Muhammadu Buhari and 2018 Census: Dead on Arrival ? By Emmanuel Ado 

Muhammadu Buhari and 2018 Census: Dead on Arrival ? By Emmanuel Ado :

The National Population Commission ( NPC), Act established the Commission “as an Independent and autonomous body to conduct regular censuses”. Part 2 of the Act; Functions and Powers, expressly states that the “Commission shall undertake the enumeration of the Population of Nigeria periodically through censuses, sample surveys or otherwise”. The operative word is “periodically”,which Merriam Webster dictionary defines as “occurring or recurring at regular intervals”. The implication is that Nigeria should undertake the exercise every ten (10) years,which also is the United Nations recommendation. 

The census which ought to have been conducted in 2016,would definitely not be conducted in 2018 and most certainly not in 2019,an election year,which from every indication will be fiercely fought. Realistically speaking,the earliest year that the overdue census might be conducted would be 2021.The last exercise was in 2006,during the Olusegun Obasanjo administration.If Nigeria manages to conduct it by 2021,it will be coming 15 years late.But the truth is that unless the Muhammadu Buhari administration changes its attitude,it will not hold in 2021 and by 2022 it will be close to another election and depending on where Dogara is,will he still canvass further postponement until after the 2023 election?

The Speaker of the House of Representatives, Yakubu Dogara, had ignited the debate on the issue,by advocating for the census to be postponed,due to its “closeness” to the 2019 elections.He deserves credit for daring to speak out on an issue which,many politicians were shying away from,because of the volatile nature of Census in our country. Though he hinged his position on the “inevitability of crisis “, that the headcount was bound to trigger,the truth is that it is more a failure to plan. Said Dogara “If you conduct census at the niche of elections, there will be so much pressure, crisis and the lure for people to manipulate the figures for political reasons”It is better for a fresh administration to conduct this exercise from the beginning of that administration when we do not have any pressure of elections in sight.I can bet you if the census is conducted in 2018, the outcome will be doubtable.Seriously speaking, because I know who we are and I know the kind of litigations, backlashes, the pressure and we don’t need that now to be candid.”

Dogara obviously means well that the census be postponed till after the 2019 elections,to avoid what he termed “political pressure” to manipulate the exercise,but in the process he raised serious issues,that should make us all hide our heads in shame. How can we make progress,when we can’t conduct the simplest of task – census, without it being enmeshed in controversy? It’s a cause for concern.The Speaker poured collective insult on all Nigerians when he asserted “I know who we are and I know the kind of litigations, backlashes”,that will greet the head count. It is a wake up call for Nigerians to understand that knowing our number to enable us plan,should not be a civil war.

There is a correlation between development and an accurate census.Though also used for delimitation of electoral constituencies – State Houses of Assembly and House of Representatives,the political reality is that previous exercise didn’t and would not change for a long time,the political equation for states like Lagos and Kaduna,so will the 2018,2023 exercise whenever they are conducted.Though Lagos and Kano States are head to head,Kano State has 44 local government areas and Lagos 20 local government areas. Jigawa State has only 5 million people,it has 27 local government areas,compared to Kaduna State which has 23 local government areas with its 10 million people.For now,we can let the status quo be,while we make efforts to know our number for real planning health,housing,and schools, as opposed to political planning.This proposal might be difficult for some people to stomach,but moving forward this seems a smart option.Until we see the futility of padding for revenue and for political constituencies.

Dogara as Speaker House of Representatives,the body that appropriates,surely knows that the real issue is the lack of funding for the exercise,that’s not to say he doesn’t have a valid point about our attitude to census and that the blame is squarely that of the Executive and the National Assembly.As Speaker he sure has at his finger tips the appropriations for the NPC in 2015,2016 and 2017. And as a lawyer he also knows that failure to conduct the census is a constitutional breach.If we are to go by Dogara’s arguments we should have postponed the 2015 elections,which prophets of doom had predicted blood,fire and brimstone.

The body language of the Buhari administration measured by its budgetary allocations,indicates a seeming lack of interest in conducting the census. But why is Buhari shying away from such an all important exercise,that is constitutionally mandated?Fear of violence alluded to by Dogara? These are questions that it must provide answers to and urgently.The assurance by the Director- General of the National Population Commission,Ghaji Bello, indicating the preparedness of the agency to conduct the census in 2018, if the government provides the needed funds,which has been estimated at a whooping 272 billion naira,is heart warming.

The problem is more of lack of political will than finding the money,as the international community desirous of helping Nigeria know its real population has always stepped in to render critical support. But the international donor agencies can not be seen to be weeping more than the bereaved,so the Buhari administration must come out with a clear statement of its road map.So far the commitment of the Buhari administration is zero.In 2016 there was no capital budget. In 2015 only a paltry 4.5 billion and in 2017. Elections have always proved problematic,but we have always managed to conduct it. My take between conducting the census in 2019 and postponing the elections,I will vote for the census and support a national government.We always provide every kobo the Independent National  Electoral Commission, INEC demands for – including for supplementary elections,why can’t we find the money for census that comes up once in 10 years?

But it is not fundamentally all about funding,like Senator Hunkuyi has brilliantly argued “in accordance with best international practices, a well planned and executed population census should take a minimum of two years”. So even if the entire fund is made available,it is obvious that we can’t pull it off,like Hunkuyi has argued. The Federal Government should as a matter of urgency heed the call of the Senate to set machinery in motion to conduct the housing and population census if not in 2018,at least by 2021. From 2017 the agency should be adequately funded,to tackle the critical issues – enumeration,computerization, training etc,that are critical to the conduct of the elections,since Nigeria claims it can’t find the whole money at once. 

Senator Suleiman Hunkuyi, the Chairman, Senate Committee on National Identity had in 2016 foreseen this crisis and raised the necessary red flags.The motion had called on the “Federal Government to Expedite Action on the Planned 2018 National Census”. The motion had the unanimous support of the Senate,but as usual went unheeded.Having missed out on 2018, we should plan towards 2021 by addressing the issues in a planned manner,that funding would not be a challenge.Like Hunkuyi has observed “It is only pertinent that subsequent population census should be carried out within an adequate timing and an objective of conducting an acceptable exercise.” It will be a tragedy if by by 2021 Nigeria will still be unable to conduct the head count.The impression that we are a nation that notoriously sees no reason to plan.That lacks respect for planning,would be difficult to erase. We must correct the negative impression that we prefer a life of approximation.Ask the Minister of Finance, Kemi Adeosun for budget implementation report,which should be accurate and definite,she will answer you in approximation.Ask any government official the population of Nigeria,he will tell you approximately 150million people,with a smile. 

According to the United Nations the global population has breached seven billion and would expand rapidly for decades, taxing natural resources, if countries do not manage growth better.Eliasbeth Rosenthal in an article in New York Times titled “Nigeria Tested by Rapid Rise in Population”,had warned about the consequences of over population. She wrote of appalling living conditions in Nigeria, –  “whole families squeezed into 7 by 11 feet rooms along a narrow corridor. Up to 50 people share a kitchen, toilet and sink, though the pipes in the neighborhood often no longer carry water”.In “Ketu, Nigeria, a newborn boy is attended to by the light of cellphones; the power having gone out.’ ;  ‘at Alapere Primary School, more than 100 students cram  into most classrooms, two to a desk.”Only a head count can help Akinwunmi Ambode  of Lagos State and Nasir El – Rufai the Kaduna State Governor Plan properly.Though politically cheated by Jigawa State,the advantage is clearly not there,which goes to show that padding would not pay and that ultimately it is about leadership.