By Abiodun KOMOLAFE
Nigeria is preparing for another round of population census rendezvous. Thanks be to God! But, if, at least, we must learn from past experiences, then, the primary question is: is the 2023 Census necessary? If one may also ask, when was the last time Nigeria held a census and how effective have previous exercises been? Or, must we fulfil the ritual of population headcount in Nigeria just for its sake?
From the look of things, one may safely conclude that the National Population Commission (NPC), the body saddled with conducting censuses in Nigeria, has become an association created for political considerations. Needless to repeat that its census figures are unreliable because whatever figures we get are politicised! Since there are no other means of validating the figures, they are just left there. Not only that, since nobody uses the figures, it’s always an exercise in futility! Still, a huge sum of public funds is spent on the exercise with little or no benefits. Nonetheless, each time a national census is about to commence, those who are involved in it know vividly why they are into it; and they are always very enthusiastic about it. More often than not, it is for pecuniary conveniences, not because they love Nigeria or because the veracity of the headcount figures matters; but, at least, the exercise will provide an avenue for some people to make money.
A credible demography deals with the geographical spread of the sample population. As of today, Nigeria hides the reality of the demographic structure of her population under mischievous headings. Sad that, whenever our university professors want to carry out research works, they rely on foreign institutions – those that could actually pay for informed figures about Nigeria’s population; certainly not statistics sourced by Nigerians – for reliable statistics. So far, so disheartening! The only constant and easily ratified thing about census in Nigeria is the estimated budget cost, not in any way about the accuracy or reliability of the census figures, or the general acceptability of the outcome of the exercise.
Arguably so, Nigeria is calling for a new census primarily because she has nothing in its database that’s close to an acceptable population figure. Ask a census taker the benefits of census to nation-building and excuses will saturate the demographic space. In the first instance, previous censuses have never been credible. There were always the invisible hands of politics; figures were imaginary; and the processes were always problematic! No effective planning; nothing verifiable! In each Local Government and/or District, there are no effective Birth and Death Control Registers; and that’s a major setback! For us to have a credible census, the infrastructure of a systemic population control must be on ground, and must be efficient. The right orientation must also be provided and corruption must be checkmated.
In the United Kingdom, for example, when a young man or woman turns 18, he or she is fit to approach the City Council for his or her own apartment. Of course, this followed a survey in which it was discovered that children even up to 21 years of age were still living with their parents. As fate would have it, the UK also has programmes which encourage a child of 18 years and above to start taking responsibilities. Well, that’s the UK, where God works wonders! Only God knows where yours sincerely was at age 18! Even now … still struggling! All these have shown how badly degraded our society has become!
Whenever issues about governance are raised in Nigeria, there lies the intriguing phenomenon: policy inexactitude. How do I mean? The approach of the NPC is akin to a man drawing water from the ocean with a basket full of holes. On the one hand, it is to enumerate the population. On the other hand, it has no means of accounting for accurate records of births and deaths in the society, among others. But the dangerous truth is that people don’t voluntarily reveal death details of family members or relations to government agencies for sociocultural and religious reasons. Even when it is in the hospital, the corpse is just taken away for burial without any room for post mortem. For some other people, it is not even part of their orientation to record births and deaths. So, until there’s a national law that says every birth and death must be reported, people will prefer to bury their dead without formal permits or imposed broadcasts.
In our clime, when people die, it’s known only to their families. When new babies are born, it is also known only to the families and some friends. People even worry more about naming ceremonies for the newborn babies, where partaking of ‘bread and tea’ is the norm. To those people, the census is of no use! Even, the Local Government will not know that a child has just been born within its jurisdiction. At burial also, wads of cash exchange hands between the clerics and the congregants. There will be calls for prayers for all categories of imaginary relationships. And that’s after the clerics must have fought for who should lead the prayers because, at the end of the programme, the leader goes home with the fattest portion of the largesse. Of course, that’s when the pastor will remember the church wall that’s about to fall down, which the children of the dead must contribute money to fix, not even minding whether or not the dead is already a candidate for hell!
Sad that the conscious understanding of the essence of the known figure of the population of a particular country has eluded Nigeria! So, how do we care for the aged when we don’t know how many they are? How do we prepare for the kids of school age when we don’t know their figure? How do we establish hospitals when we don’t know who to be catered for? The General Hospitals are no longer ‘general’ in their delivery of quality service while the Teaching Hospitals have become comfort zones for brain drain? Since nobody has the figure to plan with, Nigeria has become one sorry story of an unrepentant embracer of aimlessly drifting policies, one after the other.
In the not-so-distant past, people looked up to academia to provide a pragmatic plan for an incoming government. This is no longer the case! Even the academics are now overwhelmed and can no longer think of a novel and better approach to confront an insensitive government than the usual, old, ‘we-no-go-gree’, Michael Imoudu-era industrial action. And, as if the gods were angry, Nigeria’s universities were closed for the better part of the Year 2022; yet, the country continued as if nothing serious happened. The question is: can a nation grow beyond its intellectual capacity?
Population census is not a one-off. It’s an ongoing project. The more reason there must be a set standard for the coming exercise so that, by the time we are through with its rhyme and rhythm, Nigerians will be able to measure the outcome vis-à-vis the set standard. If we don’t have a set standard, then, it’s a scheme that has failed even before take-off. Let’s not be deceived, there’s no way a population census will be said to have achieved its purpose if it’s just a ritual. If it has no expectations and no goals to fulfil, then, it’s just a waste of time and resources. It is like national wealth squandered, as usual!
May the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world, grant us peace in Nigeria!
*Komolafe wrote in from Ijebu-Jesa, Osun State, Nigeria ([email protected])