Absence of credible population data to mar newly launched Nigeria Development Plan 2021-2025
Enumeration of the number of persons living within the geographic territory of Nigeria was last conducted fourteen years ago – in 2006 – with its outcome largely marred by irregularities resulting in a loss of credibility and widespread non-acceptance. Yet, three National Development Plans built upon the demographic outcomes of the 2006 population census have been launched within the same period thus necessitating cursory scrutiny as to the integrity, efficacy, and goals of economic and national development planning in the country.
In Nigeria, Post-independence, there have been seven national development plans drafted, of which six have been executed with the National Development Plan (NDP) 2021- 2025 recently launched by President Muhammadu Buhari in December 2021 being the latest. This plan is the successor to the previously executed Economic Recovery and Growth Plan of 2017 and the Vision 20:2020 launched in 2009.
To form the base of development plans, section 75 of the 1999 constitution provide that “…the number of inhabitants of Nigeria or any part thereof shall be ascertained by reference to the 1991 census of the population of Nigeria or the latest census held in pursuance of an Act of the National Assembly after the coming into force of the provisions of this Part of this Chapter of this Constitution”.
The constitution also distils that the transmission of the result of a Census is to be done only to the President of the country. “Any report of the National Population Commission containing the population census after every census shall be delivered to the President by the Chairman of the commission” Section 213 of the 1999 constitution stipulates.
The United Nations iLibrary defines a population Census as “the total process of collecting, compiling, evaluating, analyzing, and publishing or otherwise disseminating demographic, economic and social data pertaining, at a specified time, to all persons in a country or in a well-delimited part of a country”
There is a rich history of the population census conducted in Nigeria with several undertaken across colonial, military, and civilian administrations. This underscores the importance of the role of data, planning, and development that the Nigerian government accords.
Fragmented into the township and provincial enumerations, the 1921 population census is widely regarded as the first national census conducted in Nigeria. Before these, three consecutive headcounts were done. In 1866, a census was undertaken for Lagos alone. Following this was a decennial census in 1871 – and subsequently, a 1911 census which covered only southern Nigeria.
In 1988 the National Population Commission (NPC) was inaugurated with a mandate to conduct acceptable censuses in the country. Its first mandate was the 1991 census. Today, the NPC is responsible for the organization and coordination of censuses as contained in the 1991 constitution.
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“Population censuses have as a primary objective, the enumeration of the population of a country to provide essential information on their spatial distribution, age, and sex structure, and other key social and economic characteristics.” The International Labour Organisation explains.
However, for effectiveness, efficiency, and maximum performance outcome, the foremost global development organization – The United Nations in its Principles and Recommendations for Population and Housing Censuses laid down guidelines for its conduct by population agencies, offices, or bodies in various nations.
Specifically, sex, age, marital status, employment status, level of education, country of birth, housing conditions, and household composition were listed as core aspects that must be included in a population census.
With a clear link to short, medium, and long term developmental goals like poverty reduction and social welfare programs, population censuses are widely regarded as a credible source of demographic outcome and a good measure of the current status and trend in the wellness of citizens of a nation by both social, economic, educational and political analysts and stakeholders.
Overall, the expectation will be for a population census that takes to account individual enumeration, universality, simultaneity, and stability to accurately and reliably determine the economic, health, financial, citizenship, mobility, literacy, and social figures and trend. These can subsequently be deployed towards revenue generation goals, unemployment reduction, infrastructural provision and partnerships, social and income inequality reduction, medical facilities provision especially during a pandemic like the covid-19 or Omicron variant and the fine-tuning of fiscal and monetary policies for all and sundry.
Unfortunately, all censuses conducted in Nigeria since commencement in 1866 have been besought by controversies with none accepted as credible.
In the run-up to the botched 2016 national population census, a former Chairman of the National Population Commission (NPC) Festus Odimegwu was quoted to have said: “No census has been credible in Nigeria since 1816. Even the one conducted in 2006 is not credible. I have the records and evidence produced by scholars and professors of repute; this is not my report. If the current laws are not amended, the planned 2016 census will not succeed,”
Odimegwu did not however oversee the 2016 census as he was relieved of his appointment by the Jonathan administration.
In November, The 1991 census was conducted nationwide. Officially, Nigeria’s population was stated to be 88.5 million by the NPC. Nevertheless, this figure would defer markerdly from projections of 115million by the international development bodies, the World bank inclusive. It is on record that multiple court cases from all states in Nigeria trailed the census thereby doubting its authenticity.
Fifteen years later in 2006, the NPC noted that the national population had grown more than 50% from the previous. The official population of Nigeria was stated to be 140million people. This figure likewise was contested with a round figure of 180million persons projected internationally and by independent analysts. Since 2006, the country has had to rely on projections to tell Nigeria’s population. The last estimate given by the NPC Chairman, Nair Isa Kwarra in 2020 was stated to be 206 million people. “In the absence of an actual census, we formally make projections, and we have all along been making our projections, and we estimate that as of 2020, the estimated population of Nigeria is 206 million,” The National Population Commission Chairman said recently.
