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National Census, NPC and HURIWA’s Blunder, by Chekwube Nzomiwu

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National Census, NPC and HURIWA’s Blunder, by Chekwube Nzomiwu

The Human Rights Writers Association (HURIWA) is one non-governmental organisation no longer taken seriously in Nigeria because of its frequent outrageous and juvenile interventions in public discourse. However, in public interest, I am constrained to comment on the recent statement by its National Coordinator, Emmanuel Onwubiko, asking President Bola Ahmed Tinubu to scrap the National Population Commission (NPC).

In the statement published in some national newspapers, Onwubiko tackled the NPC National Chairman, Nasir Isa Kwarra, for pushing tirelessly for the national census, which he “ignorantly” described as an already failed exercise without any economic advantage to Nigerians, after gulping N100bn taxpayer’s fund.

The self styled writer cum activist also questioned the existence of NPC when its functions are already being performed by the National Identity Management Commission (NIMC) through the registration of National Identification Numbers (NIN) for each individual, which is now being linked to bank accounts, passports, and even the Joint Admission and Matriculation Board (JAMB). In his words, “NPC is a waste and a duplication of what Nigeria already has achieved through the various registration of citizens, carried out by different agencies, including the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC).”

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Onwubiko did not end there, but went further to suggest the abolition of NPC through a constitutional amendment process in order to collapse NIMC and other data collection agencies into small presidential commission on national identity for identity management, adding that all hospitals where births and deaths are recorded, should be incorporated in the national identity management mechanism to determine the exact population of Nigeria.

Since other spurious assertions he made in the statement may not serve any useful purposes in this article, our attention here will focus on his call for scrapping of the NPC, which from every indication, was borne out of little or no awareness and understanding of the constitutional functions of the commission.

The NPC is one of the 14 “Federal Executive Bodies” established by Section 153 of the Constitution of Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 (as amended). Section 213 of the constitution saddles the commission with the responsibility of conducting National Population Census. As provided in the Third Schedule, Part 1 of the Constitution, the Commission comprises the Chairman and a member from each state of the federation and the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja.

Apart from undertaking periodic enumeration of population through sample surveys, censuses or otherwise, it advises the president on population matters and carries out continuous and universal registration of births and deaths throughout the federation. Its functions also include publishing and providing information and data on population for the purpose of facilitating economic and development planning, among others.

Unlike NIMC, a parastatal of the federal government with only the mandate to establish, own, operate, maintain and manage the National Identity Data Base in Nigeria, register persons covered by its establishment Act (NIMC Act No.23 of 2007), assign NIN and issue General Multi-Purpose Cards for only Nigerians above 15 years, the NPC conducts National Census for everyone resident in Nigeria at the time of the exercise, including non-Nigerians, internally displaced persons and homeless people.

As the backbone of the national statistical system, the census provides information on the size, location and characteristics of the population. While it may take a whole book to enumerate all the benefits of population census, a few will suffice here. For example, planners need population information for all kinds of development work, including assessing demographic trends and analyzing socio-economic trends and economic conditions.

Census data are also vital for monitoring and evaluating the effectiveness of policies, tracking progress towards national and international agreed development plans, designing evidence based poverty reduction strategies and empowering local communities by providing them with information to participate in decision making and ensuring effective representation.

Besides, data generated from census are deployed for academic research and feasibility studies by Research and Development (R&D) departments of companies and corporate organizations, for promotions, programmes and projects.

Curiously, I am quite surprised that human rights writers do not even consider census a matter of civil rights, taking into account its constitutional backing. Nigeria practices representative democracy and population is a constitutional prerequisite for the creation of federal constituencies, which constitute a critical basis of representation in the country. Despite several resolutions by both Chambers of the National Assembly-Senate and House of Representatives- asking the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), the body saddled with this responsibility to create new federal constituencies, to do so in line with Section 73 (1) of the Constitution, the electoral umpire has not done so, often using the prolonged non-conduct of population census as an excuse.

Considering aforementioned reasons, the Chairman of the NPC should be praised and not heckled by Onwubiko, for pushing tirelessly for the census to hold. It is perhaps only an uneducated person that could share the opinion that an exercise as important as the 2023 Digital National Population and Housing Census “is a money guzzling scheme that yields no economic benefits for Nigerians.” The census is neither needless nor is it a tea party. It is not by happenstance that the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) described the census as “the most expensive data collection activity a country can undertake, involving thousands of workers and millions of dollars of cost.”

