2023 Census: The Journey So Far, by Stanley O. Nwosu
As the National Population Commission gears up to conduct the first digital Population and Housing Census in Nigeria that will generate up-to-date and reliable data for the country’s development planning, many activities have been implemented and many arrangements put in place to ensure a successful and hitch-free exercise. In the process of preparing for this important national exercise, the Commission has recorded giant strides that will enhance the quality of the census data. However, despite the efforts of NPC to give the nation a guide for evidence-based planning and policymaking, quite a number of Nigerians have shown that they are not aware of the amazing works the Commission has done so far coupled with phenomenal achievements made in preparing for the census exercise through their feedbacks and scathing criticisms of the desirability and readiness of NPC to conduct the next census hence the need to educate those people to be informed and appreciate the good works of the Commission. Although the census message has been preached in every part of Nigeria, some people were uninterested in receiving the message of development or allowing it to sink in.
Yes, from afar, it may look like the Commission has not done enough in terms of preparation for the next census but anyone who pays close attention to what NPC has been doing ends up being an advocate for the census to be conducted. They all marvelled at the remarkable achievements and the mechanisms set up by the NPC in its journey to conduct the 2023 Census. Anyone whose eyes have been opened to see the extent of work NPC has carried out in the last few years preparing for this census always confesses that indeed, the Commission is rewriting the history of census-taking in Nigeria. The Founder and CEO of The Albino Foundation (TAF), Amb. Jake Epelle after seeing the extraordinary and impressive works the Commission has done ahead of the next census during the official presentation of the Enumeration Area Demarcation (EAD) Report, was filled with astonishment and told the NPC Chairman, Hon. Nasir Isa Kwarra to stop ‘commonizing’ the uncommon achievements of the Commission. He noted that the Commission has recorded unprecedented achievements but is under-celebrated.
In line with the UN recommendations for the 2020 round of censuses that countries should leverage digital tools for the conduct of Censuses, the Commission introduced technological innovations and procedures to enhance the quality of the census data. These digital tools have been adopted and integrated or envisaged to be used in Census processes including in the Enumeration Area Demarcation, pretesting of tools, recruitment, data quality management, monitoring & evaluation, project management, communications, main data collection, fieldwork monitoring and dissemination of census data.
The methodology for the next census has been designed to produce not only accurate, reliable and acceptable census but also inclusive and user-friendly census data.
The Commission has demonstrated assuring confidence, capacity and readiness to conduct the forthcoming census even before the postponement of the exercise by the last administration of Muhammadu Buhari. Repeatedly the Chairman of NPC has assured Nigerians and the global community that the Commission is irrevocably committed to conduct the best census ever in Nigeria. A detailed look at the preparatory activities implemented by the Commission and the successes achieved in the build-up to the next census attest to the fact that indeed, NPC is well prepared to deliver a credible and acceptable census.
The journey for the upcoming census started in 2014 with the Enumeration Area Demarcation exercise which is the process of delineating the entire land area of the country into small (mutually exclusive) geographical and demographic units called Enumeration Areas (EAs). EAD which provides the baseline data for the census was done in phases from 2014 up to 2022 due to funding challenges and the sheer size of Nigeria’s landmass. Step by step, the NPC functionaries traversed the length and breadth of Nigeria and visited all the nooks and crannies of the country using Geographic Information System (GIS) technology to successfully demarcate the 774 LGAs into 601,707 EAs (onsite and hybrid) and in the process captured all buildings, roads and water bodies with their geo-coordinates. It was an unparalleled achievement in Nigeria to have information on buildings (types, uses, owners, number of households etc), roads (types, class, names etc) and water bodies (types and names) in digital format. No agency in Nigeria nor any African country has such a large and complete volume of geospatial resources the Commission has generated for the country. Even Google map data is not as rich, detailed and complete as the EAD geospatial data. It is a game-changing accomplishment that produced various datasets such as digital EA maps, INEC ward boundary map, mobile network map, Nigeria postcode system and post office mapping, boundary dispute map, rapid relief intervention map, infrastructure proximity and planning map, current security risk areas in Nigeria etc for census and development planning of the country. The value of the geospatial resources produced from EAD is in trillions of naira and billions of dollars. The uncommon feat earned the Commission ESRI Special Achievement in GIS (SAG) Award 2022 in San Diego, USA.