Needless to say, this projected figure would be unsuitable for development planning purposes as it is not fact-based. Indeed, the world population review report of 2021 placed Nigeria as the seventh most populated nation in the world with “two hundred and thirteen million, one hundred and sixteen thousand, two hundred and twelve people across the thirty-six states and the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja.”
Amongst the various reasons that can be attributed to the inaccuracy and non-acceptance of census-led demographic figures, political interference clearly takes prominence. Data determined from censuses in Nigeria have been deployed towards revenue sharing and struggle for similar resources such that over time, the population of each region or state became an important measure for deciding how much of the country’s annual earnings are allocated and by implication the importance of the state or unit. . Thus, it is not surprising that literate persons, as well as political leaders, have become very interested in and enthusiastic about the political and monetary value of a census in Nigeria. It is anticipated that the forthcoming 2023 elections will bring this to the fore.
Other challenges are limited funding, double counting, dearth of trained manpower, lack of facilities and implements, security, and inadequate communication apparatus.
For two years now, the NPC has indicated its readiness to conduct the national population census in 2022 with its Chairman Nasir Isa Kwarra noting three weeks ago that the commission had almost concluded the Enumeration Area Demarcation (EAD) in 772 local government areas. “Two local government areas are outstanding.” He said.
The government looks to also support this exercise in spite of the agitations by the senate citing a lack of funds and insecurity prevalent in the country.
Indeed, included in the appropriation bill of N16.39 trillion presented by the President to the national assembly was an amount of N178 billion earmarked for the conduct of the national and housing population census in 2022.
This figure however falls short of the Commission’s budget of 400billion but she is ready to fund the deficit with donations from international organizations in line with best practices by the United Nations Population Fund. The UNFPA stipulates that “Nigerian government were only required to provide 51 percent of the budget while international donors were to provide the remaining 49% of the funding.”
Should the commission get the nod of the President, Muhammadu Buhari to proceed with the enumeration census this y, she will yet have to take vital steps to address the adoption of digital and technology, integrating and centralizing databases of births, deaths, voters’ register, and the integration with the National Identity management system like Banks Verification Numbers, Drivers’ Licences, and, Immigration, Training, and security. These will need to be done to avoid a wild goose chase.
Dr Ipalibo Harry, Chairman Census Committee and Federal Commissioner representing Rivers in the National Population Commission (NPC) says the first-ever population census is realistic by May 2022.
Harry said this at the opening of the Census Pretest exercise of the NPC in Mararaba, Nasarawa held recently. “We are ready to give the country a first-ever digital census by May 2022. “We have the maps data in our system, androids which unlike the analog era will make it very easy for a reliable and credible census,” he said.
As the deliberation around if a census should hold or not continues, it is pertinent that all stakeholders are reminded that population and demographic issues in general currently take the forefront in growth and development considerations globally.
The World Population Prospects predicts that by 2050, Nigeria will displace the United States as the third most populous country in the world after China and India. Similarly, The World Urbanization Prospects predicts that by 2050, 77 percent of Nigeria’s population will be urban.
Considering these predictions, a former Chairman of the National Population Commission (NPC) Eze Duruiheoma expressed worry as to the readiness of Nigeria to deal with these growing demographic statistics and the attendant quality of living of Nigerians.
Nevertheless, the government looks to be aware of the enormity of the task ahead. “There is an urgent need for us to begin to plan for this increase. Right now, we are dealing with the youth population and we have not been able to provide solutions to some of the complaints in the country.” Secretary the Government of the Federation, Boss Mustapha was quoted to have aid at a book launch in November 2021.
Also, according to the United Nations Population Fund – UNFPA, “the information generated by a population and housing census i.e. numbers of people, their distribution, their living conditions, and other key data is critical for development.”
Sadly most national development plans in Nigeria have failed due to a shrinking bedrock – the lack of available demographic data.
In this light and as a matter of urgency, the National Assembly should as part of actions required speedily sit on and pass the Bill sponsored by Rep. Babajimi Benson (APC-Lagos), and entitled: “An Act to Alter the Provisions of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 to specify the time Frame for the Conduct of National Population Census”. His bill sought to mandate the Nigeria Population Commission, NPC, to conduct a population census after every decade.
The National Development Plan (NDP) 2021-2015 strategy document says “Nigeria’s rapid population growth and increased urbanization have further strained its resources, exacerbated unemployment and crime rates and posing risks to the realization of the much-desired demographic dividend”
The government should thus adhere to a key component of the population and ID management goals – “Conduct a credible population and housing census by the third quarter of 2023, and subsequently, once every ten years” as stated in the plan.