•Nigerians’ actual number is unknown, says experts
Despite the fact that the last national headcount which took place in 2006 was controversial and rejected, Nigeria has failed to conduct another national census 15 years after. That has left the country to depend on an estimated population figure, which is put at 213 million now. PAUL OGBUOKIRI reports that a national headcount in 2022 will change that narrative. Excerpts
Fifteen years after the last national population and housing census, the allocation of over N178.09 billion to the National Population Commission(NPC) by the Federal Government in the 2022 budget has raised the hope that the government would summon the political will to conduct a national headcount next year.
The capital allocation to the National Population Commission in the proposed budget is N182,668,691,263; Overhead got N615,073,956; while Personnel got N8,265,265,544,131. Reacting to the development, population experts said there is the need for the country to get the national headcount right at this time, saying the country cannot be able to plan without accurate population figures.
According to Professor Akanni Ibukun Akinyemi of the Demography Department, Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife, a youthful population like Nigeria requires accurate information on characteristics like the age and sex of the population and how they are distributed spatially.
This is the basis of policy and planning for education, employment and health systems. He said that all previous attempts at conducting population and housing censuses in Nigeria have been beset with challenges.
These have ranged from staffing and logistical shortages to undue political interference and manipulation. Controversies and disputes have followed. Demarcating enumeration areas, with the demarcation started in 2020 is expected to be completed by the end of the year.
Problematic past censuses
Ideally, a census should be done every 10 years but it is difficult to sustain that in an economy like Nigeria’s. The timing requires political will and proclamation by the president. Constitutionally, it is conducted by the National Population Commission.
Prof Akinyemei disclosed that all previous censuses in Nigeria were conducted in an environment fraught with political interference. “This was because there was an incentive to inflate population figures.
As people became more aware of the importance of population size for political representation in a federal system, the census became more problematic.
There was also competition within states and among communities to inflate their population so as to get more government resources.” The first census was in 1911 and covered only a small part of the country.
The first nationwide census was conducted in 1921. It suffered from inadequate staffing and the public boycotted it because they thought it would lead to higher taxes. In Southern Nigeria, the preliminary figures were adjusted upwards before the result of 8.4 million was published.
The published figure for Northern Nigeria was 10.4 million. The 1931 census was marred by tax riots and a locust invasion. The census of 1941 could not be conducted because of the Second World War.
Eventually, a census took place over 1952 and 1953 and returned a total of 30.4 million.
This was taken as the benchmark for political representation in the country’s parliament in preparation for independence in 1960. The population of the Northern Region was 55.4 per cent of the total, that of Eastern Nigeria 23.7 per cent and that of the Western Region, including Lagos and the Mid-West, 20.9 per cent.
This gave Northern Nigeria 174 seats, Eastern Nigeria 73 and Western Nigeria (including Lagos and Mid-West) 65 seats in parliament before independence. The first post-independence census was conducted in May 1962 by the Federal Census Office in the Ministry of Economic Development.
It was better organised but the provisional figure of 45.1 million showed that the southern regions combined had a higher population than the Northern Region. This was controversial particularly from a political point of view.
The 1962 census was cancelled, and a recount was ordered in 1963. Its management was also removed from the Federal Office of Statistics, marking the beginning of direct political interference in the process. A special Census Board was set up, census staff numbers increased, and more resources were provided.
But at the end of the count, a population figure of 55.7 million was recorded, a difference of nearly 11 million. This led to a slight redistribution of power in favour of Western Nigeria. Eastern Nigeria and the Mid-West lost five seats in parliament.
This reversal led to strident criticism of the 1963 results. Politico-linguistic rivalry brewed until it exploded in the civil war of 1967-70, which devastated much of the South East and started military rule in Nigeria.
The 1973 census returned a total population of 79.8 million with the North making up 64.4 per cent which was a subject of controversy. In 1989, the National Population Commission was created by military decree to organise the 1991 census in preparation for handover to a civilian regime.
