All over the world census, is considered a catalyst for adequate administrative and economic planning.
Population and Housing Census, the process of collecting, compiling, evaluating, analyzing and publishing demographic, economic and social data, is critical in determining a nation’s economic trajectories and other demographics such as gender and age distributions.
The exercise is aimed at characterising each inhabitant of a specific territory at a specified time.
Nigeria’s census history is replete with rejection of outcomes based on alleged irregularities such as manipulation of figures and other census data. The last exercise held in 2006 under the administration of Olusegun Obasanjo met a similar fate.
Nigeria’s population is currently estimated at no fewer than 200 million. The UN projects that the figure could double by 2050.
The 2023 was primed to be an improvement on the previous exercises and a roadmap to future head count.
The essence of the adopting new technologies in the exercise, to Dr Inuwa Jalingo, Census Manager, National Population Commission (NPC), is to restore public confidence in its outcome.
Jalingo said that manual censuses were susceptible to manipulations and errors hence the digitalisation to make it generally acceptable.
Unfortunately, the exercise scheduled to hold between May 3 and 7 was postponed at the last minute by President Mohammadu Buhari.
Buhari approved the postponement on Aril 28 after meeting with some members of Federal Executive Council and the management of NPC.
He directed the commission to proceed with preparations for the conduct of the exercise by the incoming administration.
The postponement has triggered a public debate on the suitability of the action.
While some Nigerians such as Buhari are optimistic that the postponement would offer the commission the opportunity to adequately prepare for the exercise, others think that it is a setback.
The view that it is an unnecessary impediment might not be unfounded considering the amount of money so far spent on the project.
The Head, NPC Public Affairs Department in Plateau State, Jick Lawrence, told a one-day capacity-building workshop for journalists held in Jos that N400 billion had been earmarked for the exercise.
So, far, according to him, N100 billion has been spent on logistics and other preparations.
Mr Oscar Oguamanam, a student of history, Imo State University, Owerri told the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) that the postponement as a setback to the progress so far made by the commission.
He said that lack of reliable population data was inimical to development of the country, particularly as UN recommends a census every 10 years.
“Even if we had conducted the census on May 3 to 7 as earlier scheduled, we would have been doing it for the first time after 17 years.
“Postponing it is not acceptable, it just deepened the difficulty in addressing challenges of population management,” he said
Mrs Sylvia Ogechi, who was hired by NPC as an enumerator, described the postponement as a symptom of a stagnant country.
She wondered why after many years of preparation NPC could not deliver on its promise of conducting the exercise in May.
However, Mr Inuwa Jalingo, the 2023 Census Manager and a director at NPC, has dismissed claims that NPC the postponement is an indication of failure.
“Anyone saying we are not prepared must be saying that out of ignorance.
“We achieved the international standard for a digital census …about 450,000 digital gadgets were procured and distributed to all the local governments.” Jalingo recently told newsmen.
Jalingo said the shift was meant to ensure that no stone was left unturned in delivering a credible population and housing census.
One of the gains from the postponement, according to NPC is that when eventually held, the incoming administration will have confidence in its outcome.
The Commission’s Director of Public Affairs Department, Dr Isiaka Yahaya, was quoted by the media as saying that “it means the administration that would use this data should be part of the collection of the data.
“It won’t be wise that at a certain stage when they come in, we should just throw the data at them. That would affect their confidence in the data.
“If they participate in that process, I am sure that they will have faith using the data. This is one major reason for the postponement.”
The postponement has also received commendation from Gov. Samuel Ortom of Benue who said it would afford the security agencies the opportunity to ensure that persons displaced by conflicts returned to their homelands to be counted.
In a statement signed by Mr Terver Akase, his Special Adviser on Media and Publicity, Ortom said: “the lives and well-being of the citizens must be placed above other factors.’’
Similarly, Dr Chinemere Eze, a public affairs analyst, commended the Federal Government for postponing the exercise.
Eze wondered how census would be effectively conducted parts of the country facing security challenges such as South East, North East, North West and North Central.
“We ought to put our house in order by reintegrating millions of displaced indigenous Nigerians in IDPs back to their homes”, Eze told News Agency of Nigeria.
Demography experts say given the importance of census in the affairs of any country, it is crucial that every step required to do a thorough job is taken.
This includes conducting the exercise at the most suitable time. (NANFeatures)