Sacrosanct? Then let preparations start in earnest
AFTER two postponements, the national census may now take place in 2018, according to the Senate Committee on Population and Identity. With the last census conducted in 2006, another one should have been conducted this year (since it is to be conducted once in 10 years) but for lack of funds. It is for the same reason, majorly, that the exercise has had to be postponed from 2017 to 2018 which the committee said should be sacrosanct because of the importance of the census figures to the 2019 general elections.
These facts emerged during an oversight visit by members of the committee to the National Population Commission (NPC) in Abuja on October 24. The chairman of the committee, Senator Suleiman Othman Hunk, said during the visit that: “It is a shared opinion that 2018 is a critical year to hold that exercise because a year after that, 2019, is an election year. I think for so many reasons, the two should not be contemplated to happen the same year. In fact, the data, information that INEC would require to plot its graph accurately in the exercise will certainly arise out of the exercise of the 2018 census.” It was for this reason that the committee moved a motion for President Muhammadu Buhari to make a proclamation for the exercise.
Every country needs basic information on its residents for purposes of planning, development and improvement of the quality of life of its people. This cannot be achieved without a reliable, up-to-date, accurate and detailed information on the state of the society in the country. This, indeed, is the essence of periodic enumeration done by countries over a period, say every five or 10 years. The idea is to generate information or data on age, gender, country of origin, year of immigration, marital status, housing conditions, marriage, number of children, education, employment, travelling habits, etc. for the purposes of planning. Indeed, governments can only be planning blind in the absence of such accurate statistics.
Unfortunately, despite its importance, Nigeria’s census figures have always been controversial and therefore lacking in general acceptability. From a population of about 45.2 million in 1960, the country’s population has grown to about 182.2 million, according to the latest census figures. Even the 2016 figures had been roundly condemned by a state like Lagos that protested the 9,113,605 population figure ‘allocated’ to it during the exercise. The National Census Tribunal sitting in Abuja in June 2013 vindicated the state by nullifying the 2006 census figures in 14 of the 20 local government areas.
Of course it is not difficult to understand why census figures have largely remained controversial since the 1952/53, 1962/63, 1973 and 1991 censuses: the figures are used more for political and economic gains. Communities with more population have voting advantage in that it is assumed there are more eligible voters there. Also, population forms the basis for the creation of states and local government councils. On the economic plane, it is the basis for sharing revenue.
This is why we seize this opportunity to, once again, urge a return to true federalism. That way, the incentive by some state governments to claim more population than they have would no longer be there since every state/region would have to cater for its own people from its resources. Census is too important to be politicised the way we have done. We have been told that the 2018 exercise would gulp about N222 billion. This is a lot of money that could have been spent on infrastructure and other sectors.
However, since the government appears to be looking towards 2018 for the exercise, the NPC should begin preparations in earnest. We know it cannot go far without funds. We therefore urge the government to have the census in mind when drawing its 2017 budget, so that the commission would get part of the funds required for the exercise, with the aim of making the balance available before the census in 2018. This should be prioritised because census involves other stakeholders apart from the NPC, some outside the country. They have to be aware of the period to also enable them prepare.