One of the advantages of our government being broke is that many hare-brained schemes which they are enamoured with, have to be shelved due to lack of funds. Since the attainment of self-governance, the nation has been plagued by inappropriate, ill-considered, ill-motivated white-elephant projects, squander mania and massive corruption all of which do little to bring succour to long-suffering Nigerians, but only serve to line the pockets of their promoters. One of such projects was the proposed Population and Housing Census scheduled for May 2023.
On August 11, 2022, the outgoing Buhari administration announced its intention to conduct a national census at a cost of about N190 billion. They justified this colossal expenditure by claiming that data from the 2006 census is outdated and needs updating for planning and development purposes. While this may be true, there is no justification for an administration spending borrowed money to count people on the eve of its departure. The nation has far more pressing problems to deal with. Census is supposed to be used for planning, but it is ironic that only after governing for eight years do they think it’s necessary to have accurate data to work with!
Thankfully President Muhammadu Buhari has approved the postponement and has left the exercise for the incoming administration at a date convenient to it. In the usual tardiness associated with the outgoing administration, this is the second time the census has been shifted. Originally slated for March 27 it was shifted to May 3.
Even though long overdue, conducting another census requires the sort of proper planning, diligence and probity of the results which the outgoing administration has shown little aptitude for. Meanwhile, the National Population Commission (NPC) claims that the postponement is to “calm nerves” after the general election.
Their claim that there was no lack of funds and that the exercise has not been postponed but rescheduled to an unspecified time, should be taken with a pinch of salt. Census data has always been controversial in Nigeria, and there is every reason for the lack of trust in results which are inaccurate due to recurrent undercounting; double counting, and inaccurate enumeration.
Ideally, a census is supposed to be conducted every 10 years, but the political will and funding have been lacking. The last census was conducted in 2006 and was widely contested and there were allegations of results being falsified and inflated. Even foreign agencies and observers condemned the NPC for dishonest and fraudulent activities and reported that some of their staff received bribes from state governors to falsify figures from towns and villages which they did not visit.
With the high level of insecurity nationwide several governors have correctly pointed out that it would amount to injustice and deprivation of millions of Nigerians who have been displaced from their ancestral homes and are now living in camps for Internally Displaced Persons (IDP’S). The census is supposed to be the most complete source of information about the population which allows central and local governments, health authorities and many other agencies to target their resources more effectively and plan for housing, education, and health and transport services. It is supposed to be the backbone of the national statistical system but truthfully conducting any census at this point in time would be an exercise in futility.
The real problem is that in Nigeria, census figures are used to determine revenue allocation amongst the states. The census determines the distribution of wealth and this bone of contention because while Nigeria’s main source of revenue is oil which comes from the South-South, the North gets most of the money because of its disputable population size. Indeed, experts in geography find it difficult to understand how Nigeria is the only country along the West African Coast which claims that more people live in the arid hinterland than in the fertile coastal areas.
As for actually conducting a census, the truth is that the outgoing administration has lamentably displayed ineptitude for counting anything correctly! Numbers from votes cast in elections, to monies borrowed, and quite ludicrously even soldiers massacred in the line of duty by insurgents are incorrectly reported! There was no basis for confidence in the competence of the outgoing administration to oversee hundreds of billions for census free from manipulations motivated by political considerations.
Paradoxically while government claims to have outdated data they were somehow able to identify the “poor” whom they deemed fit to hand out unverifiable amounts of cash in the most unjustifiable bizarre, pathetic, ill-conceived, and poorly executed “empowerment programmes”. Nigeria is totally bereft of meaningful impactful social services so it is surprising that government wants to know information about anybody. Are they counting because they want to increase the number of policemen to comply with international best practices? Or because they want to make provisions for the number of children out of school? Or they want to reduce the number of infant mortalities by building better pre-natal care centres? Or they want to create a social safety net so that street beggars can be removed from the roads?
Government has not articulated any plans to introduce social services which require them to know the number of citizens. The question remains that other than for further impoverishing Nigerians through taxation why should the nation squander so much money counting who and for what purpose?