The Commission conducted the Census Data Users Workshops to generate inputs into the design and development of the census questionnaire. Stakeholders across a wide spectrum of society including government officials, policymakers, traditional institutions, Civil Society Organisations, the private sector etc were invited to a series of workshops on the questionnaire and their inputs incorporated.
Another major achievement was recorded when a home-grown bespoke hybrid Census App was developed to facilitate the collection and integration of rich geospatial and statistical data on a single platform – an invention of sorts that will certainly be replicated or adopted by other countries. One half of the hybrid system is the CensusPad which handles the geospatial component of the system and is used for building numbering and household listing while the CSPro, the other component of the hybrid program which is form-centric is used for the enumeration of persons. The Census App was developed by a young officer in the Commission and the cutting-edge and trailblazing app reduced the long period of about 6 months it would take to profile and upload maps on the Personal Digital Assistants (PDAs) to just 3 minutes.
To test-run the census instruments and methodology, 1st and 2nd Census Pre-tests were conducted from 31st May to 13th June, 2021 and from 24th November to 10th December, 2021 respectively in selected Enumeration Areas across the 36 States of Nigeria and the FCT.
The Trial Census also known as a dress rehearsal for the main census was conducted in July 2022 to assess the overall preparedness of the Commission to conduct the 2023 Census. This was carried out in selected LGAs and Enumeration Areas across all the States of Nigeria and the FCT. Over 13,000 personnel were recruited, trained and deployed for the exercise. A Trial Post Enumeration Survey (PES) was also conducted in October 2022 to determine coverage and content errors of the Trial Census. Thereafter, a retreat to review the Trial Census was organized for candid internal examination of the Commission’s efforts during the exercise, and to put the lessons learnt from the exercise in shaping the planning and implementation of the 2023 Population and Housing Census. Stakeholders from relevant agencies were invited to be part of the review process.
Also, in line with the digital and green nature of the 2023 Census, more than 500,000 Personal Digital Assistants (PDA) which will be used for data collection during the census, were procured, configured and stored in the Central Bank of Nigeria offices across the country. Other major items procured include; laptops, desktops, printers, UPS, power banks, generators, solar power systems, SD cards, sim cards and software applications for data collection, storage, and processing. The Commission also procured fieldwork materials such as reflective jackets, raincoats, rainboots, manuals, indelible inks, pens, pencils, chalk, memo pads, call-back cards, 1st aid boxes etc. These materials have been distributed across the Commission’s offices nationwide. Due to the size, differing terrain and lack of transportation options across Nigeria, vehicles, boats and motorcycles were procured to support the conduct of the Census. NPC State and Local Government offices were renovated and equipped for effective operational activities and storage for the 2023 Census.
Age being one of the most important variables usually canvassed during censuses, a compilation of the historical events for the 774 LGAs was carried out to aid the enumerators in the estimation of respondent’s ages during the census exercise in order to ensure the collection of accurate age data. Also, the Commission in a bid to ensure that everyone is counted, identified special populations that are hard-to-reach or hard-to-count because of their profession, location or other characteristics for plans to be made for the enumerators to reach them during the census period.
The Commission has set up a well-equipped Situation Room to coordinate the information management and provide a platform to monitor and deal with developing issues around the successful conduct of the 2023 Population and Housing Census. A Call Centre was also established to serve as a hub of communication for information flow from and to fieldworkers, Census Management, partners, and very importantly, the public. The Commission developed an enumeration dashboard for real-time monitoring and assessing work progress in the various enumeration areas, wards, local government, states and the entire country and also the logistics dashboard for getting real-time information and tracking the movement of materials being distributed for the census exercise.
