7 January 2007

Nigeria: Census - Before the Full Report

Lagos — After what appears to be a credible census, the National Population Commission (NPC) has put Nigeria's population at 140 million. With that revelation, the stage appears set for the country to enter an era of equitable and sustainable development based on purposeful planning.

Although the full details of the exercise have not been released, the features disclosed by the Commission's Chairman, Samaila Makama, to the Federal Executive Council (FEC) the other day provide a vital overview of the nation's true demography. They indicate that some pre-census projections were simply ill-informed. For instance, contrary to widely held views and global trends, males in Nigeria are said to outnumber females - 71,709,859 as against 68,293,683, representing a ratio of 105 males to 100 females. Also, unlike the 1991 outing that signified a population growth rate of 2.8 per cent, the current one stands at 3.2 per cent. This apparent increase should stimulate a commensurate development programme to contain the increase.

The reliablity of the outcome of the March 2006 programme is enhanced by its relative transparency. Past outings were controversial largely because of the secrecy that characterised their implementation. In a radical departure, however, the present leadership of the NPC enlisted the understanding of majority of Nigerians through comprehensive, timely information management. Practical steps like posting principal officers outside their states of origin were taken to minimise manipulation. And for the first time, satellite was used for aerial verification, as practised in many parts of the world. The adoption of that device, no doubt, boosted the census' empiricism and, by implication, its integrity.

These measures probably form the basis for Makama's self-congratulation. His words:"We are convinced in our conscience that we did all that was humanly possible to give this great nation an accurate, reliable and acceptable census. We are all convinced that we have not compromised the principle of justice, fair-play and transparency in all we did towards the conduct of the 2006 census". President Olusegun Obasanjo's remarks at the presentation ceremony is equally approving. He is convinced that "the way the commission has handled this and presented it to Nigerians must give most people joy and satisfaction. It is important for us to be able to say with reasonable amount of certainty how many we are... Now, we can plan a little bit more scientifically with the job you have done for us."

Despite the perceived excellent execution of the exercise, however, chest-beating would seem premature. Before the comprehensive results are announced next month, there are other hurdles that will need careful handling. Objections will likely arise as the figures are submitted to the National Council of States(NCS) for ratification, then to the National Assembly for passage into law. When that happens, the aggrieved parties and NPC should rise above prejudices and self-righteousness and take advantage of the census tribunal yet to be set up. Nigeria has suffered enough as a result of the uncertainties about its actual population. Any opportunity therefore to correct the anomaly should be seized by all Nigerians.

It is only such conciliatory attitude that would justify the whopping N36billion committed to the head-count and the enormous financial and logistic support provided by organisations like the European Union (EU) and the United States International Development Agency (USAID). It is time for the "Giant of Africa" to move on with greater certainty about its size.

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