No doubt, the plan of the National Population Commission, NPC to spend the mindboggling amount of N273billion for the projected 2016 headcount is not flying at all.
The reason is simple, at a time when every Nigerian, corporate and individual worry about the infrastructural decay in the society amidst the obvious uncertainties of economic downturn, alongside unclear signals about the policy direction of the current President Muhammadu Buhari’s administration; to think of making the government to cough out that amount just to take the census of all, is largely unreasonable.
In many other quarters, NPC’s intention has been described variously as scandalous. Some better informed Nigerians say it is outrageous for a population that in the main, is peopled by the poor. We align with all these views. And in doing this, we are not lost in the fact that the former Chairman of NPC, Festus Odimegwu projected the sum of N600m for the 2016 headcount. He had anchored the exercise on a possible electronically conducted census that would centralise data generated in the country as against the current trend where agencies of government generate data independently. That NPC has yet to tell Nigerians how it arrived at the N273billion, smacks of ill-preparedness.
In this wise, we realise that globally, headcount is central to political configuration and socioeconomic planning, and indispensable to national development. But to contemplate spending such a huge amount on a census is incomprehensible. The proposal is equally unacceptable for failing to recognize the existence of a subsisting census, and numerous identical and relevant data from which the national population figures can be updated. The NPC should spare the nation another drain-pipe and find a more cost-effective way of conducting the census.
After all, worldwide, population statistics are maintained, not by conducting fresh census at intervals, but by using available data to update and upgrade the existing statistics. In Nigeria, such database includes the National Identification Scheme, the National Drivers’ License, Voters’ Register and School Enrolment records, among others.
Most of these data are normally deposited at the Federal Office of Statistics and other government agencies that at present collect biometric data, including: the NPC, National Identity Management Commission, NIMC; Federal Road Safety Commission, FRSC and Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC.
Similarly, the Nigerian Immigration Service and the vehicles’ registration department are also collating biometric data of Nigerians for international passports and driver licenses purposes.
Thus, most of the database needed for a biometric census in Nigeria is already available. The NPC should use the INEC election database, which currently serves no other purpose as a template. The commission’s challenge is to correct the discrepancies in the population figures of the various zones of the country.
Against this background, we recall that in 2015, INEC requested N120billion to conduct the entire general election, which included a fresh voters’ registration of Nigerians of age 18 and above. INEC collated biometric data of over 70million registered voters who were issued permanent voters cards (PVCs).That automatically forms part of the population database. Only those below age 18 as at 2015 need to be captured in the new census. The NPC should adopt large-scale data scrutiny and tabulation methods, automatic coding and non-keyboard data entry methods to check double counting. It is absurd to think of capturing the biometric data of every Nigerian all over again. To do so will amount to duplicating what has already been done.
And may we add that it would be expensive to conduct a comprehensive census due to the large documentation, staff, time and logistics required.