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Nigerian National Population and Housing Census: A Necessary Imperative for Development Planning

By Rev Solomon Semaka

There is a popular saying that anyone who fails to plan plans to fail. This is true not just at the individual level but at every level of human activity, be it in business, leadership and governance. Planning is very important but more important is the information or data needed to ensure that planning is done within a context and that scarce resources are allocated and used judiciously. In Nigeria for instance, there exist little or no data on almost many aspects of life. Most Nigerian scholars depend on international organizations to furnish them with data to carry out their research. We have a poor data-keeping culture which explains the nonfunctional nature of most of our institutions including even the National Bureau of Statistics.

It is therefore not surprising that Guardian, a respected media house in Nigeria in an advertorial tried desperately to downplay the necessity of a national population and housing census in apparent favour of the conduct of an election simply because the two symbolic exercises will be conducted within a close space of time in 2023. In describing the plan to hold both national elections and census roughly within the same time frame as ‘too ambitious and not feasible or realistic’, the editorial failed to understand that a census exercise is even more important than an election. How can it not be feasible for the two national exercises to hold one after the other when budgetary allocations were adequately made for each of them?Is it that Nigeria lacks the manpower and technical know-how to execute these two national and statutory exercises perfectly? Of what good will it be for elected leaders whose duty is to govern, make decisions and formulate policies if they don’t have the necessary data to plan and govern their states and the nation? In Nigeria, based on the United Nations recommendations for decennial census, a national census is long overdue and we should be embarrassed that Nigeria has been planning based on projections for close to two decades now. Nigerians and the media and indeed all stakeholders should commend Mr President and the National Population Commission team than cast aspersions on the forthcoming very important national population census slated for 2023.

The General elections are indeed at the heart of the country’s democratic system of government and it is a necessity for the continuation of our democratic experience but that is also exactly what a national population and housing census poses for our economic planning and growth. Nigeria has perhaps one of the highest unemployment rates in the world and perhaps the highest number of out-of-school children in the world. About 120 million Nigerians are projected to be living in poverty. These are projections and estimations that need verification and situation-specific data to enhance governance and development if our democracy can ever make sense. Indeed, most Nigerians understand that getting the accurate data on our population is better than holding elections that will produce leaders with no reliable data about what they need to do to develop the country.

It is to say the least, unpatriotic for anyone to blindly push a narrative to the effect that conducting general elections with the national a census within the same year or months apart is not in the national interest. Advocating for an attitudinal change towards national events including censuses and elections should be what every well-meaning Nigerian should be doing now. Being pessimistic about the outcome of the elections and or population and housing census is unpatriotic. For the avoidance of doubt, the conduct of general elections and a national population and housing census will not ‘set a tone for controversy and credibility of the census’ outcome’ as alleged by the Guardian editorial and other faceless detractors. Nigerians need to be enlightened on the importance of a national census above every other national exercise. From the feelers, the Chairman of the National Population Commission and his team are doing a perfect job and Nigerians should be thankful to Mr President for living a legacy of development in that regard . Media houses and stakeholders need to key into this sensitisation rather than spreading misinformation into the minds of Nigerians. Census exercises in Nigeria have never been marred by violence and this one too shall hold peacefully with the cooperation of Nigerians and the relevant stakeholders including the media.

No doubt there is insecurity in the land but if elections should hold then a national census can hold as well. Our security agencies are working round the clock to make sure Nigeria overcomes its insecurity challenge. The recent rescue of seven Chinese nationals by the Nigerian Air Force clearly shows that Nigeria is on the verge of dislodging all forms of insecurity and restoring normalcy. The Media should be celebrating feats like this rather than promoting conspiracy theories around the implementation of a long overdue national census exercise. There’s no challenge, suspicion, anxiety or controversy anywhere around the successful conduct of the two national exercises as both of them are equally important and have been planned for a long time. Any narrative that seeks to downplay the importance of a national population and housing census at this critical time of our nation’s trajectory must be rejected by all and sundry.

For an exercise that was supposed to hold since 2016 in keeping with the 10 years statutory duration for periodic national censuses, describing the patriotic agenda of the present administration and the NPC to hold a census as desperation is fishy and unpatriotic. No amount of argument will diminish the worth of a national census to discerning Nigerians. There are two different bodies charged with the conduct of elections and census. They have different budgets, they have different mandates with a vast pool of human resources from where they can recruit and do their job. Those making veiled or open reference to the general elections as an impediment to a long overdue national population and housing census should rest assured that NPC won’t need courts and tribunals to deliver on the most credible national population and housing census and that the timing for the national census will in no way affect the conduct of the general elections.

The Guardian editorial might have meant well for the country but they are shortsighted. Calling on the president not to release budgeted and approved funds is treacherous. Asking the NPC to adopt databases of other agencies in place of a census has ridiculed the entire argument. It must be noted that a population and housing census exercise is not just about headcount. Certain strategic data are captured as well as comprehensive household based demographic data that no agency of government provides apart from National Population Commission. Collating databases from organisations with different and specific statutory roles will not give Nigerians the data needed for realistic national planning. None of the agencies mentioned in the Guardian editorial has data on family size, room density, sanitary conditions, energy consumption and so on. Those who feel privileged enough to give counsel should be well informed lest they misinform people.

This is therefore a clarion call to all stakeholders and Nigerians of goodwill to throw in their support for next year’s census exercise which is indeed long overdue. Religious leaders, CSOs, student groups, youth groups, market and professional unions, the political class and women groups should be actively involved in the sensitization of their members and those around them on the need to participate fully in the forthcoming national census just like the general election. Every Nigerian must make sure these activities hold as planned. The multiplier positive effect will be monumental for us as individuals and as a nation.

The National Assembly has been exemplary in the discharge of its oversight functions and legislative duties. Their role in the passage of the census budget and continued support is commendable. However, their support is even needed now more than ever. At this very important moment, based on the importance of the census to Nigeria’s development and full recovery, there maybe the need for a supplementary budget for the NPC bearing in the mind the fluctuations in the naira to the dollar and the increase in prices of goods both locally and internationally. Should the NPC management call for help, it’ll be in the best interest of Nigeria for the National Assembly to respond bearing in mind the judicious use of funds allocated so far.

President Muhammadu Buhari has always shown courage and determination even in the face of opposition. We applaud him for standing with Nigerians on the need for a national census and all his support so far. His support has been a morale booster for both the Chairman of NPC and his team of commissioners. This census more than the general elections, will be one of President Buhari’s outstanding legacies and nobody should even think of derailing this all-important exercise.

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