The military government announced that the 1991 census figures would not be used for the upcoming elections, thereby reducing the political tension and the usual incentive to inflate population figures. The board of the commission consisted of seven professionals, who did not belong to any political party.
Each member was responsible for one census zone which consisted of a mix of states. This reduced the incentive to inflate figures. For the first time, adequate maps were produced and used for the 250,000 enumeration areas. Instruments and processes were also tested in advance.
The 1991 census published a total population of 88.5 million, much lower than projections based on the inflated 1963 census. The most recent census in Nigeria was conducted in 2006 and was plagued by political interference from design through to implementation.
The population estimate was 140 million people. The results were criticised and subject to litigation. Nigeria’s population in 2020 is estimated at 206,139,589 people at midyear according to UN data. Nigeria’s population is equivalent to 2.64 per cent of the total world population.
In 2021, Nigeria’s population was estimated to amount to 213 million individuals. Between 1965 and 2021, the number of people living in Nigeria regularly increased at a rate above two per cent. In 2020, the population grew by 2.58 per cent compared to the previous year.
The most recent census in Nigeria was conducted in 2006 and was plagued by political interference from design through to implementation. The population estimate was 140 million people.
Dr. Akanni Akinyemi, a lecturer in Demography and Social Statistics, Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife, said cultural practices in the North and difficult terrains in the South had made head counting almost impossible in the country. “There is a concept of ‘Ba Shiga’ in the northern part of the country, which forbids entry, particularly of a male guest into the house.
That means that enumerators must accept potentially erroneous numbers given to them by the male head of the household,” he explained.
Speaking in the same line with Dr Akinyemi, Dr Loretta Ntoimo of the Department of Demography and Social Statis tics, Federal University, Oye-Ekiti, admitted that the population of Nigeria is not certain. “We depend on projections. It was from the projections that the 200 million figures for 2019 were arrived at.”
She, however, said that the projection was based on the 140 million census figures of 2006 which was questioned by experts because they did not analyse it. She added: “If you do the projections from past censuses like that of 1991, you will get something close to the 200 figure being bandied about as the country’s population this year.”
Politics, money fuel population census rigging
According to Africa Check, Africa’s first independent fact-checking organisation, the real cause of controversy in Nigeria’s population censuses has always been the influence of politics and money (revenue sharing).
In a research carried out by Adewale Maja-Pearce and Eleanor Whitehead on Nigeria population figures, it noted that the reason the British rigged the pre-independence census figures in the 1950s was reportedly to allocate more seats in parliament to those they favoured in the North, and diminish the political influence of the South.
It further noted that Nigeria’s census results are a loaded issue because they largely determine the distribution of public funding and power between states. “The higher a state’s population, the more money it gets from the Federal Government.
“The censuses of 1963, 1973 and 1991 were also widely seen in the South as having deliberately underrepresented the southern population to justify the distribution of resources to the North,” the research report indicated.
Next census, new approach
Planning for the next census must address critical issues.
One is the need to strengthen the scientific structure of the National Population Commission. It needs a technical committee of Nigerian experts from universities and research centres at home and in the Diaspora.
The good news, according to Prof. Olasupo Ogunjuyigbe of the Department of Demography and Social Statistics, Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife is that enumeration areas and maps are being georeferenced and digitalised to make them more accurate. He said that quality needs to be assured and verified transparently at every stage of the census processes.
“One option is to stagger the census across geopolitical zones within a specified time frame. Another is to do a sample census. The government must be open to the best option that can give the most accurate information and value for money.
The post-enumeration survey must also be well planned. This is the scientific exercise conducted on a sample of census enumeration areas to validate census figures and compute growth rates.” Ogunjuyigbe further said that champions at national and sub-national levels could help check against political and economic maneuvering of the census.
They could include population experts, traditional and religious leaders, and civil society organisations. “Communities must be engaged through entertainment and education. And international and local monitors should be involved at every stage to ensure transparency, accountability and quality,” he said.