/OCR machine  readable  forms  used to  record  information and the  Automated  Fingerprint  Identification  System  (AFIS)  used to  read fingerprints  and  thereby  detect  multiple  counting. Despite its expensive nature, Nigeria can and indeed should, conduct a full biometric census come 2016. The use of biometrics will help to reduce to the barest minimum, if not entirely eliminate, human biases, thereby ensuring that the census figures are not only accurate but also verifiable and highly dependable. The use of biometric capture of every Nigerian in the conduct of the census will make the exercise more transparent and also help the country to settle once and for all the issue of controversial census.

By any standard, national population census is usually a capital-intensive venture. The country must, therefore, intensively and extensively solicit for enough international support and funding from the United Nations, the European Union, the World Bank, IMF and some other donor agencies.

Adequate publicity through the electronic and print media, Internet-based social networks, town criers and so on, must be given about the forthcoming census to create awareness and sufficiently sensitize and mobilize the populace to fully participate in the exercise. Nevertheless, unlike what happened in the past, the population census should not be politicized or given any ethnic or religious coloration. Population should not be used as the yardstick for the allocation of governmental or national resources.

Conclusion

Knowing the actual population of Nigeria is a task that must be done. As a commentator has rightly observed: “It is in our best interest as a nation to see to it that we produce population census results which have been thoroughly conducted, verified and appraised, and therefore acceptable, without any shadow of doubt, to all governments of the world and to all international bodies such as the United Nations and its agencies, the World Bank, etc… The impressions of the manner in which a country conducts its affairs are one of the factors which earn for it the respect or disrespect of the rest of the world.”

As a nation, so long as we do not have accurate and reliable census figures, so long will we be planning without concrete facts and figures, and hence, so long will we grope in the dark alley of socio-economic backwardness and underdevelopment.

Apart from knowing how many we are, emphasis should also be placed on the quality of the population. Government should put in place robust, pragmatic and goal-oriented measures that will ensure that the country’s population is developed and harnessed for greater social and economic advancement.

NNA O. ULUOCHA