Earlier this year, the Nigerian Population Commision (NPC), announced plans to conduct a census in April 2023. If all goes well, this would be the first time since 2006 that Nigeria is conducting a census. Ideally, based on United Nation (UN) recommendations, a census should happen at least once every 10 years

We like to say naija no dey carry last but it looks like we’ve carried last here o.

Why does a country need a census anyway?

Censuses are an important aspect of demographic research. Any government worth its salt would want to know its gender distribution, youth population size and collate date on the aged, housing and other key statistics. 

How have censuses been in Nigeria?

Nigeria’s first ever census took place in 1911 — before we were even known officially as Nigeria. Even then, it was not a full census. It was just for southern Nigeria. 

The first national census happened in 1921 and it sort of set the tone for how censuses in Nigeria would go. It was marred by irregularities, including inadequate staffing and boycotting because people thought it would lead to more taxes.

Between then and 1989 when the NPC was created, six censuses were conducted and each came with their varying challenges. Keep in mind that there was a cancellation in 1962.

In 1991, another census was held that put Nigeria’s population at 88.5 million. The last census, conducted in 2006, placed Nigeria’s population at 140 million. There were a lot of objections to this number at the time. Then Lagos State governor and current presidential candidate of the ruling party, Bola Tinubu, called the figures false.

What are the reactions to the upcoming census?

The former governor of Katsina State, Aminu Masari, in October, said that censuses in Nigeria are highly politicised and afflicted with the “politics of numbers.” He added that in the past, population figures were determined based on calculations relating to the allocation of resources which were determined by ethnicity, regional and religious differences. It’s hard not to see his point.

In the same month, a non-governmental organisation, Human Rights Writers Association of Nigeria, HURIWA, faulted the government on its plans to hold a census in 2023. It called on the government to postpone it, noting that it makes “no economic sense”, at a time when Nigeria is battling the devastating effects of floods and hyperinflation.

In September, vice president Yemi Osinbajo said the 2023 census would cost ₦‎198 billion. On November 9, 2022, the NPC told the Senate that the digital census would gulp ₦532.7 billion.

So, is Nigeria ready for a census?

The simple answer is yes. It is clearly overdue. Already, ₦21 billion has been spent on the mapping and enumeration of areas. But the real question is whether the census data would be a true representation of the Nigerian population and not  some magomago figure. 

The answer to that remains unclear. The NPC has already come out to make the bold claim that the 2023 census will rewrite history. There are two ways this can go: either it turns out to be an unprecedented failure or a resounding success. We can only hope it’s the latter.


Zikoko amplifies African youth culture by curating and creating smart and joyful content for young Africans and the world.