Nigerian census and its challenges – Punch Newspapers

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The first census in Nigeria was conducted in 1866 and this was followed by the census of 1871, 1881, 1891 and 1901. However, they were restricted to Lagos Colony and its environs. The 1871 census marked the beginning of conducting decennial census in the country in line with the British decennial tradition.
The tax riots in Calabar and Owerri provinces in the then Eastern region prevented enumeration in the major towns of these areas in 1931, while the locust invasion resulted in the diversion of some census staff to anti–locust duties in some parts of the Northern provinces. The outbreak of the Second World War disrupted the conduct of the decennial census and as such no population census was conducted in 1941. The 1952/1953 population census was regarded as the first modern, national and carefully planned census in Nigeria. The principle of simultaneity was not complied with as the census enumeration was staggered. The census of Northern Nigeria was conducted between May and July 1952, while that of West and Mid-West were conducted in December 1952 and January 1953 respectively. Census in the East was conducted from May to August, 1953. This enumeration strategy made the comparability of data between one region and another difficult. Furthermore, the disruption of the Second World War made people suspicious of the intention of the exercise and therefore many people did not submit themselves for enumeration.
The 1962 Population Census covered the whole country and was undertaken simultaneously during the month of May. Although the census was given adequate publicity, the results were not acceptable to the regions on grounds of high politicisation. The refusal of the government to accept the population census of 1962 prompted the 1963 population census which critics claimed were arrived at by negotiation rather than enumeration. The result was contested at the Supreme Court which ruled that it lacked jurisdiction over the administrative functions of the Federal Government. The 1973 Census conducted between November 25 and December 2 was not published on the grounds of deliberate falsification of the census figures for political and /or ethnic advantages.
The 1991 Census was conducted under Decree 23 of 1989 which set up the National Population Commission. It was conducted all over the country from November 27 to December 2, 1991. This was the most scientific and most acceptable until the 2006 Population and Housing Census. In March 2006, Nigeria, for the first time, conducted a Population and Housing Census.  Several stages were involved in the project. For the first time, the use of Global Positioning System and Satellite Imagery to carve out Geo-referenced EAs was adopted. Also Machine readable forms (OMR/OCR/ICR) were used to record information from respondents.

The importance of census cannot be overestimated. A population census is at the centre of every planning activity and no meaningful development planning activity can be conducted without taking into account population census data.

Ideally, a census should be conducted every 10 years. This period allows the government to capture the changes in structure and movement of population correctly. The country is four years behind its census. A Population and Housing Census ought to have been conducted in 2016, one year after the President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.), assumed office. However, the new government could not be able to conduct the census due to the economic recession in 2017.
Another attempt to conduct the exercise in 2020 was hit by Coronavirus. Interestingly, the Buhari regime has approved the sum of N176bn for the exercise in the 2022 budget. It is reported that, the first phase of Census 2023, the trial house listing and house numbering, took off officially in selected local government areas of the country on Wednesday.

Though the full exercise is scheduled to hold in April 2023, two months after the conduct of the general elections, Nigerians’ prayers remain that the NPC will conduct a hitch free and acceptable census. The country needs to depart from guessing or dishing out mere figures as the population of the country. With the population explosion, the country needs to have accurate data of birth and death rate for national development.

  • Ibrahim Pambegua, from Kaduna State, can be reached on 08169056963


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