The chairman of the National Population Commission, Alhaji Nasir Isa Kwarra, has proposed the sum of N400 billion to conduct a population census which, he said, would start in May next year.
He also allayed the fears of Nigerians on the issue of insecurity, stressing that security operatives would handle the situation.
In the considered opinion of this newspaper, spending such a humongous amount on population census at this point is absurd given the present economic and security challenges confronting the nation.
In our view, the census should be put on hold for now and our reasons are not farfetched.
No doubt, the country needs a census to get an accurate figure of our population and not figures imposed on the country by international bodies.
It is instructive to note that the last time the country held a census was in 2006 and the next one was supposed to hold in 2016.That means that the exercise had been delayed for about five years if we consider that it ought to be done every ten years.
Instructively, as in 2006 when Nigeria conducted its census, the population of the country was put at 140 million. However, based on Worldometers elaboration of the latest United Nations data, the current population of Nigeria is 203,161,872 as of Wednesday, December 4, 2019. Nigeria’s population is equivalent to 2.61% of the total world population. Nigeria ranks number 7 in the list of countries (and dependencies) by population. The top seven most populous countries in the world are China, India, the United States, Indonesia, Pakistan, Brazil, and Nigeria.
However, most experts disagree with the population figures of Nigeria, especially the one announced by the NPC after the 2006 exercise as it is widely believed that the last population census was fraught with irregularities, corruption, political manipulations, and inefficiency on the part of the population census officials.
The reasons for this rejection are legion. For instance, there were allegations that in some cases, the NPC officials, when they got to a house, especially in the rural areas, would ask parents, especially fathers, how many children they had and the parents were at liberty to call any number of children without the officials seeing the children physically to verify mostly because of social, ethnic and religious factors. The same children who, in most cases, would be in the cities and urban areas and would also be counted there. This results in multiple registrations and duplications.
Sadly, data collection in Nigeria remains very poor and cumbersome. In many cases, the government relies on foreign bodies and organisations to give data on Nigeria. This newspaper recalls, for example, that President Muhammadu Buhari, during the inauguration of the Presidential Economic Advisory Council (PEAC), had said the country needed a more reliable data-gathering system.
The president also cast doubts on data provided by the World Bank, International Monetary Fund (IMF), and other foreign bodies regarding Nigeria’s economy, saying they were unreliable.
Indeed, a population census is needed but the timing is wrong. It is no secret that the country has lost most of its revenue due to the Covid -19 pandemic and fluctuations of crude oil prices in the international market.
In the Covid era, countries are trying to manage resources and revenue.
In our view, it makes no economic sense to spend a whopping N400 billion on the census. Also, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), in preparation for the 2023 general election, will require huge sums to conduct the elections.
Similarly, the insecurity ravaging the country is yet to abate. Sadly, some communities in the northwest and north central are under the firm control of bandits who had imposed taxes and levies on them.
Also, some communities in the northeast are still being controlled by Boko Haram insurgents. Conducting a census in those areas is practically impossible.
In view of the foregoing, we call on the government to put on hold the proposed census next year till a period when the revenue of the country has improved significantly and also when the military has degraded the bandits and insurgents.