For three consecutive years now, the continent of Africa has been celebrating the Africa Civil Registration and Vital Statistics Day on the 10th of August every year. The celebration is sequel to the endorsement of the recommendation of the Ministers Responsible for Civil Registration in the continent by the Executive Council of the Africa Union during its meeting of 25th and 26th January 2018 in Nouakchott, Mauritania.
The objective of the celebration is to inspire member states to accelerate the implementation of the civil registration and vital statistics system in the continent in line with global best practices. Civil registration which includes registration of births, deaths, marriages, migration etc. helps to provide statistical data very essential in planning the attainment of development goals with the potential to improve the wellbeing of the people.
The first conscious effort to have a universal system of registration of births and deaths was made when the then Federal Government promulgated the Birth and Death Compulsory Registration Decree 39 of 1979. The decree (now Act) was aimed at establishing a uniform system of registration throughout the country.
Today, the authority to register these vital events and strengthened by section 24 of the 3rd Schedule of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, is vested in the National Population Commission. Pursuant to this mandate, and in realization that this is a function that is family-centered, the commission has taken this responsibility to the grassroots with the establishment of at least 5 registration centers in each of the LGAs of the federation.
This year’s celebration has the theme: “Civil Registration and Vital Statistics: An Essential Service for Monitoring and Mitigating the Impact of Emergencies.” Like the World Population Day celebrated a month ago, the focus of this theme is the devastating impact of the ravaging COVID-19 pandemic that has brought the world to its knees.
It recognizes the fact that the Civil Registration has a vital role to play in times of emergencies occasioned by unforeseen events, in providing real-time information in monitoring and reducing their negative impact. Ordinarily, the vital registration would have been the key reference point for information on births, deaths and migrations which have occurred in large numbers during this pandemic scourge. Unfortunately, the mode of transmission of COVID-19 has been tremendously impactful and disruptive of every conceivable engagement including the vital registration activities.
The non-pharmaceutical measures adopted the world over to contain the spread, such as social distancing, restricted movements and total closure of local activities, increased the odds.
With the imposed lockdown, offices, both private and public, shut down and suspended normal functions.
The vital registration offices of the commission nationwide were forced to be under lock and key, ironically, at a time when birth, death and migration incidents reached stratospheric proportions. Even with the eased lockdown, the categories of personnel who man these offices, and who are generally below the grade level 14 officers permitted to resume work, have yet to get a nod to commence duties.
It is therefore very auspicious that the Commission is using the celebration of this year’s Africa Civil Registration and Vital Statistics Day today to launch the pilot scheme of the full automation and digitalization system in the country.
The event which will be performed by the Honourable Minister of the Federal Capital Territory, Mallam Muhammed Musa Bello, in a virtual ceremony by the commission, in collaboration with its development partners, will signal the beginning of a revolution in vital registration in Nigeria with all its attendant benefits.
These will include automatic processing of data as and when generated, and feeding them into the commission’s central server; elimination of double registration and alignment of the country into the standard and global best practices in vital registration administration.
The National Population Commission joins the United Nations Legal Identity Agenda Task Force to implore the authorities to, as a matter of necessity, consider civil registration an “essential service” and mandate that the commission’s registrars continue to perform their duties with adequate safety measures during this pandemic, primarily because of the importance of vital registration data in development planning, especially during emergencies.
In spite of serious efforts of the commission, the civil registration coverage rate before the disruptive impact of COVID-19 had been a source of concern owing to many factors including general public apathy and reluctance. Birth registration coverage, for instance, was at 43 per cent, while death was far dismal at 10 per cent. The last estimate by a United Nations body put the number of unregistered children in Nigeria at a whopping 12million before COVID-19. All these figures have, no doubt, taken a plunge with activities put on hold.
While the Commission thanks its development partners, particularly UNICEF, for its immeasurable role in providing technical and financial support for the improvement of Vital Registration system in the country, more community-based, community-driven, gender-responsive and broad partnerships, at both national and sub-national levels, are immensely desirable to achieve the objective of a universal civil registration coverage in Nigeria.
– Udi, director Public Affairs, National Population Commission, writes from Abuja