On July 13th, 2022, Nigeria’s National Population Commission (NPC) kicked off a trial phase for a census, an official survey of the population of the country.
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The dress rehearsal is one of the major preliminary activities to determine the NPC’s readiness for the main population and housing census in 2023.
It represents a major step in Nigeria’s bid to conduct a census after postponements every year since 2016. The point of a census is pretty straightforward — it provides vital information about the inhabitants of an area. But its execution in Nigeria hasn’t always been as straightforward.
History of census in Nigeria
The first population census in Nigeria’s recorded history happened in 1866 but was restricted to the Lagos Colony and its environs under colonial rule. The headcount started to hold every 10 years after the 1871 census was followed by others in 1881, 1891 and 1901.
The census conducted in 1911 extended to other parts of the Southern Protectorate, and the next one in 1921 extended to the Northern Protectorate, after the 1914 amalgamation of both regions.
Another census took place in 1931, before Nigeria conducted its first comprehensive nationwide census in 1952 – 1953. The latter determined the political distribution of seats in Nigeria’s post-independence parliament.
When the first post-independence census was conducted in 1962, it was cancelled over allegations of fraud and political interference. The government conducted another census in 1963 and ended up with 55.7 million residents on paper. The tally was contested all the way to the Supreme Court which upheld its validity.
The 1973 census pegged Nigeria’s population at 79.8 million but the government never officially accepted the result. Critics said the numbers were falsified for political and ethnic advantages.
The 1991 census is regarded as one of Nigeria’s most unproblematic, alongside the 2006 census that pegged Nigeria’s population at 140.4 million. But they didn’t escape allegations of manipulation.
There’s always someone like this after every Nigerian census
Nigeria’s attempt to conduct a census since another ten-year period elapsed in 2016 has hit several roadblocks, until now.
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Why conduct a census?
A census isn’t that much different from tracking what’s in your bank account. Why do countries place so much importance on it?
It provides a rich source of information
The most useful advantage of a census is it provides the government with the most appropriate data than any other survey. A census isn’t just a head count. It’s a process primed to extract reliable, representative and accurate information.
It helps with planning for development
The detailed demographic and socioeconomic information that a census provides can have a significant impact on the lives of citizens as it determines many variables. Census data can be used to plan and deliver services more efficiently for social, economic and infrastructural development. For example, if a census shows a pattern of more aged people in an area, it can help determine what specific resources to funnel there.
It determines political representation
The result of a census is also crucial to determining political representation. The 1999 constitution (as amended) allows periodic reviews of the division of states into senatorial districts and federal constituencies based on census data. This means the result of a census can determine how many representatives a state can send to the Federal House of Representatives based on distribution.
It helps with making business decisions
The result of a census is also valuable to businesses that need data on the communities they serve. The decision to start a new business, open a new branch of an existing business or what new products to offer can be made more efficient with census data.
Why Nigeria has troubles with census
Conducting a population census is a very expensive and labour-intensive process. This is one of the major reasons why Nigeria hasn’t been able to conduct a new one since 2016. Senators weren’t too happy in 2021 when the NPC budgeted over N400 billion for the process. The Federal Government eventually settled on N177 billion for the 2022 project.
But more than cost, the most common issue with census in Nigeria is the corruption of numbers. The falsification of figures is usually with the intention to skew resource allocation for regional gains. But the digitisation of the ongoing process should help eliminate political interference and manipulation as much as possible.
Without accurate data, it’s impossible for Nigeria to make the most efficient plans for its development. It’s important that we get it right this time around.