Nigeria: Why Nigeria Really Needs Another Population Census

It is unthinkable that Nigeria keeps making its decision using a database as dated as 2006.

Quality policy making, planning and administration, and decision making are the bedrocks of stable and developed nations. But the eccentricities of governance in today’s world has it that national development should be hinged on data that is well gathered and up to date. This is where a population census fits. With the coming 2023 population census, Nigeria might get to sort a big part of its national puzzle with data guiding its resource allocation…

Data, big data, rules the world. Central to our collective prosperity are tonnes of ones and zeros that underline modern power brokering, policy formulation, and optimal decision making. Data is the first resource pulled in responsive governance, people-centred politicking, and the quest for national development.

Proper data management engenders sound policies, which make stable nations. Yet, data – the core of information and inference – is not just stumbled upon. There is a science (as there is an art) to the gathering of data. On the national and international fronts, data gathering and “exploitation” are more pronounced as nations seek stronger grasps of the panorama of people, territories, and social phenomena.

Throughout history, nations have needed to mine the data-rich ore that their citizenry presents and population censuses have always been the most reliable go-to. Population censuses have helped nations paint integrated pictures of ever-changing societies, whilst providing suitable and broad databases for comparison and projections of demographic and psychographic data.

Population censuses largely trump other statistical methods of gathering national data. With a population census, the social and economic features of the highest to the lowest administrative or geographical levels are revealed, the overlaps and intersections between the public and private sectors are laid bare, long periods of development are easily and accurately tracked, and recurring and dynamic patterns of national living are revealed. Indeed, a population census is a nation’s shot at mirroring and understanding itself.

Population censuses have spanned civilisations. History traces the root of population censuses to the 17th century, in the quest for better resource allocation. Ireland has been conducting population censuses since 1841. India had its first census in 1872, while the USA had its first in 1790. Africa too has not been out of the fray, with South Africa holding its first census in 1911 and Nigeria having its first in 1866.

Nigeria’s population censuses do not paint a great picture. From 1866 to 1991, censuses in Nigeria were marred by restrictions, tampering with figures for gerrymandering, deliberate falsification of census figures, disruptions caused by political instability, ethnic clashes, and a dearth of skilled personnel and technical know-how for data collection and management.

It is unthinkable that Nigeria keeps making its decision using a database as dated as 2006. The 2006 census pegs Nigeria’s population at 140 million. Today, the United Nations disagrees, estimating Nigeria’s population well above 200 million people, given its tracked population explosion. As such, it could be inferred that Nigeria does not have a clear estimation of its population. This has culminated in the adverse lag and failure…

The last population census that Nigeria had in 2006 was deemed fair, in comparison to the previous ones, as it was the first population and housing census the country had. The 2006 census was carried out using the Global Positioning System and Satellite Imagery to map out Geo-Referenced EAs, and it was a first for Nigeria. Yet, claims of irregularities and falsified figures still soiled the 2006 census. Since 2006, Nigeria has failed to conduct another population census. Africa’s most populous country is four years behind its census. By implication, Nigeria is yet to mirror itself in over 15 years.

A new census has been slated for 2023 and some N532 billion has been budgeted for its execution. With the exigencies of previous censuses in Nigeria, and the yearnings for true growth and development by the Nigerian citizenry, it is, now more than ever, pertinent that the Nigerian government has a viable national database to work with.

It is unthinkable that Nigeria keeps making its decision using a database as dated as 2006. The 2006 census pegs Nigeria’s population at 140 million. Today, the United Nations disagrees, estimating Nigeria’s population well above 200 million people, given its tracked population explosion. As such, it could be inferred that Nigeria does not have a clear estimation of its population. This has culminated in the adverse lag and failure that human and developmental policies suffer in Nigeria.

The lack of a comprehensive and detailed data on its population also accounts for the lack of accurate demographic, social, and economic growth indicators, which hamper policy implementation in Nigeria. Vital indicators such as birth, mortality and population growth rates in Nigeria’s lowest administrative or geographical levels are missing. More so, the country has no concrete or viable record of immigrants. What it has been working with are estimates, with low degrees of precision.

Banking on the 2006 census, Nigeria lacks a viable database needed to build population and workforce projections, neither does it have a database needed to study social phenomena. This negatively spills over to policy analysis, national programme management, resource allocation, revenue estimation, governmental contracting, and the strides towards national equity and inclusion.

Nigeria needs a population census that would help it understand its people. Not only are the upper echelons of power brokers separated from the lower units in Nigeria, there exists an astounding unawareness of the realities of the grassroots that stems from the dearth of quality data on localities. As the 2006 census, to some extent, failed to capture Nigerians living in the innermost nooks of localities, the lives and modes of living of a good chunk of Nigerians remain undocumented.

Perhaps a new population census is the important step Nigeria is yet to take to tackle its housing problems. 2006 till 2022 is a long time. As such, the housing data gathered more than a decade ago needs to be updated to meet today’s needs. Nigeria needs data on housing units, as well as their facilities and features, as they relate to living conditions. Updated data is also needed to work out well-defined housing policies.

As migration and immigration remain central to a nation’s population policy, Nigeria needs a population census that helps it grasp the estimates of its migrants and immigrants. Nigeria needs a database that provides clear and precise estimates of the distribution and characteristics of its immigrants and expatriates. With that, Nigeria will be able to build better workforce projections.

Perhaps a new population census is the important step Nigeria is yet to take to tackle its housing problems. 2006 till 2022 is a long time. As such, the housing data gathered more than a decade ago needs to be updated to meet today’s needs. Nigeria needs data on housing units, as well as their facilities and features, as they relate to living conditions. Updated data is also needed to work out well-defined housing policies. New data is also needed to espouse indicators on house conditions and the extent of their relationship with public services.

A new population census will also provide Nigeria with a comprehensive modern framework for buildings, houses and households. This will ultimately bleed into the design and use of samples for conducting various household surveys. In turn, it will have a positive reflection of the accurate measurements of the various phenomena to be investigated, such as mortality, fertility, and migration, which are the basis of calculating population growth rates and estimates of a post-census population. A new population census would also help provide Nigeria with data on the features of the public and private sectors, so as to draw up housing plans and define various needs in the future.

Furthermore, Nigeria equally needs a clear definition of the conditions of economic and social enterprises in the public and private sectors, in terms of the legal status, economic activity and workforce size by gender and nationality. A population census is the best shot at getting this data.

Quality policy making, planning and administration, and decision making are the bedrocks of stable and developed nations. But the eccentricities of governance in today’s world has it that national development should be hinged on data that is well gathered and up to date. This is where a population census fits. With the coming 2023 population census, Nigeria might get to sort a big part of its national puzzle with data guiding its resource allocation, revenue estimation, formulation of economic policies, provision of social amenities, and determination of population density.

Olatundun Tejuoso, a cultural aficionado and serial entrepreneur, writes from Lagos.

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