2018 Census: How Nigeria can get things right —Ikwuyatum

Dr Godwin Ikwuyatum, a lecturer at the Department of Geography, University of Ibadan, is an expert in Population Geography and Migration Studies. He speaks with MOSES ALAO on the planned 2018 census, the suggestion for a shift by the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Honourable Yakubu Dogara and the preparations by the National Population Commission (NPC) ahead of the exercise.


THE Speaker of the House of Representatives, Honourable Yakubu Dogara, recently proposed a shift in the conduct of the national census scheduled for 2018 because it would be too close to the 2019 general election but the National Population Commission (NPC) said the census would go as planned. What is your take?

The first question one should ask is: Who is empowered by law carry out census? Is it speculative or there is a population empowered by law? Of course, the National Population Commission is the one empowered by law and not the National Assembly or an arm of the Assembly. So, Dogara has expressed his personal view. But let me tell you the truth; why we are where we are today is because we don’t have data to work on. We don’t have data to plan or inject anything to; that is the bane of Nigeria today. It is absurd for a planner, a policy maker to say it is not necessary to hold a census because there is an impending election. That is the first issue.

The problem we have in Nigeria today is because of lack of data. We have not been able to plan. The last census we had in 2006, there were issues. The entire process was, at a point, politicised and that is why up till today we do not have the disaggregate data at the locality level because of the politics of census. The politics of census is very huge; because you use population data for so many things such as budgeting, creation of states, allocation of resources and these are the issues. But someone is now saying we should not hold a census. I think that comment is out of place.


You talked about the politicisation of census; don’t you think Dogara might also have considered the hugeness of census politics and the tension always associated with general election before suggesting a shift?

Census in itself is a whole process that does not require any form of politicisation, because it is an instrument that vital in the sustainable development of any nation. Census is a collection, compiling and publishing of the data of a population within a given space or territory at a particular time. And it is only the NPC that is empowered by law to do all these things, so there should not be any politics in it. That is the point. But today, different states are having their data, which is not supposed to be the case. Lagos has its own data; I learnt Ogun State is also trying to come up with its data. But it is only the NPC that is empowered by law to hold a census and there is no disagreement about that.

We agree that the election is close by but we are talking about 2018 and 2019. So, if we say census should be postponed because of election, we are actually saying that our system is not working. We need to exit this kind of thinking that things don’t work; we are not abnormal people. Presidential elections have been held in smaller countries, do you hear noise? Other countries do elections and census and we do not hear noise; so why should we be different?


There is the impression that census should be a periodic, with the popular position being that it should be held every 10 years, how correct is this and if it is correct, don’t you think Dogara may be justified to say since it has passed the 10 years mark, it can as well be moved farther?

As I said earlier, he must have his own feeling and perception. But he is a lawyer and not a population expert. When you don’t have data to plan and you say there is no need for a census, is it justified? In that sense, I don’t think his position is justifiable.

There is what we call an inter-censual period. The United Nations has specified every 10 years for census taking and it is a full process that is capital-intensive. There is the pre-census stage, the census and the post-census and all these need a capital base outlay. You have to build capacity, provide logistics, train, do enumeration area mapping, do a sample test of questionnaires to make sure it meets standards and above all, you need the political will. These are all important things you have to do and if these are not in place, you cannot just say you want to carry out a census. Again, what we need to do in-between censuses, are we doing them? In-between the censuses, we are supposed to be collecting vital registrations. It is a continuous kind of data collection on deaths, births, migration and immigration. You are supposed to be keeping records so that in-between, you will know the trends. So, that at the end of day, if someone says he wants to falsify the population, you will know that such falsification cannot be, because we have been collecting data, even though we have not held a census. But are we keeping data in this regard? Do we keep records of births and deaths, which we call vital registrations? The commission has not been empowered. You go there and there are no instruments there.

As I said, census is supposed to be 10 years apart but in Nigeria, we held one in 1991 and the following one in 2006 and then more than 10 years after, we are planning for a census and someone is saying they should shift it because of election. We know that the election is coming; yes, there are fears but the law is there and at a period we are all talking about the rule of law, then the NPC that is empowered by law should be allowed to do its duties. We have been postponing because of lack of preparation, so ifwe postpone this again, believe me, it may take another decade.


