By Ken Ugbechie
President Muhammadu Buhari is about to bequeath to Nigerians one of the best legacies as the National Population Commission (NPC) has concluded plans to hold the next census in April 2023. That will make it 17 years after the last census held in 2006.
Nigerians, and indeed, the world may not have given President Buhari the rightful acclaim that he deserves but since he gave approval to the NPC proposal to conduct the census, the news has been cheered across the nation and within the global business and development communities. The outcome will provide the incoming government, no matter the political party, the relevant database to work with.
It is heartwarming that besides Mr. President, other notable voices have given full backing to the exercise, including the National Council of States (NCS), former President, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, and the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA).
This is what previous governments could not muster the will to do. This will, surely, stand Buhari out in the pantheon of Nigerian leaders as the one who places the most premium on population data as critical element for national planning and development.
For the avoidance of doubt, census is not a jamboree or a statistical exercise in futility. It is meant to help in national planning, delineate the demographics of a nation as well as map out population densities of the various federating components of such nation to aid in moments of national emergencies, distribution of resources and public utilities including schools, hospitals, etcetera.
Without accurate census, how can fast-moving consumer foods (FMCG) companies plan the distribution of their goods; how can donor agencies and development partners channel their resources most effectively to the right places where they are needed the most?
A nation cannot develop without reliable population data because lack of it stymies effective planning; and where there is no planning, development is a mirage. One of the complaints of foreign investors about Nigeria is the lack of current and reliable data on Nigeria’s demographics. At international conferences and business meetings, many investors have bemoaned the absence of contemporary data on Nigeria that would help them make intelligence-based decisions on where, what and when to invest in Nigeria. It therefore stands to reason that delaying the census amounts to keeping development in abeyance.
Holding a national census more than 10 years apart is not ideal for national planning, going by the recommendation of the United Nations (UN). This makes the case of the 2023 census both imperative and compelling.
Postponing next year’s census under any guise accentuates the unseriousness of the nation and projects Nigeria in bad light in the comity of nations. It is simply ridiculous. Calls from certain quarters that the census be postponed because of next year’s general elections make the matter even more ridiculous. It portrays Nigeria as pathetically primitive given that many nations across the globe have successfully conducted their censuses within deliberately calibrated frequencies of five to 10 years as the case may be.
In countries where there had been a break from the routine five to 10 years interval, such situation only arose on account of war. Nigeria is not at war. Election is not war. Besides, Nigeria’s elections are holding in the months of February and March, 2023. It means that the result of the census is not intended to be used to determine outcome of the elections as some have alleged. Such argument is unfounded and clearly flies in the face of logic and commonsense.
To argue that the census is coming too close after the election is to live with the mindset that the 2023 elections would trigger a major crisis in the country. Far be it. On the contrary, Nigerians should live with the consciousness that election is a democratic festival to celebrate the liberty of the people to freely choose their leaders. Nigerians should abhor such notion that every election is a herald of mayhem.
It should be stated that whereas national census captures the entire population from birth, electoral data only captures persons 18 years and above. They are not the same.
Examples from other African and Asian nations, including the advanced Western nations, showed that censuses, for the benefit of effective national planning, holds five to 10 years apart. Ghana has achieved national census frequency of every 10 years, same as Singapore; South Africa was holding census every five years but lack of capacity at the census agency has pushed it to every 10 years. South Korea, Canada, and Japan hold census every five years. India, with her bulky population, has maintained a 10-year frequency since 1872 when the first census was conducted. Why then should Nigeria not conduct her census at such frequency?
Nigeria’s 2023 census, albeit coming late after the 2006 exercise, is, therefore, inevitable. It is a national goal that must be achieved. Besides, it will, according to the NPC, create about 3 million ad hoc jobs. This will help mitigate the growing employment in the country particularly among the youths.
The President has expressed his unwavering commitment to bequeathing a credible census as one of his legacies. At a recent national stakeholders’ summit on the 2023 Population and Housing Census held at the State House, the President said a “reliable, credible, acceptable and successful census’’ will help the government in planning for development, especially in enhancing the delivery of the social security programme that targets more vulnerable Nigerians.
The 2023 census promises to be like none else in Nigerian history: transformative and in tandem with contemporary global census standards, especially with the deployment of digital technology
President Buhari echoed this when he said: “Our administration is convinced that the National Population Commission has the commitment and capacity to deliver to the nation a reliable, credible, acceptable and successful census. We are also satisfied with the deployment of technology by the Commission to ensure the conduct of the first fully digital census in Nigeria as the census methodology will enhance the data quality, inspire the confidence of the Nigerian people and acceptability of the census results.’’
Nigeria has a projected population of 216,783,381, which places her as the sixth most populous country in the world and the most populous country on the African continent. And going by the rapidity of growth of the population and a budging youth population, Nigeria is projected to be the third most populous country in the World by the year 2050 after India and China. But these are mere projections. To give it accuracy and legitimacy, an actual census should be conducted and 2023 presents the nation a fitting opportunity to do so.
President Buhari and his cabinet should not retreat on this path to delivering a credible census in 2023. This will be one of his most enduring legacies. Nigeria needs a credible census now. Running a country for 16 years without accurate, verifiable headcount data complete with the requisites demographics, is evidential of a nation without plan for her citizens, present and future. Nigeria must avoid this ignoble tag of a people without a plan.
Let the 2023 census go ahead as scheduled. History will judge Buhari fairly if he delivers this.
Ugbechie, Development Journalist, writes from Lagos