The attention of the National Population Commission has been drawn to the above-titled article in the Monday, April 17, 2023 edition of your paper. The piece sets out to examine the undesirability of conducting a national census at the twilight of the Buhari administration but inadvertently crossed the borderline of healthy national discourse. It comes across as a brazen attempt to turn logic upside down, laced with distortion of facts, half-truth and misrepresentation of facts and aimed at inciting public opinion against the commission.
The basis of the innuendos heaped on the effort of the commission to conduct an accurate and reliable census is the false claim that the commission will spend the sum of $1.89 billion on the 2023 Census few weeks to the end of the present administration, insinuating that such amount can only be a severance package for government officials. This is a false premise that destroys the substance of the argument being presented.
It is true that the budget is $1.89 billion but this is the entire census budget which covers what the commission has spent on the census project since 2013 when it started the Enumeration Area Demarcation and what it will spend on post census activities. The amount is, therefore, not what the commission requires in the next few weeks.
As the Minister of Budget and National Planning, Prince Clem Agba stated, the federal government has already committed more than 50 per cent of the cost of the census and this has been spent on preparatory activities such as the Enumeration Area Demarcation of 774 Local Government Areas, the conduct of pretest and trial census, recruitment of ad hoc workers, procurement of personal digital assistants and activation of Information Technology facilities for the Census.
What the commission requires now is the sum of N329 billion to be spent mainly on the payment of training and field work allowances of over one million ad hoc workers. It, therefore, beats our imagination how monies that will be paid to millions of Nigerians for services rendered to the nation can be regarded as severance package for “officials of the present regime’’?
In coming up with the budget for the 2023 Census, the commission was mindful of the need to deliver a world class census at the lowest possible cost. Being the first time Nigeria will be conducting a digital census, infrastructure and facilities, including training of skilled manpower would have to be done from the scratch. A geo referenced enumeration area frame, which will only need to be updated in future would have to be built. Equipment, especially personal digital assistants, would have to be procured and IT infrastructure to support the real time transmission of data would have to be put in place. These are innovations that do not come cheap within the context of infrastructural deficit in Nigeria. Enormous resources have been committed to these innovations aimed at building the basis for a seamless conduct of future censuses.
The commission considered various cost saving measures that will not also undermine the quality of the data to be collected. It is in this regard that the decision to deploy one enumerator to cover an enumeration area rather than two in previous censuses was taken. This reduced the cost of the census by more than N1 billion.
The comparison of the cost of censuses in India, Brazil and Nigeria does not take into consideration the level of infrastructural development in the country, and public attitudes towards censuses in these countries. India and Brazil have long history of regular conduct of census with attendant development of infrastructure of census takings.
These countries do not need to carry out enumeration area demarcation each time a census is to be taken neither do they have to procure PDAs in large quantity for the census. They have huge logistics capacity to deploy personnel and materials across their countries at minimal cost. In addition, there is high level of literacy that allows for self-enumeration of persons in these countries, an option that can only lead to confusion if attempted in Nigeria. That is why India with its population of 1.8 billion could afford to deploy only 330,000 enumerators.
Any comparison of the cost of censuses would have to take into account that the commission is not only counting the people but also putting in place infrastructures and facilities that are taken for granted in other climes.
Even at the cost of N869 billion spread over a period of almost 10 years, the 2023 Census could not be considered to be too expensive for the economy. The amount is about 4.1 per cent of the 2023 National Budget of N21.8 trillion of the federal government. This amount, to be expended over a period of 10 years, could not have been too much a price to pay for evidence-based planning of the country at national, state and local government area levels.
For a process that commenced a decade ago, with 80% of the preparatory activities implemented, the decision to conduct the next census could not have been a sudden one.
To say that Nigerians know next to nothing about the census is not a fair commentary on the high level of census awareness among the Nigerian people. Beside the just concluded election, the most topical issue in Nigeria today is the conduct of the 2023 Census as the advocacy drive of the commission has yielded enormous dividends.
A research conducted by the NOI in December 2022 indicates that awareness of the census among the people was 84% while willingness to be counted was 74%. Four months after, and with few weeks to the conduct of the census, it is safe to conclude that awareness of the census is almost 100%.
Insinuating that the purported N869 billion is a severance package for government officials is taking mischief too far. Severance package? For which government officials? Yes, the tenure of the present administration will end on May 29, which makes the thought of a severance package for principal officers plausible even if far-fetched and unsubstantiated.
The journey towards the 2023 Census predates the Buhari administration, it has been a long journey that has been meticulously undertaken, much more deliberately to overcome past mistakes and determined to put Nigeria on the path of evidence-based development.
Yahaya, PhD is the Director, Public Affairs National Population Commission