A decade after the last census held in 2006, paucity of funds and absence of presidential proclamation are sending jitters down the spines of National Population Commission (NPC) over the proposed 2018 Census. Insiders say as the agency responsible for conducting the national headcount, the NPC currently finds itself in a quandary. SYLVESTER ALIJO writes on attempts by the National Assembly to ensure a hitch-free exercise in the next two years.
It is generally acknowledged that no nation develops without getting appropriate information on its population. According to experts’ views, evolving strategies for attaining national development cannot be feasible without reliable and accurate up-to-date enumeration of citizens. So, in a bid to review strategies and assess the efficiency of government policies, the act of headcount has been globally recommended within a 10-year period for countries. In Nigeria, the deployment of census figures for planning and economic advantages has, over the years, rendered the exercise a bitter tale, with various states of the federation attempting to outdo one another in padding their figures. From the 42.5 million census figures of 1960 to the over 170 million based on preliminary 2006 Census figures, not a few Nigerians see the headcount as a supremacy test for political domination among the nation’s states. That explains why many states headed to the census tribunal to nullify census figures they felt were inappropriately allocated to them during the 2006 census.
Calls for early Preparations
With many population experts expressing serious concerns, the Senate recently challenged the Presidency on early preparations for the 2018 census. The Senate Committee on Population and Identity, headed by Senator Suleiman Othman Hunkuyi, representing Kaduna North, had on October 18, 2016 called on President Muhammadu Buhari to issue a presidential proclamation to commence early preparations and rally stakeholders towards conducting a hitch-free headcount for the country. Appealing to the Federal Government through his motion entitled, “A call for The Federal Government to Expedite Action on the Planned 2018 National Census”, the Committee chairman said government should not spare any effort in conducting the census in 2018. Hunkuyi said going by the 10-year provision for census, the country is supposed to have undertaken another headcount in 2016, having conducted the last exercise in 2006. Going by global best practices, population census should hold within a minimum period of two years.” The lawmaker is not alone on this call to make 2018 census a reality as support has been streaming from his colleagues. For Senator John Enoh, NPC must capture total cost of conducting the census in the 2017 budget just as Senators Emmanuel Bwacha and Ajayi Boroffice called for prompt release of funds for the exercise even as Deputy Senate President Ike Ekweremadu warned against conducting an exercise that would become controversial in all respect. Also lending its voice to the Lawmakers’ charge, the Nigeria Institute of Town Planners, (NITP) said it is expedient for the President to urgently proclaim the conduct of the 2018 population and housing census. For NITP, continuous delay in holding the next census is hampering town planners’ efforts at utilizing reliable and up-to-date population data for planning in the country. Speaking on ‘the imperative for the conduct of the 2018 population and housing census’, NITP President, Mr Luka Achi said NPC needs the approval and critical resources in terms of sufficient and timely release of fund to conduct the 2018 census. He lamented that “Nigeria does not have current demographic data set for planning purpose”, despite rapid changes in the population size and characteristics. On its reasons for supporting the Senate resolution of October 15, 2016, calling on President Buhari to make proclamation for the 2018 census, NITP said, “Population size, composition and geographical distribution have decisive impacts on the comprehensive planning of the physical and social development of human settlement (Cities, towns and village) in terms of facilities, services and utilities.”
Weakened by Dearth of Funds
Though recognising early preparations as the panacea for a successful census, paucity of funds in NPC remains a veritable source of worry. It is on the basis of staving off failure that the Senate Committee on Population recently visited the Commission to assess its level of preparedness. Chairman of NPC, Chief Eze Duruiheoma told the Senate Committee that the dearth of funds is the greatest impediment to its effective operations. He said given that census is conducted within a 10-year period; Nigeria has already defaulted following the NPC’s postponement of the census to 2017 and against clear signals that 2017 was not feasible, the Commission had to again rejig its plans to ensure 2018 stands as the census year. In a presentation during the recent oversight by the Senate Committee to its corporate headquarters, the NPC boss said a whopping N222 billion is required to execute the exercise covering the pre-census, census, and post census expenditures. He said in its avowed commitment to ensure Nigeria gets the headcount right, the NPC had since 2015 intimated government on the need to source for the needed funds, adding, “In preparing for this census, since 2015, we have regularly hinted that, given the resources, we will be prepared to do a census in 2016. And we stated how the resources would be made available to us. Unfortunately, that didn’t happen. When that didn’t happen, of course, we submitted a budget at that time. When another proposal to conduct the exercise in 2017 couldn’t happen again, we came up with a proposal to hold the census in 2018.” Chief Duruiheoma, who is upbeat soliciting the Committee’s guidance and support for the exercise, said it was important for the Commission to achieve its mandate of successfully managing Nigeria’s population for sustainable development goals. “Adequate and timely release of fund is one critical issue that defines the success or otherwise of a census program. We expect the Senate committee to ensure that the funding challenge of the 2018 census is overcome. For a nationwide project like the census, there will be the need to put in place appropriate legal regime for its effective execution. The Commission looks forward to the Senate committee ensuring that required legislations on the next census are passed. Specifically, the Commission will require the support of the Senate Committee in ensuring that periodic conduct of the population censuses in Nigeria is included in the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.” Duruiheoma also informed the Hunkuyi-led Committee of NPC’s intention to convene a national summit on the next census in the first quarter of 2017, explaining that the summit is to “deepen national understanding and imperatives for the conduct of the next census and solicit the cooperation and support of stakeholders it its successful conduct.” Pleading for urgent intervention to get NPC out of its current dire financial strait, he said out of the N4.411 billion appropriated for capital expenditure in the 2016 Budget, the Commission has received the sum of N2.17 billion only as at the time of the Committee’s oversight visit. Aside the paucity of funds, Chief Duruiheoma further identified other major setbacks in its preparations to include the absence of a presidential proclamation to hold the census in 2018; non-completion of NPC’s permanent headquarters; and lack of legislation for periodic conduct of census.
