Development planners know that population census is sine qua non of policy formulation. It is key to the success of development planning by any nation. That is why serious countries take the matter of conduct of census as a national priority.
Like most things in Nigeria that are treated with laissez-faire attitude by our leaders, the conduct of census, which is essential for planning and national development has been relegated to the background. To show how unserious we are as a country when it comes to the conduct of census, the last time census was conducted in the country was in 2006. By the United Nations prescription, which is seen as the best practice, another census ought to have been conducted in 2016.
It therefore means that by UN standard, nations are expected to count their population every 10 years. The reason for this is not difficult to understand. It is expected that within such a period there must have been fundamental changes on the figures of births, deaths, population figure in general as well as changes in number of properties and other essentials of life that have been added to the environment to cope with the changes in population.
National Population Commission (NPC), the agency saddled with the responsibility of counting the population of the country, was established by the federal government in 1988. It has the statutory powers to collect, analyze and disseminate demographic data in the country. It is also mandated to undertake demographic sample surveys, compile, collate and publish migration and civil registration statistics as well as monitor the country’s population policy.
Presently, the commission is carrying out what it calls Enumeration Area Demarcation (EAD), a core activity towards the conduct of population census, across the country. What is going on in parts of the country is the foundation of census. This newspaper understands that while the ongoing EAD is part of preparations for the conduct of census, the next census call cannot be made until all the 774 local government areas are demarcated by the census officials to pave way for the president to proclaim the conduct of census by 2022/2023.
In 2016, the Senate passed a resolution urging President Muhammadu Buhari to issue a proclamation for the conduct of census in 2018. It also called on the office of the Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), the NPC, Ministry of Budget and National Planning, and supervising agencies to make provision for the exercise in the 2017 budget, as a prerequisite to achieving the objective.
The upper legislative chamber also tasked the NPC to ensure it conducted a dispute-free count. The then deputy president of the Senate, Ike Ekweremadu, who presided over the
session, said every Nigerian had to be counted. But President Buhari refused to proclaim the census as requested by the Senate. If he had agreed with the Senate, Nigeria would by now know its population figure instead of the present estimates that are being bandied around by government officials and others.
Perhaps the president who just assumed power after 16 years of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) administration had wanted to settle down before going into census matters. President Buhari has since then been reelected by Nigerians and there should be no more excuses why a national census should not be proclaimed in 2022/2023.
This newspaper believes strongly that the importance of census cannot be overemphasized. Population census plays an essential role in giving detailed information on the regions or states with a high or low density of population, which is vital in resource distribution. The information obtained from the population census assists the government to distribute resources evenly. For example, areas densely populated get, as a rule, more resources than areas with low numbers of population. States with high populations usually get more resources than states with low population.
Census data is also essential in providing social amenities. Population census data gives an idea of what kind of social amenities, like hospitals, housing, water and electricity should be provided to a particular family and area.
It is our considered position that in view of the key role census data plays in policy formulation and national development, the president should ensure that census is conducted in 2022/2023. It would form part of his legacy projects.
For too long, Nigeria’s policy makers, development planners and the private sector have relied on population estimates in taking decisions in this country. It is time to give policy makers accurate data on Nigeria. That is the challenge before President Buhari who has the responsibility to proclaim census in the country.