The much-awaited census | Dailytrust

The much-awaited census

It has been a matter of significant concern to not a few Nigerians that the country’s census programme, has been left in abeyance and in breach of the constitution, since the last one in 2006. By the provisions of the constitution, the country is expected to conduct a census exercise every 10 years. Hence the last census was to have held in 2016, but that did not happen due to the economic recession and after that, we had to battle the COVID-19 among other issues.

Therefore, the announcement by the federal government a few weeks ago that the exercise would hold in April 2023; a month after the general elections, which are currently scheduled to hold in February and March, is indeed a welcome development.

Chairman of NPC, Nasir Isa-Kwarra, while briefing newsmen said the commission would hold a pilot census in June after the political primaries.

He lamented that the current data in use by the country are obsolete projections, adding that the census would provide more accurate data for national planning.

“It is very crucial because I have highlighted that the census is a very important exercise for the nation. Because through census, we generate the data that we use for policymaking, for planning, for development, by the three tiers of government and the private sector, all need this,” he said.

This is indeed true and lamentable as apart from the fact that the total figure of Nigerians is unknown, planning and provision of infrastructure among other things have been based on projections, which is not good enough.

We, therefore, welcome this development and urge the NPC and all relevant stakeholders to approach the exercise with the seriousness it deserves so that the country can have reliable data.

However, the prospects of another census exercise offer reasons for caution and discretion as hardly any past census exercise right from the colonial era to the last one enjoyed unchallenged acceptance in the country. While the instances of the colonial era faced a credibility crisis due to the limited spatial coverage on which they were based, those conducted under a federated Nigeria were easily debunked on the basis of irreconcilable differences among the constituent ethnic nationalities that make up the country. The ambience of doubt over the outcome of past census exercises has been used by not a few unscrupulous persons for nefarious purposes.

Where the differences were not based on the criteria for enumeration, they would be the methodology, and often even assume biases against the census personnel. For instance, the inclusion of a significant criterion like the religious inclination of the citizen has been a thorny issue, which has stalled several efforts to conduct a credible census. Indeed, so intractable have some of the snags associated with census exercises in the country become that many Nigerians easily dismiss the mention of the country conducting a credible census as a huge joke. Yet, the utility of census exercises in the life of a country like Nigeria cannot be overemphasised, as the outcome provides the framework for effective development planning pursuant to providing for the public good.

In the absence of credible census data, decisions and policies on public welfare become based on conjectures and nuances of designated officials who could even appropriate public largesse for their personal gain. That is why the contemplation of a new census exercise for the country is a good step forward and kindles the hope that governance can still be carried out within the context of empirical consideration of the needs of the citizens and available resources.

Against the backdrop of the foregoing, therefore, the forthcoming 2023 census exercise needs to be seen as one dispensation that should be conducted with as much discretion as can be mustered, in order to maximise its utility for the country. It is also a good thing that it is coming after the election, as that will minimise any political colouration that could be ascribed to it. That timing indeed gives the 2023 census exercise some leeway to credibility.

The lack of concrete data could be linked to the planning failures in the public sector whereby development efforts, which are aimed at changing the narratives of sections and even the entire landscape of the country have routinely been exercised in futility as the enterprise behind such efforts were driven by literal blindness. The serial consequences have been the huge losses and wastages of the citizens’ common patrimony, courtesy of thieving and misguided public officials.

It is worthy of note that the NPC said it would deploy technology for the exercise, we urge it to ensure that the handlers are properly trained and Nigerians adequately sensitised to ensure a smooth operation. We also call on security operatives to ensure that areas of the country that are not accessible now due to activities of criminals are free of such before the exercise, as any census that is not all-encompassing will not help the country. All stakeholders must work together to deliver on this project.

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