By Daniel Kanu
The contentious issue of conducting a national census is again on the front burner of national discourse.
This is following the recent revelation by the Director General, National Population Commission (NPC), Nasir Isa-Kwarra, that the President Muhammadu administration is poised to conduct a national head-count before the end of his tenure in 2023.
The commission last issued official census figures for the country 16 years ago in 2006.
Isa-Kwarra had disclosed the plan to State House correspondents at the end of the meeting of the National Council of State presided over by President Buhari recently.
While noting that the NPC would hold a pilot census in June this year after the political party primaries, Isa-Kwarra revealed that the commission would deploy high-grade technology during the exercise.
Records show that in 108 years since the Amalgamation, there have been only six headcounts in Nigeria, three under colonial rule and three others since it ended.
The 1991 census occurred 27 years after that of 1963. The 2006 count took place 15 years after 1991.
It is already 16 years since the 2006 headcount was conducted and the census issue again seems to be gathering momentum as to whether it will hold or not.
By law, Nigeria’s constitution authorises only the Federal Government to undertake a census. For this purpose, Section 6 of the National Population Commission Act empowers the commission, also known as the N-Pop-C, to “undertake the enumeration of the population of Nigeria periodically through censuses, sample surveys or otherwise” and to “establish and maintain a machinery for continuous and universal registration of births and deaths, throughout the Federation.”
Unarguably, the drama in Nigeria has historically been in the counting of votes, which takes place every four years, but the real story is that the country has never been able to count its people and most Nigerians still believe that this is not about to change anytime soon for obvious reasons: the politicisation of headcounts in Nigerian history.
Most commentators have argued that the country has been congenitally incapable of counting its people.
Expectedly, the census issue has continued to generate disagreements on whether to hold it or not, in view of the precarious security challenges in the land.
Prof Chidi Odinkalu, lawyer, rights activist and teacher, has argued that the problem is not necessarily that Nigeria has been unable to count its people for over one and a half decades, but that it is actually that the country has never been able to count its people at all.
Odinkalu observed that “if the estimates for the pre-colonial period were limited, inadequate at best, the ones undertaken during colonial rule were decidedly dubious and the post-colonial headcounts, farcical.
According to him, “colonial headcounts were mostly for military conscription, taxation or subsidising the costs of imperial rule.
“The subjects usually found ways to resist them. As a result, colonial headcounts were always short. They achieved one thing though: they created demographic baselines that have, for good or ill, shaped the gradients of presumed demographic growth”.
Former Military Administrator of Kaduna State, Colonel Abubakar Dangiwa Umar (rtd) lending his voice asked Buhari to suspend the proposed national census billed for April 2023, but instead concentrate in tackling the insecurity staring the nation in the face.
Umar, who is the chairman of the Movement for Unity and Progress (MUP) in a statement issued on Friday and made available to Sunday Sun, described the idea of conducting a census as shocking when the country’s stability is shaking.
He said that Nigeria was facing existential challenges caused by insecurity and collapsing economy, stressing that embarking on a census would amount to a misadventure and waste of scarce resources.
He, therefore, urged the Federal Government to suspend the planned census and focus its energies on securing the nation, as well as conducting the 2023 elections.
“The decision of the FGN to seek and gotten the approval of the National Council of State to conduct national census in April 2023 must have come as a great shock to most well-meaning Nigerians.
“A country that is facing existential challenges such as unprecedented level of insecurity, a collapsing economy cannot have as one of its priorities the conduct of a national census.
“We, therefore, urge the Buhari administration to suspend what will amount to misadventure and waste of scarce national resources.
“This administration should focus all its attention on securing the nation and conducting the 2023 elections. A national census at this point is certainly not a priority assuming that its conduct is possible,” he said.
Also, Ahmed Raji, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), said that it would be meaningless to conduct a census without security.
He noted that “security is very crucial because there may be no meaningful census without security. Perhaps the is hopeful that before April next year, we would have overcome the security challenges.
“There is no harm in planning based on some expectations/hopes. They should work hard towards the expectations and hopes. And the citizens should equally support fighting insecurity.
“While the takes the lead, we must all support to achieve lasting peace, but the must demonstrate sincerity and determination.”
For the national leader, Ijaw Monitoring Group (IMG), Comrade Joseph Evah, those calling for the enumeration exercise at this critical time of Nigeria’s security turmoil must have their brains examined.
In fact, he suggested that Buhari should line up all those coming to Aso Rock, calling for national census and flog them mercilessly.
He told Sunday Sun during an exclusive chat that those calling for census does not wish Buhari well.
“I am shocked that people are coming and calling on President Buhari to conduct national census. I watched it on NTA Network news and from some other news media. In fact, I was so angry about it.
“How can we be talking about census with this rising state of insecurity? When people are in the forests kidnapped, people are dying in the forests, our mothers are crying and still some people are comfortable coming to Buhari to urge him to conduct census. It is another show of shame.
“I even expect the president to tell his ADC to prepare cane and flog all those people coming around him to meet him for census. They do not wish him well. How can we be talking about census now when our young women, girls, men and over 100 persons from the Abuja/Kaduna train kidnap attack are still in the custody of bandits?” Evah queried.
Also, Dr Elizabeth Udoh, a university teacher, told Sunday Sun that conducting a national census was not a priority at the moment, just as she called on the Buhari-led APC leadership to ponder on Nigeria’s security mess and salvage it first
According to Mrs Udoh, “looking at how volatile Nigeria is at the moment, where almost everywhere is like a killing field, nowhere is safe, how can you conduct a credible enumeration exercise? It will be a huge joke”
The spokesman for the Pan-Niger Delta Forum, Ken Robinson, described the planned census as an irrelevant ritual of misplaced importance.
He told Sunday Sun that, “census is necessary, but the timing is wrong.”
According to him, our group, PANDEF, agrees with the thoughts and impressions that the does the right thing at the wrong time.
“This is one such instance. What is paramount to Nigeria now is the safety of lives and property and not a census. That is what they should focus on. They should stop throwing up an issue that is likely to be controversial with all the misconceptions around it.
“We think that the should shelve the idea of a census for the next which will handle the issue of security first before the census. We should be talking about a census in perhaps 2025 or 2026.”
But assuming that the state of insecurity will abate, although there is no sign at the moment of this happening, and a national census carried out, what will be the key issue.
That knotty issue begging for answer is whether any census that will be carried out will not break down at the final evaluation stage because of charges and counter-charges of deliberate falsification of data to gain economic, political, and/or ethnic advantage.