A Data Quality Management (DQM) system was set up for the 2023 Census as part of the multi-pronged approach to ensuring data quality through checks and facilitation of remedial action while data collection is still ongoing. The DQMs will monitor the dashboards, manage field applications, and interface with field functionaries on issues around data quality. A 5-tier quality assurance strategy is also being deployed for proper quality assuring the census process. In the strategy, the different layers and components of quality assurance plans are organized into five major areas, enumeration tracking dashboard, CAPI, geomonitoring, field operation monitoring and independent peer monitoring that touches on tools, methodology and processes.
The Commission adopted an e-Recruitment approach in recruiting over 850,000 ad-hoc staff for the census exercise. The adoption of the e-Recruitment strategy is to ensure the widespread of applicants all over the localities in the country, minimize bias and ascertain that all qualified Nigerians are given equal opportunity to apply and be recruited. Before the 2023 Census was postponed, the Commission had trained 62,000 facilitators across the country who were to train the supervisors and enumerators. The Commission has through the e-recruitment strategy laid the foundation for a young people database by capturing the essential information of about 2 million Nigerian youth who applied for census jobs.
To ensure inclusivity in the census process, the Commission made special arrangements for people living with disabilities to be part of the exercise. Many of them were engaged as ad-hoc staff for the census while the 2023 Census publications were transcribed into braille format to give the visually impaired persons the sense of belonging and opportunity to be part of the process. The transcription of the publications to braille was the first in history by any agency in Nigeria. It shows how inclusively considerate the Commission is to the needs of PLWDs.
Census being the biggest peacetime activity in terms of mobilisation of resources, getting the whole Nigerians informed and involved to support and present themselves to be counted in the upcoming Census is such a herculean task. So, sensitization for the census is the biggest publicity campaign in Nigeria. Nevertheless, the Commission rose to the challenge and embarked on a nationwide advocacy and publicity drive through a variety of channels, including radio, television, print media, social media and traditional media as well as advocacy visits to critical stakeholders across the country. These stakeholders include but are not limited to the president and former presidents of Nigeria, ministers and heads of relevant agencies, the Chief Justice of Nigeria, State Governors, federal and state legislators, traditional and religious leaders, local government chairmen, security agencies, diplomatic corps, civil society organizations, youth and women groups, and the media. The Commission also organized the National and State Stakeholders Summits on the 2023 Census to create awareness and broaden the support base for the exercise as well as inaugurated and funded Census Publicity Committees at national and state levels to carry out grassroots sensitization and mobilization. Publicity materials were produced and disseminated in English and local languages while radio and television jingles and documentaries were produced and broadcast on major networks.
The Commission also inaugurated Census Security and Logistic Committee at national and state levels to ensure the secure and smooth movement of personnel and materials during the census exercise. Also, in a bid to reduce interference and manipulation of the census results, the 37 NPC Federal Commissioners were cross-posted to different States and regions.
The only item from the census timetable remaining to be implemented before the postponement of the Census exercise was the training of the supervisors and enumerators. However, despite the postponement of the census by the Federal Government, sensitization and preparations for the upcoming Census are on course and the Commission is confident that the prospect for an accurate and reliable census appears brighter than ever. This optimism is galvanized by the fact that the present Commission has taken time to identify and deliberate on issues that bedevilled past censuses and to avoid such pitfalls through the adoption of scientific planning and modern digital technology. These new approaches will no doubt enhance the credibility of the process by eliminating the double enumeration of respondents and improving the accuracy of the census results and the acceptability of the census outcome both locally and internationally.
Given the huge investment by the previous government and the gains from building digital infrastructure and training personnel in readiness for the conduct of the 2023 Census, it will be advisable for the new administration of President Bola Tinubu to quickly fix a new date for the census exercise to be completed so, that the country will have up-to-date data for national planning and implementation of policies. Further delay in conducting the census will affect the preparatory arrangements already executed and render some data obsolete which will require being repeated at extra cost to the country. The earlier the census exercise is completed, the better for the country.
©️ Stanley O. Nwosu, is a Political Economist, Public Affairs Analyst and the Social Media Manager of the NPC in Abuja.