By Stanley O. Nwosu
Since the last Population and Housing Census in Nigeria in 2006, Nigerians and the rest of the world have waited endlessly for the next Population and Housing Census in the most populous black country in the world. It has taken an embarrassing dimension that successive governments after the administration of former President Olusegun Obasanjo, have failed to conduct what now seems like an elusive census. No excuse is plausible enough to justify why Nigeria, the Giant of Africa, can not conduct the regular decennial censuses that other African countries such as Ghana, Kenya, Egypt, South Africa etc have been conducting.
Based on the United Nations’ Recommendation for a census to be conducted in either 5-year or 10-year intervals depending on the capacity of each country, the next census in Nigeria would have been conducted in either 2011 or 2016. Former President Goodluck Jonathan, who was the country’s president in 2011, started the process for the next census to be conducted in 2016. However, that administration exited in 2015 without accomplishing the wish.
Former President Muhammadu Buhari entered the saddle but unfortunately from 2015 to 2016, the country slipped into recession due to a crash in oil prices and production which distracted the then, new administration from going ahead with the proposed census in 2016. In 2018/2019, the Buhari regime recommitted to the conduct of the census but the COVID-19 pandemic that struck the world in 2020 disrupted plans for the exercise. After the COVID-19 pandemic, the Buhari government demonstrated more serious commitment and released funds for the completion of the Enumeration Area Demarcation (EAD) in the over 550 remaining un-demarcated LGAs in the country as at then with a set plan to conduct the Census in 2022. Once again, the 2022 proposed date failed to hold and the census was rescheduled for March 2023 after the general elections but the shifting of the gubernatorial elections from 11th to 18th March 2023 affected the census timeline. Like in similar situations in the past, the date for the census exercise was once more, rescheduled to hold from 3rd – 7th May 2023 before former President Buhari on 29th April 2023 (exactly one month to the end of his tenure) in an uncharacteristic nature of an average African leader to take glory of a legacy project such as the first digital, green and transformative Population and Housing Census in Nigeria to be conducted under his administration, surprisingly postponed the census exercise which all the preparations have been done remaining only the LGA level training of the field functionaries to a date to be decided by the next administration of Bola Ahmed Tinubu. Everyone expected the Buhari government to conduct the census exercise, having committed and invested billions of Naira in its preparations.
However, the reason given by former President Buhari for the postponement was to allow the incoming administration of President Bola Ahmed Tinubu to make input and own the census process in order to accept and make effective use of the census data for national planning and sustainable development. The 2023 general election largely contributed to pushing the conduct of the census towards the twilight of the last regime which gave room for the indefinite postponement of the exercise. The argument before the conduct of the 2023 general election was that the census exercise would be politicized and may affect the acceptability of the census outcome while the argument after the general election was that it would be too close to conduct a census in the same month that the last government would be exiting from office and there’s possibility that the new administration may not accept the results.
Just like voodoo, one thing always makes the census exercise to be postponed or not to be conducted at the proposed date. To further buttress the point, the irregular conduct of the census in Nigeria did not start today. Aside from the 1973 Census which was conducted exactly 10 years after the previous exercise in 1963, other censuses since Nigeria’s independence have been regrettably irregular. After the 1973 Census, it took Nigeria 18 years to conduct another census in 1991 and another 15 years to conduct the last Population and Housing Census in 2006. Now, it is almost 18 years and the next census is yet to be conducted.
It is a big shame that Nigeria which prides itself as the ‘Giant of Africa’ finds it difficult to count its population. It is embarrassing that Nigeria is on the verge of missing out on the two global rounds of censuses. Nigeria has already missed out on the 2010 round of censuses and is about to miss the 2020 round of censuses if it fails to conduct the next census in 2024. The 2020 World Round of Censuses recommended the use of technology for census taking to make the census process more efficient and cost-effective. The country seriously needs to take this opportunity to build a database of a geographically defined population. Less populous countries than Nigeria in Africa such as South Africa and Ghana have successfully conducted digital censuses in this current round of censuses.
Census data is so important and beneficial to any nation for planning in order to make efficient use of limited available resources for maximal satisfaction of its citizens hence why even developed countries such as the USA, United Kingdom, China etc have been regular with the conduct of decennial population census. It shows that no country relies solely on estimated population for national planning and development. Every country desirous of development needs a census to get up-to-date and reliable data about its population, who they are and where they live.
In Nigeria, the lack of constitutional provisions to make the decennial conduct of the Population and Housing Census mandatory contributes largely to the irregular conduct of the census in the country. Unlike the general election which has legal requirements in the constitution to be conducted every four years, Presidential Proclamation is required for a census to be conducted in Nigeria. It means that only the president of the country has the power to fix a census date, not even the National Population Commission which has the statutory mandate to conduct the census exercise. The lacuna in the constitution emboldens Nigerian presidents to fix a census date only when it is convenient for them or completely ignore the conduct of the census even when it is due.
Now that the ball to fix a date for the upcoming Population and Housing Census has been passed to President Bola Ahmed Tinubu, Nigerians and the world await to see if he will conduct the long-awaited next census earliest in 2024 or at least during his tenure and join the commendable league of former Nigeria Presidents/Heads of State such as General Olusegun Obasanjo (rtd.) (2006), Gen Ibrahim Babangida (rtd.) (1991), Gen Yakubu Gowon (rtd.) (1973) and Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa (1962/63) in whose different regimes’ censuses were conducted or follow in the footsteps of the former leaders who failed to conduct census during their times.
President Tinubu should understand that he needs census data to achieve his renewed hope agenda. He needs the next census data to generate revenue, fight insecurity, boost businesses, build infrastructures, provide social amenities and plan for economic transformation of the country. The upcoming Census will provide foundational and up-to-date data to drive the country’s developmental goals and improve the living standards of the Nigerian people.
Moreover, President Bola Tinubu has shown open commitment to support the conduct of the next Population and Housing Census in Nigeria. It is not all about showing commitment to conduct census, but making it a reality.
It is gratifying to note that Mr President has endorsed the forthcoming Population and Housing Census Budget and sent it to the National Assembly for approval. President Tinubu needs to back-up this laudable commitment by fixing a date for the conduct of the Census in 2024 and timely release the funds to enable the National Population Commission prepare and get Nigerians ready to participate in the census exercise. The earlier the presidential proclamation for the next census is made, the better for the country as donor partners that normally contribute almost half of the census budget need to include it in their 2024 budgets. They can’t budget for the funds to support the census without securing a serious commitment from the Federal Government in terms of fixing a census date and timely release of funds for the census exercise.
Further delay in conducting the forthcoming census beyond 2024 will be a massive loss to the nation in terms of huge investments already made by the government and the uncommon achievements recorded in preparations for the census exercise.
So, the right time for Mr President to act is now. History beckons on him to break the jinx of previous unsuccessful attempts to conduct the long-awaited next census and also, enact a law to make the decennial conduct of census mandatory in order to end the irregular censuses in Nigeria.
To build a great Nigeria on census data is the right way to go in renewing the hope of Nigerians. Happy New Year to Nigerians.
- Stanley O. Nwosu, a Public Affairs Analyst, Political Economist and Development Expert is the NPC Social Media and Website Manager in Abuja