You talked about pre-census preparations; if NPC wants to hold the census next year, do you think there are plans on ground between now and next year?

The process has already started. There is enumeration area demarcation; they have been doing sample surveys of the questionnaires. You know that it is population and housing survey and not ordinary head counts. We have to get data concerning the houses; and all these are ongoing. NPC is developing capacity; there is training ongoing. You have to train people to read maps, enumeration area maps and because Nigeria has peculiarities, you have to plan adequately for riverine, mountainous areas and all that.


You mean as we speak and are professionals involved now?

Yes. The NPC is involved. In developed climes; it is the population commission that goes through the whole hog of planning, executing and publishing, but because of the politics in the process in Nigeria, that is why we have the impression that we cannot get an accurate data.

It is supposed to be a total enumeration, so someone cannot come out and say we had 95 per cent enumeration; then, the census has failed because it is supposed to be total enumeration. If you say 95 per cent, then you have not counted some people. As we speak, seminars and trainings are ongoing but the problem with Nigerians is that when we don’t have information, then we assume nothing is happening. The NPC sought for funds and the United Nations Population Fund is interested; the European Union is interested, because as I speak with you, Nigeria is rated the seventh largest country in the world in terms of population and it is projected that in 2050, Nigeria will be the fourth largest in the world. These are based on our growth rate.


But has the country really ever benefitted from the past censuses, as there has always been one controversy or the other in the past two editions?

Yes. We have benefitted from past censuses, though there were issues with the previous ones. As I speak with you today, we are now relying on other people to project and estimate our population. For example, what is the current population of Nigeria?

Based on the estimate of the Population Reference Bureau, it is 186.5 million people and with that number, we have about 43 per cent of the population less than 15 years of age and only three per cent of that population is 60 years and above. What is the import of that? We use population data for so many things. Provision of basic services, targeting areas where we need these services, schools and their types all depend on the data and if you don’t have the data, how do you plan.

The problem we had the last time was that after all the preparations, the politicians wanted to hijack the process, so they swapped the enumerators and brought in people who could not read maps. If you can read a map, how can you read the enumeration area map in which the number of buildings in an area is listed? You have to work it. All houses must be numbered and if you do that, it means everyone will be counted.


Do you think the NPC can ever get to a point where census figure will be accurate enough going by the past controversies on censuses in the country?

We can. But it is the intrusion of politicians in the census process that is making this impossible. To get an accurate census, we need the political will to get it done and you can begin to understand the challenges to the process when you consider the Speaker’s comment. He is a major actor in the process and he has come out to say this. We can get the accurate figure, because the census is supposed to be a total enumeration of all persons within a given area and then you collect, compile, analyse and publish. But when a policy actor speaks in a way that casts aspersion on the process, then there is problem, because we need to remove sentiment from census. We need to remove politics from census.

You talked about controversies trailing past censuses; yes, there are perceptions like such and the cause is because political leaders do not allow the professionals to handle the process. Census is supposed to be a professional and scientific process. Take the case of Lagos and maybe Kano; there have been issues of variations of data but if professionals are handling the process, they will be able to analyse professional and scientifically. Now, take Lagos for instance, it is a mega city; the migration and mobility is huge. It is so huge that people can move into Lagos on a daily basis from as far Togo and go back the same day. So, the influx into Lagos on a daily basis gives the impression that all those who move in and out of Lagos are residents of Lagos but census is also about place of residence. But when you look at the daytime population of Lagos, which is very huge, you as a non-professional may say ‘see heads, see crowd’ but are they all residents of Lagos? These are people who can move back to Togo or Benin Republic or Ghana the same day, because the distance between Lagos and Ghana or Togo is virtually the same distance to Ilorin; about three to four hours. But the moving in gives an impression and because those who are involved in the analysis are not professionals and they bring politics into the process, that is why we have the problems we have had in the past.

What I am saying in essence is that distortions maybe there but there are not stable; population is dynamic. Look at the North-East for instance, the conflict and violence in that place has affected the distribution. If you take a census there today, you can longer have the population you used to have in that place before the crisis, because people have moved. There are dynamics in census but people don’t appreciate it. But nobody should cast aspersion that NPC cannot carry out an effective census, because they involved with many international agencies and with the way we are going in Nigeria, we need to plan. Look at the issue of employment; do you know how many people are unemployed? And they want to carry out a census and you are saying no.