Featured Notes Owei Lakemfa

Conducting census for the living and the living dead

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By Owei Lakemfa.

Life in Nigeria is very cheap and living is very costly. But please don’t ask me for the statistics because they are hard to come by. Registration of birth, especially in the rural areas is not common, but more uncommon is that of death; the general attitude is ‘God gives and God takes’. So why worry about a death certificate?

Weekly, there are reports of killings across the country, especially by terrorists, kidnappers and bandits. Some of these hold territory, run court and impose taxes, and all institutions, including the security services and governments, seem unable or incapable of defending the citizenry. The result is the mass exodus to various parts of the country like Abuja and neigbouring countries like Cameroun that are thought to be safer.

The Buhari administration thinks that given this scenario, there is the need to know how many Nigerians are still surviving, how many foreigners have flowed in, how many bandits, especially from Central and West Africa have crossed into the country. These groups have complicated our problems by leaving villages and towns deserted and ruining lives.

Also, given arrested social progress, ever rising inflation, hunger and the imperative of borrowing from abroad, there is the need for the country to have some reliable population count so we will ever be conversant with the ratio of population to external borrowings. As some have argued, borrowing shows the good health of our economy as the rich would not want to extend loan facilities to the insolvent.

Ordinarily, census is supposed to give reliable data with which to plan and determine the basic needs for schools, hospitals, roads and other infrastructure. That cannot be the reason for the Buhari government conducting census because it is doing wonderfully well without statistics. In any case, you do not need census to tell you that out of school children should be in school. In the case of this government, even schools for such children built by the previous administration, were abandoned.

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In 2012, the Jonathan administration set out to build 400 schools in the North to vastly improve education in that part of the country. At least, 165 of these integrated Amajiri schools were opened, some with integrated language laboratories and health clinics. But when the Buhari administration came to power, many of these schools were shut down, some seized by state governments and many underutilized with the students roaming the streets.

So why would it worry itself with planning for basic needs when it has only 15 months to go in an eight-year renewed tenure? It might have to do more with the allocation of funds and justification of why in a country where 90 per cent contribute little or nothing to the national purse, the producers get little, and the non-producers get the lion share.

The digital census which is coming with a princely tag of N178.09 billion is needed at this time of want, and when free money needs to be sourced for the 2023 elections.

All these should not be misconstrued as my being allergic to census. No, I love it because it will show that while Nigeria may well be big for nothing, at least, it has the largest population of Black people in the world. That feeling can be soothing.

The last census in 2006 gave us a population of 140 million which some states challenged. Our current estimated population, according to the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs, is 206 million. I bet we are way more than that as the new census might also include estimated figures which would be handy in politicians negotiating among themselves.

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Census is not really value free as it has its own politics. For example, the South rejected the provisional results of the 2006 census which had Kano with 9.4 million as the most populous state followed by Lagos State with nine million people. That census had the North with 75 million people and the South, 65 million. The then Lagos State governor, Bola Tinubu, demanded a recount, insisting that the state which led the 1991 Census and had since then developed into a mega city as attested to by the international community, cannot have less population than Kano State.

He argued that a parallel census the state had conducted in collaboration with the National Population Commission had over 17.5 million people; so the 9.0 million given it was fraudulent. The Pan Igbo umbrella group, Ohanaeze said the 2006 census was used as a political weapon to present Igbo as a minority populace. Then president, Olusegun Obasanjo, said Nigerians were free to do whatever they liked with that census. It is not known if the final population figures were released, but what is certain is that no store was put on this population exercise. It was a waste of resources. The first national census in 1953 conducted by the British colonialists was controversial and rejected, as were those of 1962, 1963 and 1973.

Let me commend President Muhammadu Buhari for forging ahead with his census programme because only a courageous leader would conduct a census when many parts of the country are under the control of local and foreign invaders, terrorists and bandits. Unless a decision has been taken to estimate the population, how do you conduct census in parts of the country under occupation?

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I do not take the joke of the Chairman of the NPC, Nasir Isa Kwarra, serious. He boasts that the commission has the capacity to tackle insecurity in all the states of the federation during the census. If for 13 years the entire Nigerian Armed Forces and other security agencies have been unable to defeat the Boko Haram, and cannot put down rampaging banditry and kidnapping, how does a civil commission like his hope to marshal the necessary firepower and security to overrun these groups during the census? Does he hope to bring in American and Russians troops to do the job?

If population were linked with production and taxation rather than free consumption, the figures would be more reliable and less contentious. By the way, what is the whole essence of the National Identification Number, NIN, which is assigned to every Nigerian at the completion of enrolment into the National Identity Data Base?

In a country where elections are rigged with impunity, doubts will always be created by a new population census even if they are conducted by angels. So the May, 2022 census may just be another round of controversy and acrimony. Who knows, that might well be the motive; at least it would divide Nigerians on ethno-regional basis and divert attention from the pressing challenges of insecurity, hunger and living in conditions unsuitable for human beings.

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