Regarding the amount so far expended by NPC, I don’t know how and where Onwubiko got his figures (N100bn), since I am not a member of the commission. However, I am aware that the United States of America with about 131 million households spent about $14.2bn on its 2020 census. If we should rely on HURIWA’s figures, Nigeria with 43 million households has only spent about a quarter of $1bn on the same census exercise. So, I leave the remaining calculation for Nigerians, especially “blind and dumb” critics like Onwubiko, to do.

The preparation for the 2023 Census in Nigeria did not start today or yesterday. Before now, the NPC implemented all the preparatory activities towards the census, such as the Enumeration Area Demarcation (EAD), conduct of pre-test and trial census, recruitment and training of census field staff, procurement and configuration of Personal Digital Assistants (PDAs), and establishment of Information and Communication Technology (ICT) infrastructure across the country. Advocacy and publicity campaigns have been ongoing.

In the preparation, efforts were channeled, not only towards addressing immediate needs, but also laying a solid foundation for future censuses in the country. For instance, I am aware that the EAD, which involved the division of the country into small land areas, was meticulously undertaken in such a way that only an update will be required for future censuses.

Besides, the census is not a domestic affair. By international convention, a census exercise should be held every ten years. The United Nations recommends a census enumeration at least once every ten years and once every five years for even better data, rather than relying on estimates and projections alone for planning. The last census exercise took place in Nigeria 17 years ago in 2006. Since then, Nigeria has been planning based on population estimates and projections, using outdated data. Contrary to the statement by HURIWA that NPC is duplicating what Nigeria has already, there is no existing current data base, which captures all characteristics of our population.

Every effort to conduct a national census in Nigeria by successive administrations failed until the immediate past administration prioritised it. The exercise would have been conducted in April but for the wise decision of that administration to allow the new administration make inputs in the exercise. Hence, it was wrong of HURIWA to label the 2023 Census a failed exercise. We still have two quarters of the year left and I have severally heard officials of the commission say that 80 percent of the job had been done.

Finally, I intentionally chose to address the call by HURIWA for the abolishment of NPC at the last segment of this article, hoping that my previous submissions must have sensitized HURIWA enough to change its erroneous impression about the commission and the census.

The call by Onwubiko for the scrapping of NPC exposes his shallow knowledge of the functions of the commission. The job of the commission is not only the conduct of census and registration of births and deaths. I still have a voluminous copy of the National Democratic and Health Survey (NDHS) conducted by NPC in 2018. The survey provided statistics on family planning, fertility preferences, maternal healthcare, child health, nutrition of children and women, malaria, HIV/AIDS attitude and behavior, and adult and maternal mortality. Others are women empowerment and domestic violence, disability, female genital mutilation and marriage and sexual activity.

The survey was implemented by the NPC in collaboration with the National Malaria Elimination programme (NEMP) of the Federal Ministry of Health, Nigeria. The funding for the programme was provided by USAID,, Global Fund, Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF), the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) and the World Health Organization (WHO). This is just a tip of the iceberg.

It is also important to point out that Nigeria is not the only country that has an independent body constitutionally saddled with the responsibility of conducting census. Hence, abolishing the NPC and giving the critical responsibility of census taking to a small presidential commission as he recommended, will amount to a total deviation from the globally acceptable standard.

I will give some examples. In the United Kingdom, census is undertaken decennially (every ten years) by the Office for National Statistics. The last census in United Kingdom was conducted in 2021. In the United States, the Census Bureau also conducts census every ten years, counting every resident in the country. The most recent census in US was conducted in 2020.

In India, the responsibility of conducting the decadal census rests with the Office of the Registrar General and Census Commissioner of India, Ministry of Home Affairs, Government of India. India conducted its most recent census in 2021. China has the National Bureau of Statistics, responsible for directing national statistical work, administering surveys and conducting censuses. China conducted its last census in 2020, covering all Chinese citizens in mainland China and those living abroad on temporary visa.

Back home in Africa, the organisation of census is not different. In Kenya, census is conducted by the National Bureau of Statistics. Kenya held its most recent National Population and Housing Census in 2019. Ghana, Nigeria’s next door neighbour has the National Statistical Service. Ghana conducted her most recent census last year (2022). Being the Giant of Africa, Nigeria cannot operate below the internationally acceptable standard.

Nzomiwu, a public affairs commentator, writes from Awka, Anambra State.

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