National Assembly Offers Hope
However, amidst these challenges, the National Assembly said Nigerians and the NPC should be hopeful of an accurate headcount in 2018. Senator Hunkuyi, who maintained that the country cannot toy with a successful national census, said “It is a shared opinion that 2018 is a critical year to hold the exercise because a year after that, 2019, is an election year. I think for so many reasons, the two should not be contemplated to happen the same year. In fact, the data and other information that INEC would require to plot its graph accurately for the polls will certainly come out from the 2018 census.” The Senate Committee Chairman pledged the National Assembly’s readiness to assist the NPC in conducting a hitch-free and successful census, adding that the bid to ensure preparations for the 2018 census is taken seriously adding that he moved the motion calling on President Muhammadu Buhari to make proclamations on preparations for the 2018 Census. “We moved a motion seeking Mr President to make a proclamation for the census. This will make every stakeholder interested in the census to come and thereby makes all relevant bodies to begin full preparation for the census.”
Preparing for Successful Census
Galvanised by the support and assurances from the lawmakers, the Commission has already flagged off preparations with review processes and capacity building for its staff. Drawing strength from its staffers as vital elements in engendering a successful exercise, the Commission recently held a review workshop of Phases 1 and 2 of Enumeration Area Demarcation (EAD), as well as training-the-trainers programme for the 2018 census in Akwanga, Nasarawa State. For Chief Duruiheoma, the Commission is poised to conduct a scientific census that can stand the test of time despite dearth of funds. He said the census budget was spread over a four-year period to handle different components of the headcount. On fears expressed in some quarters that the cost of conducting the census was far above the capacity of government, the NPC Chairman dismissed such claims as unfounded, saying, “There is no better time to conduct a census than in this period of economic recession. Coming out of a recession is definitely a complex and difficult task that can be made easier through demographic data as a compass for economic revival programme. Census will serve as a guide in identifying human elements that can be exploited for development process and formation of people responsive welfare Programme.” The NPC boss also spoke on the Enumeration Area Demarcation (EAD) review workshop, maintaining that the EAD was the bedrock of census which provides information on planning and execution of the census project. In addition, he said the EAD involves dividing the country into small geographical areas to facilitate enumeration and scientifically verify doubts and contentions.
Support from Professional bodies
When eventually the President makes the expected census proclamation, the NPC will certainly not be lacking support from stakeholders, especially professional bodies and Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs). Already on line is support from NITP whose members have followed with keen interest NPC’s plans to conduct a bio-metric based census through the capture of the facial impression and finger prints of respondents. According to the NITP President, the institute will partner NPC in ensuring a successful census in Nigeria.
Knocks on Outsiders’ Projections
Helpful in some ways as current development may be, NITP is not comfortable with the reliance on international agencies and donor partners’ statistics and data for Nigeria’s population and census figures. In the planners’ opinion, “The continuous reliance on projections of Nigeria’s population by the World Bank and other international agencies is not consistent with the imperative of purposeful planning for development. A national census should be the major and official source of population of the country. The institute therefore calls on the Federal Government to expedite action towards the conduct of the next population and housing census not later than 2018.”
But Will 2018 Census Hold?
There is no doubt that the NPC is daily demonstrating its willingness to begin early preparations for the 2018 census, but lack of finance seems too gargantuan a burden to bear. However, with the National Assembly taking the lead in urging the executive arm to support NPC on this laudable project, many Nigerians believe the presidency will join hands with the lawmakers to provide required funds for the headcount. But also considering the lean resources available to government at this time, Nigerians want the Commission to look beyond government coffers and approach international donor partner agencies for intervention.