Why we must have the next census by 2020

The United nations population fund emphasizes the importance of the information from a census, as critical for good governance, policy formulation, development planning, risk reduction, crisis response, social welfare programmes and business market analyses.

While Nigeria has been due for a census since 2016, the government’s recent financial travails, the 2019 general elections as well as political shenanigans by States, zones and regions seeking undue advantage, have cast a cloud on the date for the next census.

In 2018, Nigeria’s population commission had proposed to conduct the much anticipated census. However, the absence of a presidential proclamation left the commission no choice than to jettison the idea. Although, the newly appointed chairman of the National Population Commission, Yusuf Muhammad Anka, had promised that the federal government will conduct a census before the end of the second term of the president’s administration. One can only hope that this is not a pipe dream like that of his predecessor, Eze Duruiheoma.

Now in his 5th year as Nigeria’s 6th democratically elected president, Buhari’s conduct (what his supporters call “body language“) has shown no glimmer of hope for a possible census any time soon.

Nigeria’s national population commission (NPopC) is an under funded agency, poorly staffed and handicapped, without even a functioning website.

Web result from the commission’s official website “population.gov.ng”

It is disturbing that Nigeria’s federal government, time and over again fails to grasp the importance of reputable and reliable data (as can be provided by the national population commission) for economic planning and national development.

The next development plan and the next census

It is difficult to identify a Nigerian development plan that has been largely successful or that has met its goals and objectives by an impressive percentage. From the first national development plan (1962 – 1968) to the current economic recovery and growth plan (2017 – 2020), successive governments keep struggling to meet meagre targets.

One major but often neglected factor responsible for this is unreliable planning data. The 1991 census by the Babangida administration (although fraught with inconsistencies and vivid manipulations), was stretched 15 years, till the most recent census was conducted in 2006. Many scholars and policy makers agree that the validity and reliability of estimated time series data diverges with time. This means that there is a period when estimated data becomes unreliable.

Let us assume that we take the 2006 census figures at face value. This will mean that for at least 12 years, succeeding economic and development planning/decision-making have been based on estimated figures. A practise, which if continued will see a deepening of government’s policy failure.

The next development plan, which is scheduled to begin in 2021 is crucial to Nigeria’s development process. This plan is expected to consolidate on the small gains of the economic recovery and growth plan (ERGP), as well as reposition the country on the path of development.

Results such as resource mismatch, inadequate allocation and efficiency crises that will stem from the employment of erroneous census figures and unreliable data will portend grave developmental challenges and hence must be avoided by the federal government.

By Cephas Kadiri

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