• Sunday, July 14, 2024
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2023 National Census: Matters arising

Flying without wings

Population census, which is the complete enumeration of individuals living in a country at a particular time, is very important in a nation’s development. Its importance cannot be overemphasised, whether for planning, resource allocation, business development, industrialisation, security, among others. In other words, there is hardly anyone that will not find population census useful.

According to the information available in the public space, the National Population Census (NPC), the agency that is empowered by law to conduct the periodic exercise, will conduct another round of national census in 2023.

According to the NPC, the 2023 population census is highly essential because the last time Nigeria conducted the same exercise was in 2006. Therefore, the population data that Nigeria uses for planning and other essential activities are 16 years old, making the population data inadequate for what they are used for.

As said earlier, we are not against the conduct of a national population census giving the inherent benefits in it. But the timing is wrong. Doubts are cast on Nigeria’s ability to conduct general elections and national population census in the same fiscal year

The executive chairman of NPC, Nasir Isa Kwarra, has promised that the forthcoming exercise will generate data that will meet international best standards for planning and developmental purposes because the process will be digitised. We do not doubt the competence of the NPC to conduct a national census. However, we are concerned about the timing.

Nigeria is in the process of conducting general elections that will usher in a new administration. The presidential, National Assembly, gubernatorial and state houses of assembly elections will take place early next year.

The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) has asked for about N305 billion for the conduct of the general elections in 2023. This is different from the annual N40 billion budget that goes to the commission. The national election is an exercise that involves Nigerians who are 18 years and above, compared with the national census that will involve all and sundry.

According to the minister of finance, budget and national planning, Zainab Ahmed, Nigeria recorded a N3.09 trillion budget deficit in the first four months of 2022, translating to a N772.5 billion budget deficit on a monthly basis. It has even got to the point that Nigeria borrows to pay up its debt obligations to its creditors.

The country finds itself in the position because of many factors, of which the most important ones are the huge payment of petroleum subsidy and the country’s inability to meet its daily crude oil production quota due to oil theft.

Just recently, the chief executive officer of NNPC Limited, Melee Kyari, said Nigeria loses about $1.9 billion daily to crude oil theft while the minister of state for petroleum resources said the country loses 400,000 barrels of crude oil daily.

These developments mean a lot to the proposed national population census. First, there is no assurance Nigeria will be able to raise enough money for the conduct of major exercises such as general elections and national population census in the same year.

Second, the admission by the government in power that the nation loses this much is a clear indication that Nigerian security apparatuses are not in control of certain regions in Nigeria. Political leaders from the north west and north central states have affirmed this recently.

Therefore, how does the NPC intend to raise the humongous amount of money required to conduct a hitch free and reliable exercise? Going by Nigeria’s current financial conditions, the chances are very slim.

Against the backdrop, insecurity will hinder the smooth organisation of the exercise. The Nigerian government cancelled the Abuja-Kaduna rail service.

Currently, some of the victims of the last attack on the Abuja-Kaduna train are still in captivity. The Nigerian government has not resolved the Chibok girls’ issue years after they were kidnapped. Leah Shuaib, the lady that was kidnapped in Dapchi, is still in captivity.

Read also: Nigeria’s young population offers boundless opportunities – experts

In other words, Nigerian security forces, while trying their best to restore law and order, still have a long way to go to install sanity in Nigeria. And not until then when there is semblance of security, that one can move from a state to the order without fear, that a comprehensive exercise of this magnitude will meet international best standards when conducted.

Another major concern is the presence of foreigners in Nigeria, some of whom had collected national identity cards to legitimise their stay in the country. In 2018, some foreigners were arrested for illegally having PVCs. Of course, there are still many of them out there that would have perfected their modus operandi to avoid the prying eyes of Nigerian security forces.

With breakdown of law and order in some border communities in north east, north west and north central, many of these illegal immigrants would have been in this country parading themselves as legitimate Nigerians.

As said earlier, we are not against the conduct of a national population census giving the inherent benefits in it. But the timing is wrong. Doubts are cast on Nigeria’s ability to conduct general elections and national population census in the same fiscal year. The huge resources required for these two national projects will send Nigeria on another path of borrowing spree. Nigeria cannot continue to keep borrowing to fund most of the national projects as we are witnessing now.

The security has not improved significantly to such an extent that individual census officials will be able to move about to villages, mountainous areas, riverine settlements without fear.

Above all, since 2023 will be a year of change in government, as some of the incumbents, having served their two terms cannot contest again, it will be better to allow the new government to handle it.

On many occasions, Nigeria’s census has always been controversial. We should minimise the controversies this time around by conducting it at a time the controversy will be very minimal. From all indications, 2023 is not the year that will produce such census results.