Planning is key in governance given that governance is all about the well-being of the people, the citizens. Planning for the citizens out rightly demands that government must not only know the needs of its people, but the number or at least a credible approximation of the number of the people it is planning for. This is where population census comes in and why it is critical in national planning and budgeting. A government which has no idea of the number of deaths or that of births within the nation’s space and how the relativity of both variables and migration affect its demography may, in some circumstances, find itself to have planned for the dead, when the intention was for the living.
By United Nations recommendation, population census should be a decennial event. Happening at this interval would place any government on a better footing to have a grasp of the changes that would have occurred in the population over the years and deploy such knowledge in policy making. In budgeting for instance, knowing and understanding the country’s population would aid a government know what is appropriate to allocate to the various sectors of the economy, absence of which means that the government has to simply rely on guess work.
In Nigeria, policy makers roll out development frameworks without a care for population and demographic dynamics largely because the idea that God who gives children would provide what would be needed to bring them up, as simplistic as it sounds, does not speak to the man in the street, as it does to bureaucrats and policy framers.
After the 1991 population census, carried out by the military, another took place in 2006. Given the centrality of population census, another was to take place in 2016, but it is clear that it would not take place even by 2019. More painful is that the government whom census benefits the most do not give a hang.
The colonial masters strove to conduct census at the recommended 10 year interval with the 1921 national census that put the population of the country at 18.7 million and another in 1931. Others were in 1952 and 1962. These are barring the headcounts they conducted in the Colony of Lagos in 1871 and in 1893. In our 58 years as an independent country, we have only conducted three censuses: 1973, 1991 and 2006.
That Nigeria does not conduct census as and when due is hardly because of the funds but rather as a result of lack of political will and other vested interests. A government comes in for four years and steers clear of census because it begins to plan re-election two years into its tenure of four years and would not want the angry criticisms and acrimony that traditionally trail census outcomes in the country to affect its political fortunes. Census is off-limit for a Nigerian government in its third year, which is spent as a campaign year, so also in the fourth and election year. Then the politicisation. Just like elections, census is desperately rigged in the country because it often determines what the states of the federation get in terms of number of constituencies and in some cases, local government areas. Census rigging in the country gets as nasty as hijack of census materials in some states by unyielding manipulators.
In all the three occasions Nigeria showed determination to conduct national census, it received good international financial assistance. It is, therefore, safe to reiterate that finance has never been the issue with the non-conduct of census in the country.
While the various governments of the country deserve all the thumbs down they get for not being mindful of the essence of census in national planning and development, we note that the National Population Commission, NPC, the agency of government statutorily saddled with the responsibility of conducting census in the country has always been willing and prepared to do its bit. Even without the government bothering with the next census that is overdue by two years, the NPC has done house enumeration and delineation in local government areas of the country as far as the fund available to it could go. This is commendable given that though census ought to have taken place in 2016, there had been zero budgetary allocation for it from 2006 till date, even as expectations were high that it would have been conducted this year following the Senate’s 2017 recommendation.
It is a thing of regret that the NPC relies on rough estimates to assume that the country’s population has hit 198 million from the figure of the 2006 census that put the nation’s population at 140,431,790 people. Be that as it may, we insist that a government that is concerned about planning, must understand the significance of head count.