The need for accurate census

The 2023 National Population and Housing Census, earlier scheduled for March 29, will now hold in May. The Minister of Information and Culture, Lai Mohammed, who announced the new date, said the shift was necessitated by the postponement of the Governorship and State Assembly elections by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) from March 11 to 18.

The census is expected to cost N869 billion and would be conducted in partnership with various development partners, including the United Nations Population Agency (UNFPA) and European Union (EU), among others. UNFPA would provide significant technical and financial support and also manage a basket fund established for the redemption of pledges, according to the Minister of State for Budget and National Planning, Clem Agba.

Out of the N869 billion required for the exercise, the federal government has only committed about a quarter of the sum. Notwithstanding, the National Population Commission (NPC) has assured that it would deliver on target by deploying available cutting-edge technology to avert any lapses during the census. To ensure adequate manpower, the commission has listed a total of 786,741 functionaries to be trained and deployed for the exercise. The figure comprises 623,797 enumerators, 125,944 supervisors, 24,001 Data Quality Assistants, 12,000 Field Coordinators, 1,000 Data Quality Managers, 1,639 Training Centre Administrators and 59,000 Local Government Areas level facilitators.

The Chairman of the Commission, Nasir Isa Kwarra, has also declared that the technology to be deployed would make it difficult for anyone to manipulate the process. Kwarra said the exercise would be different from the previous ones, which he admitted, were riddled with controversies, stressing that the Commission would be making use of state-of-the-art technology, including Global Positioning System (GPS) and satellite images.

He also stated that every building in the country has already been coded for the purpose, adding that nobody will be counted more than once. Nigerians do not expect anything other than a transparent national census from the commission. Seventeen years after the last national census was held in 2006, Nigeria is yet to have an acceptable figure on its population. Even the 2006 exercise was dogged by controversies.

Nigeria’s population is estimated at about 216 million, according to UNFPA. The figure is, however, hugely disputed by various ethnic groups in the country. It is only a thorough national census that will address the issue of the precise population of the country. Previous attempts to conduct an acceptable head-count in the country had not been successful. Even before the attainment of independence in 1960, previous census figures had been clouded in controversies.

With the possible exception of the fairly acceptable 1921 census, subsequent enumeration exercises have always been trailed by disputations. The 1929-1931 enumeration was considered inaccurate because of the economic depression of the period and the misinterpretation of the exercise as a basis for taxation, leading to riots in some parts of the country. Census did not take place in 1941 because of the Second World War.

However, census was conducted in 1962 but the results were rejected and considered incorrect, hence the 1963 head-count. Although the results of the 1963 exercise were accepted by the federal government, they were rejected by the regional governments. In 1973, another enumeration took place but the results were not published. The last detailed census in Nigeria was in 2006, which put the population of the citizens at 140,003,542. Since then, the country’s population figure has been an issue of estimation. This does not give room for adequate planning and development.

Now that the NPC will conduct another census in May this year, let the exercise be accurate and free from the confusion that arises from population census in the country. Data from census are important in research, planning, and national development. Accurate census also helps in delineation of electoral constituencies and allocation of slots for representation in the parliaments. It also serves for administration and ensuring good governance to the people.

While there is the need to postpone the date of the exercise, we believe that shifting the census from March to May in an election year is not realistic. The vituperations arising from the elections justify the further extension of the census date. Therefore, it will be better if the exercise is allowed to take place next year. Without a reliable census, sustainable development cannot be carried out. Nigerians need to change their mindset on the exercise and volunteer honest information to the census officials during the exercise.

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